Sewing table

Jennens & Bettridge
Birmingham, c. 1850
Base in blackened wood; sewing table in varnished papier mâché, mother-of-pearl inlays, painted and gilt decoration
Acquired with the support of Michel and Hélène David-Weill, 1995
Inv. 994.84.1
© Les Arts Décoratifs / photo: Jean Tholance

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Papier mâché was invented in China during the Han Dynasty between the second centuries BC and AD. After being confined to Asia for a time, it became very popular in England and France in the mid-noneteenth century. The Jennens & Bettridge factory in Birmingham was one of the main producers. Its luxury quality lay not so much in its materials as in its effects of brilliance and dynamic forms. The furniture pieces were made by heating a paste of cardboard and glue that was poured into a metal mold and left to cool. Once the paper mâché had hardened, it was varnished, embellished with mother-of-pearl inlays and painted to imitate the perfect polish and decorative effects of oriental lacquer. The flexibility of the material also made it possible to create sophisticated curved and rounded forms: it would have been very difficult to make the globe of the sewing table from wood. Initially reserved for an elite, this technique gained popularity thanks to the massive use of paper and new industrial processes.

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