Chair

Ref: 1797
  • Maker

    Manufactured by John Bettridge & Co. (fl. circa 1859-circa. 1869)

  • Detail

    Papier-mâché on wooden frame, with metal inlay; the caned seat restored

    96 x 45 x 46.5 cm (max. depth, outside of legs)

    English (Birmingham), circa 1865

  • Note

    The Birmingham Daily Post, 7 May 1866, reported that Christopher Dresser had recently been lecturing in Birmingham and had agreed to supply designs for papier-mâché objects to J Bettridge and Co.’ (British and Irish Furniture Makers Online; accessed 14 September 2023).

    The chair shown here has a metal label for John Bettridge (late Jennens and Bettridge), that dates its manufacture to the period 1864-70 (BIFMO) or fl. 1859-c. 1869 (Yvonne Jones, Japanned Papier Mâché and Tinware c.1740-1940. Woodbridge, 2012).  Whichever the preferred dates, this chair was made at the time of Dresser’s association with the firm.

    The form of the present chair, steam-moulded and embellished with metal ornament, is an adaptation of the familiar Victorian ‘balloon back’ chair, however both its design and technique lift it to a higher level.  But for the coincidence of Dresser’s involvement with Bettridge, the adaptation of classical elements is perhaps more suggestive of Owen Jones, who is not known to have been connected with the firm.  Dresser and Jones were, of course, closely associated at this date.

    The only item we know Dresser designed for Bettridge is an untraced ‘Extra large portfolio’, auctioned in 1870 (Jones, p. 164).  From the same catalogue, we can glean that black and maroon were favoured ground colours, and that prolific use was made of ‘inlaid aluminium’ (Jones, loc. cit.).  Two related, but more conventional, chairs are illustrated by Jones (fig. 162).

    The chair has a real ‘South Kensington’ feel, which puts one in mind of Owen Jones, but this would not preclude Dresser.  The essential form of the chair is somewhat conventional, certainly by the standards of what Dresser would soon be designing.  However, given that Dresser supplied designs to Bettridge, it seems not invalid to ask if he might have been responsible for the design of this chair.