Thursday, June 25, 2015

Photo Friday: The Victorian Étagère

By Gretchen Sawatzki

It may have a strange name, but the Victorian étagère was an important new piece of furniture popular during 19th and 20th centuries.  A furniture form used to outfit a proper parlor, Victorians used the étagère to display all types of decorative items from plants, to needlework, and even wreaths made from hair. It is an example of some of the first pieces of furniture used strictly for display. Prior to the étagère, furniture often served a type of storage the function, but the étagère's prime purpose was strictly for display - showing off a wealth of decorative items that would have been appealing to visitors in the home.

Étagère circa 1850. Image by the Metropolitan
Museum of Art,

With open shelves and flat back, the étagère adhered to furniture of the period, which was typically displayed on the perimeter walls of the parlor. Victorians would line the walls of their spaces with furniture that was built with castors. When company would arrive, the furniture would be pulled to the center of the room returning back to the walls post-entertaining. The étagère did not have castors, but did face forward presenting the decorative items in a very formal manner.

Today, étagères are often referred to as "whatnots" because they hold all types of knick knacks, and can be found in all types of designs. The one in this photograph is a classic example of a Rococo Revival style étagère from circa 1850 in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  The Illinois State Museum:
  The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

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