A unique zodiac settle designed by William Burges is currently subject to a temporary export bar put in place by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, following a recommendation from the Reviewing Committee on the Sale of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest. The export bar expires on 20 December 2010.
Following the decision, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum has been identified as the most appropriate UK institution to mount a fundraising campaign to raise the £800,000 necessary to acquire the settle and save it for the nation.
The settle (1869-70) is an ornate seat or bench that combines the form of an Italian Renaissance day-bed with a castellated canopy inspired by the English Gothic. It is made from painted, stencilled and gilded wood, decorated with rock crystal and slips of vellum. The central panel, painted by Burges’ collaborator Henry Stacey Marks, features the sun on a throne, surrounded by the dancing signs of the zodiac, while other panels show the Planets as musicians and female figures.
Designed by Burges for his own use, the settle was firstly in his rooms on Buckingham Street off the Strand in London, and later moved to Tower House, the gothic residence Burges built for himself in Holland Park. Tower House has been described as one of the most important architect’s houses of the 19th century. Burges left hundreds of drawings of Tower House showing his plans for the interior design schemes. These show that the zodiac settle was placed in the Drawing Room, decorated on the theme of love, from which Burges intended to completely remove chairs. Unlike other pieces of his painted furniture, such as cabinets and bookcases, the settle was an experiment in form and design that was never repeated in any of his later furniture commissions.
If we were succesful in acquiring the settle, it would be the perfect addition to the collection of work by Burges already held here. The collection includes the Sleeping Beauty Bed, the Narcissus Washstand and a dressing table, all from Burges’ own bedroom, as well as a pair of cabinet doors, a wardrobe and a zodiac-themed bookcase. The collection also includes a tulip vase, a decorative silver decanter, a set of knives and forks, an enamelled silver bracelet, and a set of 30 zodiac-themed tiles. The settle would form a central piece of the new Gothic Revival Gallery proposed in our redevelopment plans.
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