Design painted on antique furniture

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Painted furniture, be it vintage or antique, was produced, often as gifts, to document a significant event in one’s life. It is common for painted pieces of furniture to be associated with weddings, births, or anniversaries. Passed down from generation to generation, expressive painted furniture was reserved in many cultures as an expressive keepsake. This domestic adornment relates directly to characteristics of a particular area or region and highlights native traits.

Originating in Europe, this tradition of painting and then presenting a piece of furniture to a person on a special occasion spread to other areas of the world.

How to Paint Furniture

Pigments and finishes on most antique painted furniture date from the 17th to the 20th Centuries. Most painted furniture was achieved by applying multiple layers of black iron oxide and linseed oil paint onto a prepared wood piece. While many painted pieces are black for this reason while other colors were introduced as time progressed.

In the history of art and antiques, the 18th Century represented the high point in the production of painted furniture. The colorful European Rococo style of such furniture was all the rage in period homes, community churches, and civic buildings.

Folk Art

Painted furniture featured landscapes, figures, fruits, animals, flowers, native creatures, etc.

Itinerant (traveling) painters and craftsmen lent their artistic expertise to the production of painted furniture pieces such as chairs, settees, armoires, cabinets, chests, benches, and other functional pieces, European emigrants brought many distinct regional styles and art forms to the art movement of painted furniture.

By the early 20th Century, painted furniture impacted American culture and design. Classified as folk art or peasant art, these painted pieces command a strong market interest. Antique painted furniture commands very high prices in the market today.

What to Look For

Antique painted furniture

Wear patterns and pigment fading or loss will reveal a great deal of information about the authenticity and origin of a piece of painted furniture. For instance, areas of a piece of painted furniture where other objects have come into contact with the piece will reveal information about the piece’s age and background. The feet of a chest or the surface of a table will show if a piece has been repeatedly repositioned or cared for improperly. Look for signs of abrasions, scratches, paint loss. Areas where hands may have touched a piece and left a residue can help identify condition.

Palette colors will help to learn the regional background of a painted piece of furniture. Certain colors are connected to a particular area of the world or regions of a country. Look for pigment colors to learn where your painted furniture originates. All these factors will affect values for pieces.

Get an online appraisal of your painted furniture from Dr. Lori.