Published: July 3, 2001
The Campaign Continues at the Katonah Museum of Art
KATONAH, N.Y. – During the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods, the sun never did set on the British Empire. Over a 200-year period of Empire building, Great Britain’s officer class carried with them “knock down” furniture – finely crafted collapsible tables, chairs, beds, armoires, sofas, bookcases, and decorative rdf_Descriptions – to the far reaches of the Earth.
Because Britain’s officers and gentlemen wished to maintain their way of life in the often inhospitable climates (and nations) to which they were posted, they invested in exquisitely and intricately tailored uniforms and costumes, and spent large sums to equip themselves with the luxurious trappings of home.
The furniture, paintings, photographs, slipcovers, books, chintz curtains, horsehair mattresses, rugs, and silver service staved off homesickness. More importantly, they preserved civilization, as they interpreted it – as well as the comforts of home. The quantity of what they carried seemingly was limited only by the number of servants or animal teams at their disposal.
“: Campaign Furniture of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian Periods,” on view through September 30, features approximately 100 objects with which officers, gentlemen, and their families furnished their tents and temporary lodging during 150-plus years of British domination of world commerce and politics.
The exhibition is curated by Nicholas A. Brawer, and is installed in both of the museum’s main galleries, one of which covers the Georgian and Regency periods (1740-1830) and the other, the Victorian and Edwardian eras (1837-1901).
A full-scale recreation of an officer’s tent, complete with campaign furniture, decorative objects, paintings, uniforms and dress, have been constructed in the Georgian/Regency gallery. Among many objects in the Victorian/Edwardian Gallery, are photographs of Victorian officers together with film footage (shown on monitors) from the Delhi Durbars of 1903 and 1911, accompanied by recordings of music written specifically for the 1903 Durbar, military marches, and music composed by Sir Edward Elgar.
Objects of particular interest in the show include a Regency chair-bed, circa 1810, by Thomas Butler, one of the greatest designers and makers of Regency campaign furniture; and Regency officer’s four-poster field bed, circa 1815, based on a Hepplewhite design; probably the most elaborate of its kind to be seen today.
Also included is an upholstered Georgian armchair with drop-in seat, hinged back, and concertina-style folding action, circa 1790, that also has side brackets that swing out to hold poles so that the chair can be easily carried; a child’s cabin bed, circa 1810, based on a Sheraton design, made by Morgan & Sanders, another of the greatest makers of Regency campaign furniture; and a Roorkee chair, circa 1900, typifies transition from heavy domestic furnishings of the Victorian period to lighter, more utilitarian camp furniture of the Edwardian period.
Other pieces include Day and Haghe’s “Bengal Troops on the Line of March, A Panoramic Sketch, by an Officer of that Army,” circa 1830, that measures 23 feet long; and a full dress uniform belonging to General Russell, 3rd Madras Light Cavalry, circa 1815-1820, one of the rarest and most elaborate Regency full dress uniforms extant.
Though elegant and fashionable, pieces needed to be practical and durable; they had to withstand a variety of climatic conditions from blistering heat to freezing winters.
Versatility was also important. There were instances where a dining table also functioned as a washbasin and writing table. In all cases, legs would either fold up or unscrew so that the tables and chairs they supported could be packed flat and easily stored and carried.
Over the years, renowned designers such as Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton were among those who created these ingenious, elegant, and cushy designs. The Duke of Wellington’s camp bed from the Napoleonic Wars was so comfortable he refused to sleep on any other bed for the rest of his life, even carrying it with him when he traveled from 10 Downing Street to Walmer Castle while Prime Minister. Some of these same designs, notably the sunken brass handles and reinforced brass edges on Victorian campaign furniture, are still popular today.
“Officers equated war with sport, and they set off on their campaigns with all the comforts of home,” notes Brawer in his essay, appearing in the 36-page illustrated catalogue that accompanies the exhibition. “In short, they created a portable empire wherein the most elaborate furniture could be folded up, crated, and transported without the use of nails, tacks, or tools, then reassembled.”
No matter where one might travel – India, Africa, the Far East, North America – British furnishings and customs remained, essentially, the same. “The transfer of British culture made these outposts a part of s,” Brawer says. “By the Victorian era, Britain’s overwhelming size and power were clearly reflected in the luxurious and extravagant suites of campaign furniture used at that time.”
The museum is on Route 22, just south of Route 35. During the summer, the Katonah Museum of Art is open from Tuesday to Friday and Sunday, noon to 5 pm; Wednesday noon to 8 pm; and Saturday 10 am to 5 pm. For information, 914-232-9555.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm