Proportion, Formulae and Aesthetics

Following on from Getting a Handle on Proportion, it appears that my dismissal of some of the classic rules of proportion (comment 9) has caused upset amongst the ranks. One reader who emailed me attached two pictures of chests with dimensional overlays, arguing that the golden ratio was applicable in both cases – that it worked to within about half an inch. Well, as I said to the author, a formula either works or it doesn’t.

I am sure there are examples of chairs, chests and tables that happen to answer perfectly to either the Fibonacci sequence or golden ratio, but I don’t believe either formula played any part in the average eighteenth-century cabinetmaker’s enlightenment.

The placement of handles on chests-on-chests can make for interesting study: The vertical spacing of the handles – if ‘right’ – are usually only right for the upper chest (as the lower chest is generally wider), though if the overall proportions of the piece are pleasing, then the ‘wrongly’ spaced handles on the lower chest are redressed by the agreeable appearance of the whole (fig. 1).

Geo_III_red_walnut_COC_c1760_01aFig. 1. A magnificent George III red walnut chest-on-chest, circa 1760. (Millington Adams)

The less common deviation of the vertical handle lines (at the point where the upper chest meets the lower chest) of the chest-on-chests in figures 2, 3 & 4, in my opinion, displays great genius and restores the balance.

Geo_III_rosewood_COC_c1760_01cFig. 2. George III rosewood chest-on-chest, circa 1760. (Bonham’s)

Geo_III_mahogany_COC_c1775_01aFig. 3. George III mahogany chest-on-chest, circa 1775.

Geo_III_mahogany_COC_c1790_Anthony_Short_01aFig. 4. George III mahogany chest-on-chest, circa 1790.

And a few less comely chests just for comparison…

Geo_III_mahogany_tallboy_c1765_01aFig. 5. George III mahogany chest-on-chest, circa 1765. (Christie’s)

Geo_III_mahogany_COC_c1790_01aFig. 6. George III mahogany chest-on-chest, circa 1790. (Dreweatts)

Geo_III_mahogany_COD_c1800_01aFig. 7. George III mahogany chest, circa 1800. (Dreweatts)

Jack Plane

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Stuffed

Washing machine repairer, Paddy Devlin, took a glass-cased, stuffed dog along to the Antiques Roadshow when it recently visited Hillsborough Castle near his hometown of Lisburn in Northern Ireland.

victorian_taxidermy_chihuahua_late_19th_century_Christies_01aTaxidermy Chihuahua, possibly by John Hancock, late nineteenth-century. (Christie’s)

“Ooh”, purred the antiques specialist, Elaine Binning. “This is an exceptional and rare taxidermy Chihuahua mounted by the celebrated Newcastle-upon-Tyne taxidermist, John Hancock. Hancock exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London and is considered the father of modern taxidermy. He was much celebrated during the Victorian era, securing commissions from the Duke of Westminster and the Duke of Portland for their collections and many private orders too. Do you have any idea what the little dog would fetch if it were in good condition?”

Paddy leant back to better focus on Elaine’s face, stared at her for a moment and curtly replied “Sticks!”

Jack Plane

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The Coronation of King George II

The baroque composer, George Frideric Handel, was born in Germany in 1685, but settled in London in 1712 where he received a salary from Queen Anne. Handel was naturalised in 1727 by act of King George I, who also commissioned him to write the music for the coronation of his son, George II of England and Queen Caroline.

The coronation of George II took place on the 11th of October 1727.

Jack Plane

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Picture This XXXIV

This French commode does not compare to the handsome furniture I normally post here, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to include it for a solely puerile reason:

Empire_commode_c1820_01aBear feet. (Tarquin Bilgen)

Jack Plane

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Young and Trotter Furniture at Bonhams

Furniture made by the celebrated eighteenth-century Scottish cabinetmakers, Young and Trotter is coming up for auction at Bonham’s Autumn Antique and Picture Sale in Edinburgh on the 16th of October, 2014.

The five lots comprise a mahogany and boxwood strung chest of drawers (lot 198), a mahogany bureau (lot 199), a mahogany Pembroke table (lot 200), a mahogany side table (lot 201) and a mahogany linen press (lot 202).

George_III_Scottish_mahogany_linen_press_01aGeorge III Scottish mahogany linen press by Young and Trotter. (Bonham’s)

Jack Plane

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Getting a Handle on Proportion

Chests with equal length drawers can be so easily let down by inconsiderately placed handles. At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking the chest in figure 1 was ‘cut-and-shut’ to fit within the confines of an alcove or some such: The handles are so close to the ends of the drawers. However, it was undoubtedly made that way.

Geo_III_mahogany_COD_c1780_Thakeham_01aFig. 1. George III mahogany chest, circa 1780. (Thakeham Furniture)

The broadly employed maxim that handles should be located on the first and third quarter divisions of a drawer front – the escutcheons being placed on the second division – appears typically ‘woodworking magazine’ (fig. 2) and equally as awkward as figure 1.

Geo_II_mahogany_COD_c1750_Thakeham_01aFig. 2. George III mahogany chest, circa 1780. (Thakeham Furniture)

The most visually pleasing arrangement is seen on chests with two short drawers above a bank of long drawers (fig. 3). The vertical alignment of the handles is naturally dictated by the centres of the short drawers which are only off-set from the chest’s centreline by half the width of the vertical drawer divider.

Geo_III_mahogany_COD_c1780_Thakeham_03aFig. 3. George III mahogany chest, circa 1780. (Thakeham Furniture)

When the same axiom is applied to chests with equal length drawers, the result is perfection (fig. 4).

Geo_III_mahogany_COD_c1780_Thakeham_02aFig. 4. George III mahogany chest, circa 1780. (Thakeham Furniture)

Jack Plane

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Could Somebody Please Bail Me Out?

I have some rococo backplates from a late eighteenth-century mahogany chest of drawers. The backplates incorporate an unusual blend of Gothik/Chinese strapwork with coquillage and florid elements (fig. 1).

rococo_handle_c1770_01aFig. 1. Brass backplate, circa 1770.

While attached to the chest, the handles additionally consisted of a motley collection of common swan-neck bails and pommels of differing styles and antiquity.

The same backplate is illustrated in a 1770 Birmingham brassware catalogue along with a commensurate florid rococo bail with fenghuang head pivots (fig. 2).

rococo_handle_c1770_02aFig. 2. Pattern 814 rococo handle.

If anyone has one or more of these bails they’d be willing to part with, I would be happy to purchase it/them. Alternatively, if anyone would be kind enough to lend me a good clean example to copy, I would return the original unmarked and undamaged.

Jack Plane

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The 2014 LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair

‘The LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair in Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London is this Autumn’s must-visit event for sourcing and buying fine art and antiques. Among the exceptional works on offer are furniture, jewellery, carpets, tapestries, antiquities, clocks, ceramics, silver and fine art. The Fair will take place from Wednesday 24th September until Sunday 28th September 2014.

The sixth annual LAPADA Fair follows the success of last year’s event, where approximately 20,000 visitors from around the world attended over the course of five days. Private collectors and art and antiques enthusiasts flocked to the Fair, where an expert committee of 50 specialists pre-vetted every piece on sale at the show.

This highly esteemed event in the art and antiques calendar continues to grow in popularity, as quality and authenticity underpin the works on offer. One hundred dealers and experts in their fields will participate in this year’s Fair, which is a ‘one stop shop’ for the most sought after pieces. Prices of works range from £500 up to £500,000 and beyond, offering the most discerning collector exceptional antiques and fine art to choose from and inviting first time collectors to develop exciting new interests.

LAPADA (The Association of Art & Antiques Dealers) is the largest society of professional art and antiques dealers in the UK. It is a trusted resource for private collectors and the art & antiques trade in the UK and 16 other countries around the world. Established in 1974 it boasts 600 worldwide members, who are experts in their fields, with specialities ranging from fine art, jewellery and furniture to contemporary works, sculpture and ceramics.

Due to the Association’s strict Code of Practice, clients are offered total reassurance when purchasing from a LAPADA member. LAPADA offers a referral service for any member of the public looking for a trusted dealer in a specific area, who is seeking quality and assurance of authenticity. It also offers industry advice and lobbies on issues affecting its members and good practice in the art and antiques trade.’

Source: http://www.lapada.org/

Jack Plane

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Ceramic Patterns

A couple of years ago, a reader enquired about the origins of the porcelain teawares I pictured in When Life Gives You Lemons…. It’s the Malay House pattern produced by the New Hall factory in Staffordshire in the late eighteenth-century (fig. 1).

14NH-MV-790-01_silver_shape_teapot_c1790_01cFig. 1. New Hall ‘silver shape’ teapot in the Malay House pattern, circa 1790.

Before any scholarly works were written on the enigmatic New Hall factory, identifying its hundreds of patterns; many of the patterns were known to antiques dealers and collectors by more familiar names.

When I began collecting New Hall wares, the Malay House pattern was commonly referred to as the Trench Mortar pattern due to what looks like a row of trench mortars alongside the house (fig. 2).

14NH-MV-795-01_teapot_c1795_01hFig. 2. New Hall ogee, spiral fluted teapot in the Malay House pattern, circa 1795.

The skies above eighteenth-century Staffordshire must have hung heavy with smoke from the thousands of pottery kilns: There were numerous potteries producing wares in imitation of the fashionable imports from the Far East. Factories such as Caughley, Coalport, Derby, Spode, Wedgwood and Worcester quickly became household names – some due to royal patronage.

Most factories developed a numerical system of cataloguing their patterns, though original records are frequently patchy or nonexistent. Despite manufacturers numbering their patterns, many of the common names endure (usually reflecting a principal feature) and are frequently comical or irreverent.

Worcester_milkmaid_at_the_gate_saucer_c1760_01aFig. 3. Worcester Milkmaid At The Gate pattern , circa 1760. (Juno Antiques)

Worcester_cannonball_saucer_c1762_01aFig. 4. Worcester Cannonball pattern saucer, circa 1762.

Chamberlain_Worcester_stag_hunt_plate_c1790_01aFig. 5. Worcester Stag Hunt plate, circa 1780.

New_Hall_knitting_wool_saucer_pat_195_c1790_01aFig. 6. New Hall Knitting Wool pattern (425) saucer, circa 1790.

Keeling_picture_postcard_saucer_c1790_01aFig. 7. Keeling Picture Postcard pattern (X131) saucer, circa 1790.

New_Hall_dolls_house_saucer_c1815_01aFig. 8. New Hall Doll’s House pattern (1084) saucer, circa 1815.

And then there’s a recurring one that I like to call the I Can See My House From Here pattern.

mid_18C_delf_plate_01aFig. 9. Mid-eighteenth-century tin-glazed dish.

Jack plane

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Picture This XXXIII

So popular was Admiral Nelson – in England, at least – that all manner of souvenirs and toys[i] were produced to commemorate his Naval victories and ultimately, his death.

The Staffordshire potteries churned out fairings, jugs, mugs and tea wares with rousing slogans and effigies of Nelson (figs. 1 & 2).

pearlware_bust_of_Nelson_c1800-10_01aFig. 1. Pearlware bust of Nelson, circa 1800-10. (Bonham’s)

creamware_Nelson_commemorative_jug_c1805-10_01aFig. 2. Staffordshire creamware Nelson commemorative jug, circa 1805-10. (Bonham’s)

Meanwhile the Birmingham toymakers set their presses to work stamping out brass handles. The brass drawer knob in figure 3 has a stamped face, spun onto a cast body. The legend reads “NELSON • LORD • OF • THE • NILE” and would have been produced following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798.

Nelson_brass_knob_c1798_01aFig. 3. Stamped and cast brass drawer knob, circa 1800.

At 11:45 on October the 21st, 1805, off Cape Trafalgar, Nelson engaged the French and Spanish navies, famously signalling to his fleet: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” The brass backplate in figure 4 portrays Admiral Nelson in a central roundel within the legend “ENGLAND EXPECTS EVERY MAN TO DO HIS DUTY • TRAFALGAR OCT: XXI MDCCCV”.

Nelson_backplate_19c_01aFig. 4. ‘Admiral Nelson’ brass backplate, circa 1805.

backplate_Trafalgar_Sacred_To_Nelson_02aFig. 5. ‘SACRED TO NELSON’ brass backplate, circa 1805. (Jason Clarke)

Trafalgar_pressed_backplate_c1806_01aFig. 6. ‘TRAFALGAR’ brass backplate, circa 1805.

The Greek key border around the backplates in figures 5 & 6 is also seen in furniture of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries, either as inlay (fig. 7), or in the friezes of chest-on-chest and bookcase entablatures (fig. 8).

Regency_rosewood_table_c1820_01aFig. 7. Regency rosewood table with Greek key inlay, circa 1820. (Box House Antiques)

Geo_III_mahogany_linen_press_c1780_01aFig. 7. George III linen press with Greek key entablature, circa 1780. (Thakeham Antiques)

Jack Plane

[i] ‘Toy’ was a contemporary name for small personal and domestic metalwares such as buckles, buttons, commemorative medals, corkscrews, furniture handles and fittings, toasting forks, watch cases and in the nineteenth-century, pressed metal novelties and playthings for children.

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