This late eighteenth-century picture by the artist Mason Chamberlin depicts Royal Navy Captain, John Bentinck, with his son in a ship’s cabin (presumably aboard the Centaur).
I am no art connoisseur, but I can recognise proper perspective and good draughtsmanship, and Chamberlin’s photographic technique renders the picture highly plausible. An artist will often paint the subject or subjects honestly and then take licence with the background, but in this picture Chamberlin is as punctilious with the sheave on the floor as he is with the two figures and their attire. So when my eye is drawn to the bureau situated against the back wall of the cabin, I have to believe the bureau really was as shallow as Chamberlin describes it.
The top of the bureau appears to be no more than four or five inches deep. This should not be too much of a surprise really as furniture commissioned for use at sea was invariably disproportionate (usually shallower) or smaller overall than its terrestrial counterparts due to the cramped conditions on board: I just haven’t seen a bureau thus treated before.
It makes me wonder about the (presumably) pigeonholed interior and what measures the cabinetmaker employed – if any – to prevent everything from dislodging itself on the high seas.