Painted Bedstead with Canopy
Heywood Bro. & Company; Painted by Thomas Hill and Edward Hill
Gardner, MA, ca. 1855
Collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Richard N. Greenwood; Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1978.305
American painted furniture encompasses elegant, high-style objects such as the Thomas Seymour commode painted by John Ritto Penniman (23.19), vernacular furniture such as Pennsylvania German blanket chests, and a wide range of styles in between. This bedstead is a particularly grand example of the middle-class cottage furniture popularized in the 1850s by illustrations in the widely circulating magazine Godey's Lady's Book. Architect and tastemaker Andrew Jackson Downing, in his seminal 1850 publication The Architecture of Country Houses, described cottage furniture as "remarkable for its combination of lightness and strength, and its essentially cottage-like character. It is very highly finished . . . Some of the better sets have groups of flowers or other designs painted upon them with artistic skill." Heywood Brothers made this bedstead for Levi Heywood, the president of the company. It was crafted of inexpensive pine, like other cottage furniture, but its painted decoration-attributed (according to company tradition) to the English-born brothers Thomas and Edward Hill-is exceptionally rich and elaborate. The ebonized surface is ornamented with hand-painted fruit and floral still life arrangements surrounded by Rococo Revival gilt borders. The landscape paintings on the headboard are of particular interest, as the Hill brothers went on to become distinguished painters of the American West and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.