I’ve written about box beds before, and about the Breton tradition of fine, substantial, and wonderfully carved box beds (lits clos or enclosed beds). At the time I didn’t know about another, more recent, tradition from about 100 years ago: pictures of comic scenes staged around Britanny’s most famous furniture. The double-decker beds (double lit clos, lit à l’étage etc.) are doubly amusing with the right humorous caption. There are straightforward photographs too, showing off traditional Breton folk costumes as well as the beds.
The postcards probably appealed to city slickers from Paris taking the sea air in Brittany, as well as to tourists from further afield. Brittany’s cultural heritage is quite distinct from the rest of France, so a cute picture of the carved box beds plus wooden clogs (sabots) and local characters in Breton dress could be just the thing to send to the folks back home. There seems to be a hint of “Aren’t these rustic hicks funny?” but it’s hard to be sure how it would have seemed at the time. In any case, the photographs give a good impression of the amazing furniture.
Every box bed had its combination bench-chest (banc-coffre or banc-tossel) to help with climbing in. (And with storing linen.) To get up and down, some postcard characters perched a stool precariously on the chest, some asked for a ladder, and others used a convenient shoulder.
Within Brittany, there were regional differences in the design of lits clos. Some were completely enclosed with full doors, except perhaps for decorative pierced carving to let air circulate. Other beds were only partly surrounded by wooden panelling, and had a curtained opening. Fixed panels and sliding doors could match perfectly. The space behind the bench-chest might be empty, or covered with a simple plank. Side panels were generally plain, hidden by other furniture close by.
As well as elaborate carving on flat surfaces, many beds featured ornamental balusters. A balustrade ran all the way along the top of some beds.
To see more souvenir box bed photographs – plus comedy – try these links:
- Here’s a great collection (4 pages) of early 20th century box bed pictures (some mildly risqué in a French style).
- More old postcards here; you have to search with “lit clos” and register to see them bigger.
- This site only has one picture of a rather downmarket bed (is that a chamber-pot under the bench?) but, if you can read French, note that it leads to a curious poem about an elderly matriarch holding court in her imposing lit clos.