Alcove Bed

Lit d'alcove

French (Paris)
Jean-Baptiste-Claude Sené (French, 1747–1803)


Overall: 140.3 x 160.7 x 213.2 cm (55 1/4 x 63 1/4 x 83 15/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Carved and gilded beech

On View

Ann and William Elfers Gallery (Gallery 245)




Seating and beds

A bed intended to be placed lengthwise within a curtained bed alcove and retaining its original wood and iron casters, used to remove the bed from the alcove for housekeeping.

Part of a set of bedroom furniture (including Kneeling Chair 53.2092, Bergere 36.640, Firescreen 27.533, 2 Armchairs 50.2342, 53.2851, and 4 Side Chairs 27.524, 27.525, 47.244, and 53.2850)

In eighteenth-century France beds ranged from practical cots to extravagant fantasies. This bed was designed to stand lengthwise against the bedroom wall and was set into an alcove curtained off from the room, for privacy. The metal wheels facilitated the easy removal of the bed from its alcove in order to change the linens. The silk textiles and trimmings ordered for the bed and the alcove represented the greatest expense in the interior decoration of the room. The eighteenth-century upholsterer used a luxurious three-colored silk to cover the bed, line the walls of the alcove, and make the bed curtains; the silk and trims have been exactly reproduced.


1787, delivered to Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville d'Avray, intendant-general of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, Paris [see note 1]; 1792, seized by the French government [see note 2]. 1794-1796, probably acquired in Paris by James Swan, Boston, MA [see note 3]; after 1796, with his wife Hepzibah Clark Swan (d. 1825), Dorchester, MA; 1825, after her death, by inheritance to their daughter, Mrs. John C. Howard; by inheritance to her granddaughter, Miss Elizabeth Howard Bartol; 1921, gift of Miss Elizabeth Howard Bartol. (Accession date: June 2, 1921)

[1] see label found on the bed and Howard Rice, "Notes on the Swan Furniture," MFA Bulletin, Vol 38, p. 36-48. [2] After the downfall of the monarchy on August 10, 1792, Thierry was imprisoned and his belongings were seized. He died in the massacres at the Prison de l'Abbaye in September, 1792. [3] James Swan was a merchant established in Paris, and was appointed an official agent for the purchase of supplies in the United States in 1794 by the French Government. His partner was Johann-Caspar Schweizer, a Swiss. According to Howard Rice, the French Government placed at his disposal luxury goods to be exchanged in America for food supplies and war materials. The Swan and Schweizer agency shipped these articles to the United States between 1794-1795, where much of it was sold. However, this piece was among those that Swan kept for his personal use. See H. Rice "James Swan, Agent of the French Republic 1794-1796" The New England Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 3, Sept. 1937, p. 464-486.

Credit Line

Swan Collection—Gift of Miss Elizabeth Howard Bartol