9221 AN IMPORTANT PAIR OF NEO-GOTHIC ARMCHAIRS TO A DESIGN BY G.F. HETSCH Copenhagen. 1844. Measurements: Height: 38 1/2″ (98 cm) Width: 25 3/4″ (65.5 cm) Depth: 22″ (56 cm)
Of mahogany. Each with toprail of stylized foliate decoration issuing crockets with central finial of lapping leaf form set to either side with shaped circular finials of stylized foliate decoration above a panel filled with pierced quatrefoil inside a circle flanked by half-quatrefoils, the uprights in the form of stylized panelled pilasters with acanthine carving to the capital and with inverted capital to the base issuing from stylized foliate carving circular moulded armrests terminating in lion-head masks, each raised to the front on spreading octagonal upright raised on an inverted stylized acanthine capital, the seat rail set to each corner with foliate paterae, the whole raised on four legs with lapping acanthus carving above a shaped octagonal stem terminating in a peg foot.
The present pair of chairs are the work of the celebrated architect and designer Gustav Friedrich Hetsch. They correspond with a drawing in Hetsch’s hand, now in the collection of the Danish Museum of Applied Art in Copenhagen (figure 1), which shows the design of the chairs and represent the only piece of Neo-Gothic furniture that can with certainty be attributed to Hetsch.
Originally the chairs formed part of a suite supplied for Bernsdorff Castle, the summer residence of Crown Prince Christian of Denmark and bear the stamp of the Danish crown on the underside of the seat rail. The chairs seem likely to have formed part of the refurbishment of the castle undertaken in 1844 by Christian VIII under the supervision of the architect to the crown Jorgen Hansen Koch.
Two chairs of this type, along with a sofa, are in the collection of the Danish Museum of Applied Art, whilst a further example is preserved at the royal residence of Frederiksborg Castle (figure 2). Like the present chairs that example bears the royal monogram to the underside and in addition carries the mark of the Bernsdorff castle.
Hetsch’s involvement in the royal commission of Bernsdorff reflects his status as a designer to the elite of Danish society, whilst his adoption of the gothic manner illustrates his accomplishment in a wide range of architectural and decorative styles. In the 1830s he had been involved in the gothic restoration of Svanninge Church and Steensgard, at the same time as remaining involved in neo-classical projects such as that of Thorvaldsen’s museum. In the course of his career as an eminent theoretician and teacher at the Danish Royal Academy, where he occupied the post of Professor of Architecture from 1829, Hetsch referred to the gothic among the styles he singled out for praise.
Hetsch was originally born in Stuttgart but travelled widely throughout Europe, training in Paris under the famous architects Charles Percier and J.B. Rondelet, and studying for a time in Rome -experiences which gave Hetsch a European perspective that was to endure throughout his life. He arrived in Copenhagen at the age of twenty-nine and quickly established a close association with the royal architect C.F. Hansen, who was to become his father-in-law, an association which began with Hetsch acting as assistant on the construction of the Christiansborg Palace in the heart of Copenhagen. This connection gave Hetsch immediate access to the highest levels of Danish society and led to his working on a number of royal commissions. These projects and his long career at the Royal Academy led to Hetsch exercising a considerable influence over the cultural life of Denmark and he became one of Europe’s leading arbiters of taste, making what has been called a legendary contribution to the decorative arts.