American Art Collection Curatorial

From the Collection–John Henry Belter Sofa

Attributed to John Henry Belter (American, b. Germany, 1804–1863), Sofa, ca. 1850. Rosewood, rosewood laminate, modern velvet upholstery, 54 x 93 1/2 x 40 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Bequest of Mary Jane Rayniak in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph G. Rayniak M1987.16. Photo credit Larry Sanders.

I’m a Modernist. Give me George Nelson over the Herter Brothers any day.

But all my normal predilections aside, I do love this sofa in the Museum’s collection. It is positively dripping with flowers and leaves and fruit, puffed up with ornament and upholstery stuffing, and tufted on every square inch of its way-too-high-to-be-practical back.

This sofa is exactly the type of “disingenuous” factory-produced Victorian-era object that the reforming Modern designers of the early 20th century–heck, many stylish designers of today–decried as soulless.

So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day–a holiday that is also decried by cynics (me included) as soulless, mass-produced, and disingenuous–I thought I’d ignore all the star-crossed and wanton lovers in Museum paintings to point out this great red sofa that seems to embody all the over-the-top love and lust and chocolate truffles of this greeting card holiday.

This is the Valentine’s Day of furniture. A guilty pleasure we love.