M987.66.3.1-3 | Bed

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Owen McGarvey
1870-1880, 19th century
222 x 155 x 27 cm
Gift of Mrs. Audrey Smith
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Bed (3)
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This bed, part of a bedroom suite, was made in the North American "Eastlake" style by Owen McGarvey (1824-1897), one of Montreal's most prominent 19th-century furniture makers. McGarvey was an Irish immigrant who arrived in Montreal in the early 1840s and worked as a cabinetmaker, upholsterer and furniture painter. Using the English and American pattern books that were readily available in Montreal, he designed furniture that was particularly popular with the expanding middle class.

Keys to History

The style of this piece of furniture, which was produced either industrially or by craft production, favoured a wide range of prices.

The sumptuousness of this imposing bed, which was part of a bedroom set also including a chest of drawers and a washstand, makes it a unique object. Its shape exemplifies the Eastlake style, a movement of English origin in vogue in North America at the end of the 19th century. The catalogues of the department stores, such as Eaton's, offered during this period many sets of this style, of which the simplicity of the geometric lines made possible mass production, and therefore more attractive retail prices.

This comes from McGarvey firm, one of the biggest manufacturers and merchants in Montreal. Located in downtown Montreal, the McGarvey factory then combined workshops and showrooms in several stories and employed sales techniques that were revolutionary for the time, recreating various settings and attracting customers with its most beautiful models. Its furniture was sold across Canada.

  • What

    This bed is made mostly of black walnut. Walnut is an easy wood to carve and takes on a beautiful finish, which is why it was popular in the late 19th century.

  • Where

    It was customary to place the head of the bed against the wall and in such a way that it did not face a window.

  • When

    In 1888, the manufacturer McGarvey declared that "the furniture [purchased by workers] is now twenty-five to fifty percent cheaper than fifteen years ago. The more common the type, the less it costs."

  • Who

    This bed bears the mark of the Montreal craftsman carpenter "J.P. Nelson."