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Alternative designs for a state bed, 1788 (2)

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Soane's office Journal 1 shows that two 'fair' drawings of different designs for a state bed were sent on 11 January 1788. One of these survived among the Beckford papers and is now in the Bodleian Library (see below) and the other has not been traced. The drawings catalogued here are copies, presumably made by one of the two pupils then in Soane's office. Drawing 12 shows a design for a bed set in an alcove with fringed and tasselled swags. Drawing 13 omits the alcove and shows a simpler version of the bed with single posts (square in section) instead of double (columnar) bed posts and a less elaborate canopy.

Drawing 12 is a copy of the accepted design now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (MSS Beckford b.8.fo.1). That drawing is inscribed by Soane 'Design for the State bed / at Fonthill' and is signed by him and dated 'Welbeck Street Jan:ry 1788'. The Bodleian drawing has red and light red washes for the hangings and yellow wash (representing gilt) for the bed. Another (pen) drawing (MSS Beckford b.8.fo.2) shows a 'Section of one side of the Chamber & recess for the Bed'. Both drawings are reproduced in the Apollo article cited above (figs 9-10).

Christopher Woodward (op.cit. p.34) wrote that the designs for 'two such whimsical pieces of Grecian monumentality reinforces the impression that Beckford was the spirit of the design and Soane acted as his executive architect. The heraldry embossed on the head-board; the self-indulgence in crimson and scarlet fabrics; the location of the bed in a curtained recess in the grand old French manner; these are all pure Beckford'. The executed bed was sold in the 1801 auction of Fonthill Splendens' contents to John Dimon, an actor and impressario in Bath who died in 1812. It is not known whether it has survived.

The two drawings now in the Bodleian Library came from the Sotheby's sale of 'The Beckford Papers sold by Order of His Grace the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon Lot 272' on 6 July 1977.

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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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