News - The Allegro Suite

Your gran's sideboard could be worth a fortune as the National Museums of Scotland acquires a rare example of furniture...

The modernist Allegro dining suite comprises a table, sideboard and six chairs and was 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 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.

The suite is on display in the Design for Living gallery at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Image - Senior curator Stephen Jackson with the Allegro sideboard, copyright Stewart Attwood
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