Thursday 20 April, 2017

National Museums Scotland has acquired a rare example of furniture designed by Sir Basil Spence - one of the leading British architects of the 20th century - and manufactured by Glasgow firm H. Morris and Company around 1949.

The modernist Allegro dining suite comprises a table, sideboard and six chairs, and will go on display from today in the Design for Living gallery at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The acquisition has been made possible by generous funding from Art Fund. A landmark in post-war British furniture design, fewer than ten of the suites were made due to the substantial cost of the manufacturing process.

In 1949, the Allegro dining suite was exhibited at Glasgow Today and Tomorrow at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall and was awarded a diploma by the Council of Industrial Design. An example of the armchair was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art, New York for their collection.

The manufacture of the Allegro suite took inspiration from wartime innovation, specifically techniques of laminating and shaping wood to make strong and light helicopter blades. These blades were supplied by Morris of Glasgow which applied the same technology to furniture after the war. More than 100 layers of wood were bonded together before being shaped and carved.

Stephen Jackson, Senior Curator, European Decorative Arts at National Museums Scotland said:

“The Allegro dining suite is an exceptionally rare and iconic set of furniture. Its significance lies in Spence’s wonderfully well-conceived design, which is something of a poem to plywood, striving to expose and express the material at every opportunity. The techniques used to manufacture it were ground-breaking at the time. I am delighted that we have been given the opportunity to add it to our nationally significant furniture collection thanks to the generous support of Art Fund.”

Sir Basil Spence was one of Scotland’s most recognised architects, responsible for the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, Hyde Park Cavalry Barracks, Glasgow Airport and the British Embassy in Rome. Spence co-ordinated several exhibitions including Enterprise Scotland at the then Royal Museum in Edinburgh in 1947 and made a major contribution to the Festival of Britain in 1951.

H. Morris and Company was established in 1914 and specialised in fitting out hotels, cinemas and Clyde-built ships. During the 1930s they became innovators in timber lamination technology and design.

Further information and images from Alice Wyllie, National Museums Scotland Press Office on 0131 247 4288 or a.wyllie@nms.ac.uk

Notes to Editors

  1. National Museums Scotland is one of the leading museum groups in the UK and Europe and it looks after collections of national and international importance. The organisation provides loans, partnerships, research and training in Scotland and internationally. Our individual museums are the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National War Museum. The National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh houses conservation and research facilities as well as collections not currently on display. 

  2. The National Museum of Scotland is the most popular museum in the country outside of London (source: Association of Leading Visitor Attractions). The National Museum of Scotland was awarded ‘Gold’ Level Green Tourism Visitor Attraction status in 2016. 

  3. Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators. Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 123,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions and subscription to Art Quarterly magazine. In addition to grant-giving, Art Fund’s support for museums includes Art Fund Museum of the Year (won by the V&A, London, in 2016) and a range of digital platforms. Find out more about Art Fund and the National Art Pass at http://www.artfund.org/. For further information please contact Madeline Adeane, Press Relations Manager, madeane@artfund.org / 0207 225 4804

Header image © Steward Attwood

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