The draped bedstead in the Blue Room was the costly and dramatic focal point of the room. While the original bed and hangings no longer survive, documentary evidence suggested that the bed ensemble in the Blue Room in 1799 may have been one acquired by the Washingtons in the early days of their marriage. George Washington had requested a bed with “fashionable blew or blew and white Curtains” in a May 1, 1759 order to his London agents, shortly after introducing his new bride to Mount Vernon for the first time after their January wedding. Given the date of the request, it was likely Mrs. Washington who initiated it, seeking to fashionably furnish their new home together.
The detailed description of the ensemble in the August 6, 1759, invoice from London upholsterer Philip Bell enabled curators and artisans to produce a painstaking re-creation of one of the Washingtons’ earliest forays into contemporary fashion. According to the invoice, a fabric covered “neat cut” cornice crowned a four-post beech frame with “neat plain” mahogany foot posts. A significant technological feature of the bed was the “compass rod,” a continuous iron rod suspended from the cornice that ran in a U-shape around the sides and foot, allowing the occupants to be fully encompassed when the curtains were drawn together along its length. The most distinctive aspect of the order was the 70 yards of “Blew plate Cotton” fabric for the bed hangings and additional upholstery. Plate-printed cotton had only recently been introduced to the market in 1752. Using the ingenious method of copperplate-printing, the new printed cottons sported vivid, sophisticated designs with the precise lines and subtle shading usually found only in fine engravings.
For the reproduction bed ensemble, curators and artisans based each element on well documented eighteenth-century examples. For the fabric, Brunschwig & Fils reproduced the c. 1760 English “Ducks” pattern by the firm of Bromley Hall in a custom color way, a dark indigo blue characteristic of the early copperplate prints. Its lively, almost life-size, ducks, roosters, hens, and pheasants are set amid fantastic frames of pears, pomegranates, and grapes joined with tulips, roses, anemones, and a myriad of other blooms — a joyous celebration of nature’s beauty and abundance. The compass rod was forged at Colonial Williamsburg’s Anderson blacksmith shop, based on a surviving English example in Williamsburg’s furniture collection. Topping it all off, the cornice is adapted from a c. 1760 cut and pierced cornice in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, from the household of merchant Thomas Belden and Abigail Porter of Wethersfield, Connecticut. Its shells and scrolls repeat favored motifs of the rococo age.