The Talleyrand Bed

The Talleyrand State Bed before restoration

A State Bed from The Portland Collection was recently conserved.

The bed dates from the late eighteenth century and is from the Chateau de Valencay, owned by the French politician the Prince de Talleyrand. Talleyrand was one of history’s great survivors, a Royalist at the heart of government who managed to live through the French Revolution. This was a bed intended to impress and it may have formed part of the original furnishings of the chateau at Valencay, which was bought by Talleyrand in 1803.

The bed was sold by Talleyrand’s great nephew in 1899. It found its way to the furniture dealers Morants in London, where the 6th Duke of Portland purchased it in 1900 as a centre piece for the newly created state bedroom at Welbeck Abbey. The Duke and Duchess were great entertainers and the bed has been slept in by Edward VII, the Sultan of Zanzibar and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

After the death of the 6th Duchess of Portland in 1954 the bed fell into a state of disrepair.

For over 2 years, conservator Fiona Wemyss worked to bring the bed back to life and worked with a team of around 20 specialist craftspeople. With over 160 metres of newly woven fabric and 200 metres of newly woven braiding the bed is a fine example of how traditional craft skills are still important today.

How the bed was bought back to life

  1. The bed was shipped to Thermo Lignum who treated the woodwork and the existing fabrics to eradicate any insect pests.
  2. The bed was then sent to the conservation upholsterers where fabrics and frame were separated. At this stage it was determined that the fabrics were not original to the date of the bed but post-date1850 when the sewing machine was invented and were in fact most likely to date from c.1900. All fabrics were returned to Welbeck for archiving. The bed was re-upholstered using the original stuffings and the bed base was re-made.
  3. The bed was passed to gilder Mike Howden who carefully conserved the existing gilding and paintwork, repainting and regilding losses only where necessary. As well as the craft skill of gilding he had to decide how far to return the object to ‘brand new’. The decision was taken to return the bed to ‘country house condition’.
  4. Templates were made of all the original pieces of cut fabric and measured. It was determined that around 100 metres of fabric were needed for the outer curtains and upholstery with an additional 70 metres of fabric for the inner fabrics and almost 200 metres of new braiding.
  5. Templates and fabrics then went to curtain maker Hazel Alsop who cut the final pieces and made up the curtains and swags. All 160 metres of silk trimmings were sewn on by hand, an exacting task as the cream silk damask is a tightly woven fabric, not easy to sew.
  6. Dovetail Enterprises in Dundee made a brand new mattress for the bed, using skilled craftsmen to produce a handmade pocket sprung mattress.

Find out more

Plan your visit to the Museum to see the Talleyrand Bed.