The Grecian couch, otherwise known as a Kline in Greece, is a blending of a bed, couch, and sofa. Its functions is not only limited to providing a seat for sleeping and reposing, but also for reclining in when eating food. The long frame of the couch provides just the right length for a petite lady to repose in. Also the top of the frame is usually fixed with interlaced cords and on the interlacing; a mattress is placed on top of it with covers and a single long pillow.
The mattress, covers, and pillows are richly embroidered with silk in a light gold color.
The form directs the sitter to lie usually in any position leaving the head to rest on the right where the tallest backing is. There is only one armrest on the very left of the couch and a waist length backing to hold the sitter from falling off. While other Grecian Couches were being supplemented by rosewood, it is principally made out of mahogany wood.
The legs “that was similar to those found on a throne chair, namely legs terminating in animals’ feet” (Boger, “Guide to Furniture Styles” 5), are usually in the form of chimera, lion, eagles, and swans.
The carvings are earthy with leaf patterns and extended curved lines following the over arching “sweeping curves and scrolls” (Boger, “Guide to Furniture Styles” 5) that resembles the work of Duncan Phyfe in America. They are realistically carved sometimes with “medley of and human heads, sphinxes with upraised wings, dolphins, swans, ringed lion’s mask, and the lion monopodium (Boger, “Furniture Past & Present” 364).
Today, the additions of wheels are sometimes added to the legs of the couch to give it mobility. The John and Hugh Finlay brothers were the designers responsible for creating the couch, and much more famous Grecian furniture.
The Finlay brothers first advertised their designs in the Baltimore Federal Gazette of January 25, 1803. It was not until 1810 (Henry Ford Museum) till the Hugh brothers crafted the Grecian chair. The Finlay brothers worked at times together like when designing the Grecian couch and sometimes apart. Together, they provided to the high demands of hand painted high style furniture for people during the Royal empire styles of design. There was a huge improvement in wealth and class during that period which prompts the Finlay brothers to create luxury goods that promoted a neoclassicism American empire taste.
It was in Baltimore where the Finlay brothers generated a large quantity of classical period furniture. The furniture they built were “stylish, decorated furniture for a wealthy clientele” (Fodera, 183) before 1815, till they met Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Latrobe teamed up with the brothers to create “confident interpretation of the Greco-Roman aesthetic” style, with “careful attention given to every detail” (Fodera, 184) so that the brothers were able to create furniture for wealthy residences in Philadelphia and many other people in Maryland.
The Finlay brothers, with Latrobe partnering up, constructed some pieces of furniture to showcase in the Waln commission where they were able to showcase the “neoclassical style as well as the concept of a total approach to household decoration in America” (Fodera, 184) that influenced their direction. This led to Latrobe commissioning the Finlay brothers to decorated the drawing room in the White house for the President James and Dolley Madison in 1808, where a “set of 36 chairs, two sofas, and four settees” (Fodera, 184) were built. Unfortunately, the furniture remains no more after the White House burned in the fire of 1814.
The only thing remaining is the drawings the Finlay brothers made with Latrobe’s instructions on it. However, the fame from constructing furniture for the president, their partnership with Latrobe, and the influences of classical Greek and Roman designs with controlled palettes, led the Finlay brothers to travel Europe by 1810. This is where Hugh Finlay discovered the Empire motif and brought it back to America where with John helped develop quickly a “familiarity and comfort with the neoclassical idiom” that was readily apparent in the field.
They became the first firm to readily advertise painted classical furniture with great success. The trip to Europe and back by the Finlay brothers was one of the first Americans who brought the Grecian-Roman revival to the public. After the War of 1812, a sense of renewal of a better time became a distinct interest to designers as well as the public. With the help of the Finlay brothers, “there was a civility and sophistication in the late neoclassical ideals” (Greene, 122) that mirrored the continued success of the newborn America.
Thus from it grew the early empire style furniture in America, which featured elegant and delicate furniture with waterleaf carving being one of the favorite treatments like the Grecian couch. The Grecian style in which the Finlay brothers pulled from was perfected in the 5th century B. C. and it stayed as a furniture with curving lines and elegant simplicity till the emergence of the American empire style that pulled directly from it in the early 1800s.
The height to the American Empire style furniture that featured Grecian sofas and couches as their forefront was after the War of 1812 to about 1830, were the “obsession with the aesthetic styles of the ancient civilizations” (Greene, 124) was at its peak. Some people might get confused between the Egyptian and Grecian couch due to the similarity between the materials and style of carvings with animalistic foots that they both have. This might be due to the fact that Greece and Egypt are so close to each other and culture intermingled during the Roman period.
An important distinction, however, when comparing between the Egyptian and Grecian couch is that the Egyptian Couch has no back frame, nor an arm rest. The Grecian couch lacked the separate headrest, which was common in Egypt (Boger “Guide to Furniture Styles, 5). What makes this couch Grecian is that the backs of all Grecian couches do “not extend over the entire area of the couch, but leaves a portion of the seat without a back, indicating that the couch was intended to be used for reclining” (Miller), and not only for a place to sit.
As seen in Greek and other classical paintings, the chair is used as a place to lay and pose for artist to paint portraits. A famous portrait known as “Portrait of Madame Recamier” by Jacques Louis David in 1800 illustrates the ideal image of how one would imagine how to sit in such a delicate couch. One could imagine a lady reposing gracefully on the couch with a fan open chatting and flirting with gentleman. The Grecian couch is meant to display beauty and also represent class in order to decorate the room.
The second function and more modern coined term for the style like the Grecian couch is the “fainting couch” better known as a couch in a room that’s used to catch elegant women who often happen to faint, relax, or encounter a dizzy spell. The Grecian couch could have been a couch for women who needed to fall down onto something that would catch them. It was common for people at the time to have a couch like that in there home in order to provide the women with someplace to be distraught so they can relax.
Women was in no doubt the primary target for Grecian style designer, it quickly became popular in the early 1800s with both European and American interest in acquiring these couches in order to display not only wealth but the elegance of having a couch that would function as a designated fainting location. It’s quite possible that the blood vassal tightening corsets worn by women at the time could have influenced the effects of having fainting spells. The clothes worn by women and the amount of time spent at home worrying about there husband might have a contribution.
Another theory is the need for a couch that could be used to keep women comfortable enough for doctors to treat their female hysteria when anything unfortunate happens. The influences of the Grecian couch or fainting couch would later create a room known as the fainting room where the couch would be the centerpiece with other calming furniture and paintings would surround the room. During the period right after the War in 1812, also known as the American Revolution, resurgence of a want for peace but also the reminder of the past where fear and death was always around, the fainting couch had its role in comforting women.
The Grecian couch became a symbol to wealthy women as the couch used for comforting themselves when mentally stressed. The psychological advantage for the Grecian couch is found today as an example in the hit TV Show on AMC called Madmen where Betty Francis purchases a Grecian couch because she is mentally stressed out that she couldn’t be the perfect woman for Don Draper. At the same time she worries that he might be cheating on her. The act of buying a Grecian chair and resting on it could have meant many things, but to Betty it was a way to escape the awkward 60s after World War II.
Today, Grecian couches are used to display elegance and grace much like it did in the past, usually as a centerpiece for the room. New designs and more padding must have increase the comfort of the couch, so women today will use it to primarily to sleep, rest and read their books in. The design change keeps the Grecian chair elegant but with added comfort. It acts like a modern half bed for women to be comfortable and pretty in, just as they would look in a painting.