9404 A HIGHLY UNUSUAL PAIR OF TROMPE L’OEIL AND FAUX WOOD PAINTED BENCHES North Italy Or Tyrolean. Circa 1800. Measurements: Bench A: Height: 42 1/2″ (108cm); Width: 93 1/2″ (237.5cm); Depth: 24 1/2″ (62cm) Bench B: Height: 39 1/2″ (100cm); Width: 90 1/2″ (230cm); Depth: 21″ (53.5cm)
Of painted deal. Each of breakfront form with open back and shaped seat, the toprails and posts painted with faux wood and trompe l’oeil objects, the seats edged with faux wood with panels filled with trompe l’oeil objects, the seat above a conforming frieze with faux wood decoration, the whole raised on four sets of trestle feet, the central trestles united by a shaped stretcher with ebonised edging.
The present pair of benches is an unusual example of painted furniture being produced in regions of northern Italy and Austria, particularly the Tyrol around the turn of the 18th century. Charming and somewhat rustic in style, the benches are painted with flora, insects and various trinkets. All of these articles are illusionistically rendered using trompe l’oeil effects, giving the viewer the impression that there are actual objects fixed to the benches.
Though made of deal, sections of the benches are also painted with faux wood grain. “At the end of the eighteenth century, a refined technique of graining was developed” which closely imitated wood. Publications such as Nathaniel Whittock’s Decorative Painters’ and Glaziers’ Guide gave detailed instructions on the methods and tools to use when simulating wood. Special brushes and combs would have been employed on the present pieces to create this effect.
The unusual inverted backrests of breakfront form strongly suggest that the benches were made for a specific space within a scheme, perhaps surrounding an architectural element or the trunk of a tree within a greenhouse or atrium. Landscape architecture in the 18th and 19th centuries often sought the aesthetic ideal of the picturesque, where the spectator is engaged in an organically expressive and pleasing atmosphere, created without necessarily achieving beauty or sublimity. While originating in England with landscape designers such as Humphry Repton, the trend spread throughout Europe. In Italy, it was referred to as Architettura Campestre. Furniture like the present benches, of unique shape and painted design, were used to complete these schemes.