The Wild Side Of John Henry Belter

by John Werry on March 19, 2009

belter lion head chairs The Wild Side Of John Henry Belter

I hadn’t been paying attention. It took a couple years into my Victorian furniture “mindshift” for me to notice that some of the attributed John Henry Belter chairs had lions carved into the arms.  I had probably seen hundreds of photos of Belter furniture and had kept overlooking those with these rarer design variations where Belter employed animals into the carvings.  The chair above is from “American Furniture 1620 to the Present” by Fairbanks and Bates.

More John Henry Belter Oddities

Since I’m already on the topic of this particular chair, above, you may be interested in some of it’s other unusual design features.  The lion’s heads at one time had holes (later filled in) which presumably held the ends of a tray, “making this a type of reading chair”, according to the book, “The Furniture of John Henry Belter And The Rococo Revival” (AKA, to me, the Belter book).

This chair design is related to his Tuthill King pattern yet has an open area between the back and seat (usually the back-to-seat is uninterrupted).  There is also a concealed row of unfinished spindles in the back behind the upholstery.

Also, if you are familiar with Belter’s usual leg designs, you would notice how unusual the curvature is on these particular legs.

Back To The Animals – Serpents and Lions

The chair below is one that Neal Auction had sold in their October 2008 Louisiana Purchase Sale.  It was attributed to Belter due (I assume) to it’s laminated Rosewood construction.  Neal’s may have also compared the lion head arms to those on a sofa in the Belter book on page 65 and concluded they were very similar.

We have seen this chair form often attributed to George Henkels and have seen one stamped “C.W. and Co.”, presumably referring to Charles White of Philadelphia.  Apparently, this was a form that numerous makers imitated.

john henry belter neal auction lion chair The Wild Side Of John Henry Belter

Belter also incorporated sea serpents prominently into at least one sofa design with two large serpents on the  crest rail.  The full length of the serpents, whose mouths end at the central crest and whose bodies trail down towards the arms are reticulated and have overlapping scales.  If I can get a good copy of images of the sofa, I will share them in a future post.

So Belter wasn’t all about just flowers, vines, fruit and cornucopias.  He also incorporated nicely detailed carvings of animals, mythical and real.  Maybe one of these days we’ll take a peek at his presidential and Shakespeare imagery as well.

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 The Wild Side Of John Henry Belter

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

linda January 16, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I have a chestnut rocking chair with the arms, at the end where your hands rest, are carved lions heads. The chair is dated 1892. I would like to know the value of such chair. I can not find anything on the internet that looks anything like it.
thank you,
linda

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