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Bellange Arm Chair

When the White House was rebuilt after the 1814 Fire, James Monroe bought furniture designed by the French cabinetmaker Pierre-Antoine Bellange. The furniture was decorated with carved sprigs of olive, although Monroe asked for eagles. The upholstery was listed as double-warp satin in delicate crimson and two shades of gold, with an American eagle woven into the center of a wreath of laurel. Of the pieces he purchased, only nine remain in the White House today, including this armchair, six other chairs, one sofa, and one pier table.

The bill from the furniture firm Russell and La Farge described these and other articles as for "the Account and Risk" of the President. In fact, Monroe ran some political risk; there was considerable public pressure to buy only goods from the United States. William Lee, who was the man in charge of ordering the furniture, wrote somewhat defensively, "It must be acknowledged that the French articles are of the very first quality..." Lee praised Bellange's suite as "substantial heavy furniture, which should always remain in its place, and form, as it were, a part of the house; such could be handed down through a succession of Presidents, suited to the dignity and character of the nation."

When President Buchanan came to the White House, however, he sold the Bellange chairs and sofas at an auction, and replaced them with a Victorian rococo-revival suite; it served into the Theodore Roosevelt Administration. Some of Monroe's other purchases were retained, including the Bellange pier table, a French clock and some ornaments. In the renovation of 1902, McKim, Mead & White restored the Empire decor and designed a set of furniture for the Blue Room based on the Bellange originals. The walls were covered with a heavy, steel blue ribbed silk, woven to match a sample from the Napoleonic era. The new oak floor of herringbone parquet was uncarpeted.

Blue fabrics served as both wall coverings and draperies from 1902 until 1962, when the room was redecorated and the walls were covered with cream-colored striped satin. By that time, the White House had been given three of the original Bellange chairs, from which copies were made. A fourth of the original chairs was acquired in 1963. With the renovation completed in 1995, there are now seven original Bellange pieces, including a sofa.

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