TREATMENT OF AN AMERICAN 19TH-CENTURY UPHOLSTERED CHAIR
CECELIA CHEWNING, & HAROLD F. MAILAND
3 THE CINCINNATI ART MUSEUM'S SUITE
The six pieces of furniture purchased by the Cincinnati Art Museum have been dated ca. 1876–81. Probably described as a “suit” by the company, this group may have originally had a seventh piece, a lady's chair or the ubiquitous platform rocker (Grier 1988). Although the furniture had seen better days, what made it particularly appealing to the museum were these facts:
- The furniture was labeled. On the underside of each of the four side chairs was a faded paper Mitchell and Rammelsberg label.
- The furniture was in the modern gothic style that had brought the company national recognition at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial.
- The structure of the furniture appeared to be quite sound. There was almost no damage to the wooden frames, which were ebonized and decorated with incised and gilded ornament according to Eastlake canons.
- The upholstery fabrics—an elaborate aesthetic movement jacquard pattern and a solid plush, as well as gimp and fringe—were worn and faded but intact as important documents of the suite's original appearance.
The jacquard fabric has a dull gold cotton warp. There are cotton wefts of dark olive drab and dull gold and silk wefts of crimson (cultivated) and gold (wild). The color combination would have been the height of fashion in the 1870s. In places where the fabric has not been exposed to light and wear, the colors are dramatic in their contrast. Most striking is the incredible sheen of the gold silk threads. The original impact of the suite must have been stunning, whether viewed in daylight or shimmering by gaslight.
The pattern of the jacquard fabric was undoubtedly inspired by the interest in the exotic patterns on the textiles, metalwork, and ceramics of Japan. Though Europeans had had a renewed fascination with things Japanese since mid-century, it was the Japanese pavilion at the Centennial that opened Americans' eyes to the art of that nation. Cincinnatians were most receptive to the Japanese influence: one need only look at the decoration of early Cincinnati art pottery by Rookwood.
We sent images of the jacquard fabric to several experts who agreed that it was imported. According to Linda Parry of the Victoria and Albert Museum, its sophistication points to England or France as the place of manufacture (Parry 1992). It would have been a top-of-the-line upholstery choice.
With this parlor suite, Mitchell and Rammelsberg clearly wedded art and industry to produce a classic document of American aesthetic movement furniture.