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    Auction Finds

    A fine painting on the back of leather chair

    I was scouting out an auction house that sells lovely and sometimes unique furniture when I spotted a painting of a white-haired man slightly bent, his gaze intent.

    As I neared the piece of furniture I saw that the artist had painted the man on the back of a leather chair. How unusual. The leather was as thin as a canvas and the painting could easily have been hung on a wall. But here it was pulled taut over two wooden supports and attached with a series of large metal studs.

    The man in the painting seemed to be using his right index finger to count up something on the fingers of his left hand. The artist had even signed it, but I could not distinguish the name.

    Leather chair with painting on back

    The painted back of the leather chair with studs holding it in place.

    The seat was also tanned leather and had begun to sag from too much sitting. The wooden arms had a design of deeply carved curlicues.

    The chair was among furniture and other items waiting to be sold at the next day’s auction. This was not one of the auction house’s special sales so I had no bid sheet to offer me details about it.

    I come across painted chairs pretty often at auction, but they are usually craft projects. And furniture as art itself turns up from time to time, too.

    Leather chair with painting on back

    A full view of the leather chair with a painting on its back.

    Several years ago, I came across a very old and dusty chair that had been handmade for a little boy. The maker had carved an inscription into the wood: “To Richard, From Papa.” Richard’s dark chair had rows of metal studs and carved designs in the wood. It also had been used often; only remnants of the leather seat remained.

    Like Richard’s chair, this auction chair was perhaps one of a kind, made by the artist/artisan for him or herself or a family member or friend. It looked to be vintage; the seat had darkened, and the leather had worn away and grown thin around the front edge.

    I was curious about the chair, so I Googled to see if I could find another like it. I did not. I did find a much more valuable chair with a back that was a work of art.

    The chair was titled “The Arming of a Knight,” one of a pair of hall chairs designed by William Morris and painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti around 1856-1857. The chair and its companion, “Glorious Gwendolen’s Golden Hair,” are in the collection of the Delaware Art Museum.

    I did not attend the auction when the leather chair was sold. How popular was it, I wonder.

    Leather chair with painting on back

    An up-close view of the back without the studs gives the impression of a painting on canvas.


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