Pittock Mansion: French Triple-Back Canapé

MPF Conservation assessed many of at the Pittock Mansion; this page features the beautiful French Triple-Back Canapé circa 1680, shown left and below.

The canapé currently lives in the library, top, which in itself is a lovely room worth visiting; note the ceiling and hanging lamp fixture.

The canapé is covered in a needlepoint tapestry which appears to be Flemish, from the 18th century (detail second and third image below).

Above, details of the canapé’s upholstery, including the degraded outside back.

The current outside back is a cotton cross-woven gingham, shown images five-seven above. The gingham’s tones originally reflected the golds, blues, peach-rose tones within the historic needlepoint tapestry.

The gingham is quit faded from sun exposure and is also rotting. MPFC places the gingham circa 1890-1910, and was likely placed on the outside back just prior to the purchase, so is a second generation showcover.

Underneath the gingham is a bright blue passementerie, giving us a glimpse into the brighter color palette of the canapé before generations of fading occurred.

The canapé did not have seat springs originally; historically seat springs did not come into fashion until the early nineteenth century, from 1830-1840.

The older crude hemp cross-woven webbing, shown left stretched beneath a more recent webbing, was used in the Palatinate (Germany) and France during the first half of the nineteenth century.

This information, combined with the hand-forged tacks securing the webbing, flax twine stitching the coil springs to the webbing, and the over-large copper brazed iron coil springs, confirms the work to be European, circa 1830-1840.

The over-layer of jute webbing is also a clue as to when the canapé was repaired for sale. The width and double red stripe of the webbing are indicative of webbing used in Europe between 1890-1910.

Upholstery forensics is based upon evidence — in this case materials and work styles — and subtle clues which to a trained eye with a background in upholstery history can be quite blatant!

Above, the quite broken baluster style turnings of the legs and
stretchers underneath with interlocking mortise and tenon decorative blocks.

The badly damaged turning structure is primarily due to an extinct beetle infestation from long before the canapé was given to the Pittock, and likely long before the donors owned it! NO evidence of beetle dust cold be shaken from any part of the canapé.

Decades of expansion and contraction and season humidity sifts from summer to winter finally turned the substrate into a cracker-like substance.

Now a decision must be made relative to the survival of the canapé, whether to replicate the turnings or to prop them up using clear acrylic blocks beneath the stretchers.

The turnings were originally created on a human-powered foot-pole lathe and if fresh turnings were to be crated, specific measurements would have to be taken in order to replicate the hand-made nuances.

This is a conundrum which working house museums deal with daily, and it is a difficult decision to make because of normally tight funding and competing needs in a large collection, and in this case, housed in a large structure, Pittock Mansion, which also has needs of its own. Working with a seasoned object’s conservator as an ally is the best choice, for they can lay out all the options for preservation and the consequences of each option.

What the future holds for this unique survivor from the reign of Louis XIII is yet unknown, and as historians and lovers of the decorative arts it is our hope that somehow the monies will be raised to preserve this decorative beauty and that the canapé graces the Pittock Library well into the next century.

Image of the Library at the top left of this page is from Wikimedia, and was taken by Steven Pavlov.