January ArtBreak: Parlor Sofa

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"Parlor Sofa" (1850-1855), workshop of John Henry Belter (active 1840-1863), American (1804-1863), New York, New York. Laminated rosewood with upholstery. Gift of the family of Dr. and Mrs. Jackson Leonard Bostwick, Sr. 1989.185.
“Parlor Sofa” (1850-1855), workshop of John Henry Belter (active 1840-1863), American (1804-1863), New York, New York. Laminated rosewood with upholstery. Gift of the family of Dr. and Mrs. Jackson Leonard Bostwick, Sr. 1989.185.

Our monthly ArtBreak, taking place on Tuesday, January 19 at 11:30AM, will focus on John Henry Belter’s Parlor Sofa.

John Henry Belter is one of the best known of America’s mid-nineteenth-century cabinetmakers. One of many German-born craftsmen working in New York, he is renowned for his laminated and carved Rococo revival style parlor suites. Introduced to America around 1840, this style imitated the curves and floral motifs of eighteenth-century French design, though American pieces tend to be bolder and more naturalistic.

Similar to the style of Victorian Rococo, the parlor sofa features cabriole legs, scroll feet, and an extravagant use of naturalistic ornament. Although the principle of lamination was not new, Belter’s method of steaming layers of wood in molds, so that they could be bent into graceful shapes, created a distinctive style. This sofa features the “Fountain Elms” pattern, adorned with grapevines, scrolling oak leaves, flower baskets, and birds.

Belter manufactured many types of furniture in his New York factory, and it was particularly popular in the Deep South’s antebellum plantation homes. To learn more about the sofa and discuss its importance in American art history, please join us for ArtBreak!