Regency Furnishings: the Bergère

The bergère- a low, comfortable chair. The term means shepherdess in French.  In England, they called these easy chairs barjairs–or burjairs. They were first popular in the early part of the eighteenth century.

One can almost see a buck of the ton sprawled upon this exquisite piece of furniture. He would naturally stretch his nankeen-covered legs out, displaying his physique to advantage in negligent contrast.

The Northumberland bergère is on display at the V&A Museum in London, along with other remnants of the now-vanished Northumberland House. The following is a bill of sale from the manufacturer:

‘2 bergeres, from the antique, of your Graces aburra wood, highly polished, & richly carved & gilt with ornamented trusses, foliage leaves, scroll sides, &c the tablet back, & seats stuffed with the best horsehair in canvas, standing on brass socket castors.
£225 16s
To covering the seats, backs, & tablets of the bergeres with grey silk, lined with calico, & finished with silk gimps, & cord in suit £5 18s’ 

The Northumberlands also commissioned special covers in leather for the chairs, to protect such expensive pieces when the house was closed up. Not just any old Holland covers would do for Their Graces when they were not in residence.

The chair was designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt, eldest son of architect James Wyatt.  His clients, besides Their Graces of Northumberland, included the Prince Regent, the Duchess of Rutland and the Duke of Wellington.

His work on Lancaster House is the subject of this blog’s post from several years ago.

 

From the 1820s to the 1830s, Wyatt was responsible for a mini-revival of the Rococo, which had fallen out of favor decades before. As you can see, the bergère, while styled in the classical Grecian design, sports gilded scrolling .

Recalling the good times of the ancien régime.

The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland were married in 1817 in Northumberland House, which they renovated extensively during the late Regency. They had no children, so their energies were devoted to many and varied aspects of British public life, which, like their chair, live on today.

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Regency Furnishings: the Trafalgar Chair

Another great Pan cover — truth in advertising

“She wanted to be hearing of Lord Nelson, who had naturally been the hero of her school-days. It was her uncle’s only merit in her eyes that he must actually have spoken with the great man, but she could not induce him to describe Nelson in any other but the meanest of terms… a wispy fellow: not much to look at, he gave her his word.”

–Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer (1935)

 

The Royal Navy’s defeat of the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar was the stuff of legend, in part because Lord Nelson died on the altar of victory. What followed was a paroxysm of hero worship. The flag that draped his sarcophagus had been torn to pieces by sailors craving a memento. Poems and sermons in his memory were composed and distributed through recitals and magazines.

Legrand’s Apotheosis of Nelson — you get the idea

The cult of Nelson even penetrated the realm of Regency furnishings. Already present and popular among the ton, the classic, clean artistry of the Grecian style provided a perfect canvas for demonstrating hero worship.  Distinctive, yet blending well with surrounding furniture, the chairs made in this mode were particularly functional, as the following print shows.

The Greek influence is evident by the shape of the legs. They are carved outward, like sabres. Smaller in scale, they could easily be moved, and pressed into service for large gatherings.

The chair on the far right is a Trafalgar–the back, seat and leg carved as if in a single stroke down to the floor. The back features a patera ornament, a symbol of reverence, surrounded by the wreath of victory.

A bespoke Trafalgar would display symbolic ornamentation, demonstrating the owner’s refined taste. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has such a chair on display, with a back carved to look like a rope that might serve as a ship’s rigging.

V&A Trafalgar Chair

The ebony and gilt paint make the flower-like anthemione and rope carving particularly distinctive.

Nelson himself preferred a chair upholstered in leather, with side pouches that contained dispatches. A gift from his mistress, Lady Hamilton, it was known as the Emma, and kept in his cabin on board ship. The relic was put up for auction last year, still in its original leather upholstery. 

Today, it is the wing-backed, post-modern upholstered chair that Lord Nelson is known for. This one is on sale at 1stDibs.com

Claiming a connection to Trafalgar and its Hero, however trifling, was a mark of distinction, even if Judith’s uncle deplored it.

“Can’t understand what women see in him.”