Unique zodiac settle for Bedford

  • 5 November 2010

Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum is hoping to save a unique zodiac settle designed by 19th century architect William Burges.

Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum is hoping to save a unique zodiac settle designed by 19th century architect William Burges.

A settle is a wooden day-bed or bench. This particular piece is highly valuable and is subject to a temporary export bar until 20 December, put in place by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey.

Following the decision, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum was identified as the most appropriate UK institution to mount a fundraising campaign to raise the £800,000 necessary to acquire the settle for public collections. We’ve offered £150,000 towards the acquisition.

The settle (1869-70) is an ornate seat or bench that combines the form of an Italian Renaissance day-bed with a castellated canopy inspired by the English Gothic. It is made from painted, stencilled and gilded wood, decorated with rock crystal and slips of vellum. The central panel, painted by Burges’ collaborator Henry Stacey Marks, features the sun on a throne, surrounded by the dancing signs of the zodiac, while other panels show the Planets as musicians and female figures.

William Burges (1827-1881) was one of the most distinguished architects of the 19th century and a central figure in the Gothic Revival movement

Designed by Burges for his own use, the settle was firstly in his rooms on Buckingham Street off the Strand in London, and later moved to Tower House, the gothic residence Burges built for himself in Holland Park. Tower House has been described as one of the most important architect’s houses of the 19th century.

Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum houses the finest collection of painted furniture designed by William for his own use. This includes the Sleeping Beauty Bed, the Narcissus Washstand and a dressing table, all from Burges’ own bedroom, as well as a pair of cabinet doors, a wardrobe and a zodiac-themed bookcase. The collection also includes a tulip vase, a decorative silver decanter, a set of knives and forks, an enamelled silver bracelet, and a set of 30 zodiac-themed tiles, which we helped the museum buy with a £8,750 grant in 2008. The Art Gallery & Museum is subject to a £6.6 million redevelopment project which will see the complete refurbishment of the facilities. This will result in the creation of a new William Burges Gallery, designed to house this outstanding collection.