Hearst Castle: Assessments, 2

MPF Conservation has assessed and conserved furnishings of upholstered and non-upholstered objects for Hearst Castle; this page discusses some of the on-site assessments we have performed.

Especially in government-owned properties, assessments are important in assisting curatorial staff as they choose projects to be treated and set yearly and long-term budgets.

Right, the Italian Appliqued Footstool.

A note about not wearing gloves when handling antiquities: Protocol is to wear gloves, however, sometimes it is better to wash our hands often and not touch our face or other objects to keep hands clean rather than wearing gloves. Gloves can get caught on threads, escutcheons, splinters, bits of paint, and cause losses in objects.

On this page:

  • Italian Florentine Baroque Gilded Applique Footstool circa 17th Century
  • French Gothic Louis XIII Side Stool circa 17th Century
  • Three Gilded French Louis XV Fauteuil circa 1720-1730

A note about maline, discussed in several upholstered items below: This netting was commonly used in museums to protect textile fibers from environmental damage, including fiber sloughing. However, many museums and collectors no longer consider this practice to be in the best interest of the historic textiles, because the seasonal or even daily expansion and contraction due to fluctuations in temperature and humidity cause the sharp nylon maline to abraid the the surfaces. MPFC expressed this concern to the Castle and it is likely they have removed maline from many items.

Above, detail of the showcover showing maline over the top of the appliqued showcover, and the showcover. Below, the gilded frame which MPFC believes has an original overcoating.

Italian Florentine Baroque Gilded Applique Footstool circa 17th Century

The appliqued footstool appears to be gilded with a bronze painted overlay. It has a historic appliqued showcover on a velvet ground, with a original woven metallic braid stitched onto the geometric patterns and crest.

It appears the historic textile was removed once, and this was probably when the cotton mustached trim was applied, shown left, though the decorative nails are handmade and are likely original to the piece. It is possible the trim was a replacement for a degraded historic trim. The galloon (sitting just above the trim) is a decorative woven tape with touches of metallic thread, likely original.

The jute upholstery webbing and hessian are late twentieth century American. Mitchell believed the fiber buildup was original to the piece, and when work was performed the historic textile appliqued showcover was set back onto the frame and historic fiber pods.

Note the maline, shown right in the detail of the appliqued showcover.

French Gothic Louis XIII Side Stool circa 17th Century

The side stool or footstool is Brazilian walnut (Imbuia) solids with an oak secondary upholstery frame.

The historic tapestry is a Jacobean silk and woolen petitpoint circa 17th century as well, with pineapple and floral motifs. Seldom does one come across a textile from this period which has been in use for four centuries without major condition issues. That said, it does have condition issues in yarn losses around the vertical apron structures, and should have structural repairs and selective yarn infills in order to mitigate future losses.

On-site inspection revealed the textile was removed from the frame during the second half of the twentieth century. The horsehair pod which forms the upholstery foundation is in need of traditional reparation by a skilled upholstery conservator.

The walnut frame displays many long-extinct beetle exit holes. At the leg-to-frame joins MPFC found a loss of substrate which needs to be addressed.

The finish is original and has not been over-layered with modern products, displaying a beautiful patina.

Three fauteuil with their seats and inside backs, above;
below, the Doges Suite where they live.

Three Gilded French Louis XV Fauteuil circa 1720-1730

The three gilded fauteuils live in the Doges Suite, shown above.

The European beech frames are damaged: cracks and chips can be seen in the seats and legs, shown below. The structural elements and joinery show condition issues.

Left and above left, good details of the decorative nails and trim.

The silk needlepoint or petitpoint are in poor condition. The showcovers appear to be a mix of both, and are hard to inspect through the maline; see note at the beginning of this page.

Each textile back and seat of each fauteuil are different designs, and it appears the inside backs are mythological scenes, while the seats are pastoral scenes. It was difficult to see the motifs clearly, partly due to fading and fiber loss, and also because they are under a layer of maline, shown left and in the two images below.

However, it was not the maline overlay which caused the bulk of the damage to the historical textiles, but rather an underlay of a very coarse needlepoint grid attached beneath the decorative textiles prior to their purchase by Hearst. MPFC assumes the grids were attached by the previous owner or auction house in an attempt to stabilize the historic tapestry which was likely showing condition issues at purchase. It is literally pulling the fibers from underneath, destroying the images through the sifting action of the grid beneath!

Below, note the thick bright beige grid, versus the darker grid
(easier to see above the white grid in the right image).

At some point the historic gilding was overcoated with a gold paint. The Castle staff has no record of this practice in their records, so it is likely it was completed prior to the State becoming the caretaker of the property. We can see a coat of a gold “paint” shown in many images below.

Note that when the fauteuils’ frames were overcoated, they did it with the trim intact, and a lot of paint got on the trim, shown right and on images above.

The historic gilding should look more like the image right, where you can see bole underneath the word burnished gold leaf and the ghosting of the square leaves. Compare that with the “paint” on the image above left, which is flat, opaque, and lifeless.

Above, showing side views and outside back; below, details of front carving, passementerie,
decorative nails, and close-ups of one of the backs which is in better condition.

Details of arm and leg frames, above, and below, arm top with needlepoint,
the underside of one chair, and the very worn arm.
On the arm you can see the bole and the layers of gilding and paint, below right.

The underside of the fauteuil revealed a great deal of information relative to original finish, paint ovecoating, repairs and previous upholstery efforts.

Additional research about the provenance of the needlepoint tapestries would be interesting. An acquisition label, bottom, reads “Brothers of –“, which is illegible. We’ve searched many times over the years with no luck on the rest! The label on the underside also indicates there were originally ten gilded fauteuils and a matching sofa in the Castle, though we only assessed the three in the Doges Suite.

Above, an example of a label from the underside of one of the chairs.
MPFC has to be able to decipher these labels!

Other Hearst Castle Pages are: