Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Conservation in Action - The State (of the) Bed

For the next couple of Wednesday afternoons for our Conservation in Action event, the house team are focusing on Mrs Wyndham's Bedroom, upstairs in the bedroom corridor.

Visitors to Petworth House on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon are able to see the guest bedrooms in the house, and perhaps the most often commented on piece of furniture is the State Bed in Mrs Wyndham's Bedroom.

The State Bed

Dating from the 1750s, the Rococo bed is attributed to James Whittle and Samuel Norman. It features crimson damask hangings and is painted and parcel-gilt (partially gilded). The carvings on top include ostrich plumes and great pierced shells; the dome topping the bed features a Chinese dragon and a very cute squirrel eating a nut!

The dome topping to the bed - spot the squirrel, and all sorts of other creatures!

It was created for the Second Earl of Egremont (1710-1763) and it was originally displayed in the State Bedroom downstairs (now the White Library, open on most Monday afternoons) before fashions for downstairs bedrooms changed in the 1770s.

When the Dowager Lady Egremont lived at Petworth, she would always sleep in the State Bed. In the 1980's when the bed was treated by the V&A Conservation team, they were flummoxed by a strange staining which was covering the top dome of the bed. Experts were called in - was it some kind of mould? In the end, they asked the family - it turned out that the Dowager kept a pet owl who liked to roost in the carvings at the top of the bed - and so would naturally leave droppings which had covered the top of the bed!
The bed underwent conservation treatment for the V&A's Rococo exhibition and the bed was subsequently moved from the State Bedroom into its current position in Mrs Wyndham's Bedroom.

When it comes to us cleaning the bed now, we use a soft ponyhair brush with a vacuum cleaner to remove the dust in the carvings. The damask is cleaned using a textile brush attachment on the vacuum, along with a piece of netting to limit the stress on the fabric, and a very low suction on the vacuum.
The fragile nature of the bed means that it is cleaned as little as possible - meaning there are quite large dust deposits being found on the top hangings!
Photography isn't allowed in the bedrooms, as they are still a private part of the house belonging to the family. So to see just how we clean the bed and the rest of the furniture, you'll just have to visit us! (We will be cleaning Mrs Wyndham's bedroom on the 26th March and the 2nd April).

Conservation Assistant

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