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The Grecian Couch, Victorian Style
What the day-bed had been to the William and Mary, Queen Anne, and Chippendale periods, the couch was from the Sheraton through the Victorian years. The difference was that the day-bed was an ample side chair with seat extended to six feet; the couch was a modified sofa with a half back and one raised end.
The day-bed was sturdy, designed primarily for masculine use; the couch was of dainty design, usually with curved lines. How partial women were to it is indicated by book and magazine illustrations of the period showing elegantly clad ladies circumspectly reclining on a couch. . In a deluxe edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1853, there is a half-page chapter heading showing Mr. and Mrs. St. Clare on the veranda of their luxurious Louisiana plantation. He is enjoying his afterdinner cigar; she is half reclining on a couch with high arched head-rest. Her voluminous hoop skirt is draped to conceal both ankles and feet.
This type of couch, a Victorian version of Sheraton's Grecian design, attained such popularity that elaborate parlor suites sometimes included a matching pair, one with raised end at the right and the other at the left. They were so designed that they could be placed in balancing positions on either side of a marble-manteled fireplace.
John Henry Belter,was famous for his elaborate rosewood drawing room furniture, and may have been part of such a suite. Several of them are still in existence intact. This Belter couch is an impressive piece, six feet long and twenty-eight inches wide. The arched headpiece that shows its day-bed ancestry is joined at the front to a low enclosed arm and at the rear sweeps down in an undulating curve that almost reaches the open right end. A carved and pierced full-length cresting surmounts it. Its design is typically Belter and consists of intertwined tendrils and cymacurved scrolls combined with leafage, bunches of grapes, and at the top of the arching, a medallion of roses in bloom carved in high relief.
Exposed parts of the frame are finger-molded, with the front seat rail slightly valanced and decorated with carved conventionalized leafage scrolls. The four short cabriole legs have finger molding and flower-carved knees and end in rudimentary feet fitted with socket casters.
Less elaborate couches with the same general outline were made for use in a lady's boudoir or bedroom. Still others with variations in detail were made for parlors of pretentious homes. Since many of them are both comfortable and practical pieces of furniture, they are now regaining some of their original popularity.