Banging Tunes

Whilst working on the book today (and you thought I’ve just been wasting time training horses and spraying weeds), I have been listening to Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic (2CELLOS).

A little levity to start the weekend…

… and one for Sunday night – Benedictus…

Jack Plane

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Indian Varnish

In the seventeenth-century, highly fashionable imported goods from the East (such as printed fabrics and lacquered furniture) were often collectively referred to as ‘Indian’, no matter whether they originated in China, India, Japan, Korea etc. ‘Indian’ or ‘India’ varnish is what we now know as shellac.

In 1661, the diarist, Samuel Pepys wrote;

Then he [the Duke of York] sent us to his closett, where we saw among other things two very fine chests, covered with gold and Indian varnish, given him by the East Indy Company of Holland.[i]

Eight years later, Pepys sent his coach to the coachmaker to have it silver-leafed and varnished (in imitation of gold) in time for the popular May Day celebrations in Hyde Park.

Coming home this night I did call at the coachmaker’s, and do resolve upon having the standards of my coach gilt with this new sort of varnish, which will come but to 40s.; and, contrary to my expectation, the doing of the biggest coach all over comes not to above 6l., which is [not] very much.[ii]

Up, and by coach to the coachmaker’s […] I to my coach, which is silvered over, but no varnish yet laid on, so I put it in a way of doing; and myself about other business […]

This done, I to my coachmaker’s, and there vexed to see nothing yet done to my coach, at three in the afternoon; but I set it in doing, and stood by it till eight at night, and saw the painter varnish which is pretty to see how every doing it over do make it more and more yellow; and it dries as fast in the sun as it can be laid on almost; and most coaches are, now-a-days done so, and it is very pretty when laid on well, and not pale, as some are, even to shew the silver. Here I did make the workmen drink […][iii]

Jack Plane

[i] Samuel Pepys’ diary, Friday the 20th of April, 1661.

[ii] ibid, Monday the 26th of April, 1669.

[iii] ibid, Friday the 30th of April, 1669.

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Maintaining the Mahogany

Where footmen are kept, the charge of rubbing mahogany furniture devolves on them, otherwise it becomes the care of the housemaid. The chairs and tables should be rubbed well every day; and on the mahogany tables a little cold drawn linseed oil should be rubbed in once or twice a week, which will, in time, give them a durable varnish, such as will prevent their being spotted or injured by being accidentally wetted. The Italians, after thus saturating the surface with oil, apply a solution of gum arabic in boiling spirit of wine. Bees-wax should not be used, as it gives a disagreeable stickiness to every thing, and ultimately becomes opaque. When there are any spots or stains upon a table, they must be washed off with warm water before the oil is put on.[i]

Jack Plane

[i] Mrs. William Parkes, Domestic Duties; Or, Instructions to Young Married Ladies, on the Management of Their Households, and Regulation of Their Conduct in the Various Relations and Duties of Married Life, J. & J. Harper, New York, 1829, pp. 135-136.

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HMS Nutmeg

I recently mentioned spices in Picture This L; Art Gallery of South Australia is currently running an exhibition Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices until the 30th of August.

The exhibition presents the complex artistic and cultural interactions between Europe and Asia from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries – a period known as the Age of Spices.

This exhibition includes 300 outstanding and rarely-seen works of ceramics, decorative arts, furniture, metalware, paintings, prints and textiles from public and private collections in Australia, India, Portugal, Singapore and the United States.

The works of art selected reveal how the international trade in spices and other exotic commodities inspired dialogue between Asian and European artists, a centuries old conversation whose heritage is the aesthetic globalism we know today.

A highlight of the exhibition will be a diverse range of Christian artwork created at ports such as Goa and Nagasaki on loan from Portugal and India as well as the inclusion of two works from the personal collection of Queen Adelaide (1792-1849) after whom the city of Adelaide is named. Another highlight will be artefacts retrieved from the Batavia, which sank off the Western Australian coast in the seventeenth century.

Source: Art Gallery of South Australia

Jack Plane

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Bendor on Brown Furniture

Old Masters art historian, Bendor Grosvenor (familiar to many as the researcher in the BBC1 series Fake or Fortune?), talks about a possible comeback of brown furniture in his latest podcast for the Financial Times.

Jack Plane

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Picture this LIV

In the earlier post, Picture This XXXV, I illustrated a mid-eighteenth-century mahogany bureau whose top drawer partially concealed the loper pockets.

An earlier bureau (fig. 1) with not dissimilar extended drawer fronts sold at Christie’s The Connoisseur’s Eye sale yesterday, in New York (lot 21).

Geo_II_walnut_bureau_c1740_02aFig. 1. George II walnut bureau, circa 1740. (Christie’s)

Note how the outer ends of the lipped top drawer fronts wrap around the early style shallow lopers. Figure 2 shows the more common construction.

Geo_II_walnut_bureau_c1740_01bFig. 2. George II walnut bureau, circa 1740. (Windsor House Antiques)

Jack Plane

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George 111 and Other Sins

One could forgive many an individual for not having a rudimentary grasp of Roman numeration, but frankly, antiques dealers – especially those at the top of their game – should, if not fully conversant, be at least familiar with the Roman numerals for one, to at least four. Seemingly not…

Geo_111_01bAn antique from the future? George the one-hundred-and-eleventh!

Geo_111_02bGeorges the eleventh and one-hundred-and-eleventh both get a mention.

Perhaps this dealer followed county cricket…

George_llnd_01bA Georgian second eleven kit box?

Then there was the dealer (now deceased) who couldn’t separate the 1600s from the sixteenth-century and the 1700s from the seventeenth-century etc. etc.

And if you’re ever in an antique clock dealer’s shop with a few minutes to spare, ask him what’s going on with four O’clock.

Jack Plane (the oneth)

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Picture This LIII

I recently came across this early eighteenth-century walnut chest of drawers. It’s of fairly standard form, though the handles are replacements and the base moulding and feet appear to have been added during the third quarter of the century – a common enough modification.

Geo_I_walnut_COD_c1715_01a_William_WordFig. 1. Walnut five-drawer chest, circa 1720. (William Word)

The back of the chest, however, reveals a couple of unusual details (figs. 2 & 3).

Geo_I_walnut_COD_c1715_01b_William_WordFig. 2. Replacement backboards. (William Word)

The bracket feet and tongue-and-groove backboards are obvious later additions, but closer inspection of the carcase shows an unusual method of closing the backboards’ rebate in its back edges (fig. 3).

Geo_I_walnut_COD_c1715_01c_William_WordFig. 3. Unusual carcase construction. (William Word)

The upper rear corners of this chest are mitred where the rebates meet: Figure 4 shows the more common method of addressing the rebates’ juncture.

carcase_back_corner_01aFig. 4. Normal method of finishing the backboards’ rebate.

And if that veneer isn’t 7/32″ (5.6mm) thick, I’m not an Irishman!

Jack Plane (an Irishman of some infamy)

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Picture This LII

I’m normally of the opinion that (furniture wise, at least) little of any merit was invented or produced after 1825. There was one nineteenth-century invention however, the Surprise Chair that, to this day, can still cause one to cringe and guffaw in equal measure.

surprise_chair_01aThe Surprise Chair, invented in 1880.

The startling effect produced by a backward trip, accompanied by a loud explosion, is superior to that caused by a flying trip on a loop-the-loop. It produces the real plunging feeling with absolutely no danger to the occupant, as it is well padded and the rockers prevent it from jarring.

A modern, remotely controlled version of the Surprise Chair can be enjoyed weekly on The Graham Norton Show on the television.

Jack Plane

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A Toast and a Toot!

Lyon & Turnbull’s Jacobite, Stuart, and Scottish Applied Arts sale in Edinburgh on the 13th of May 2015 offers an astonishing assortment of Jacobite and related items.

Lot 105 is a Jacobite firing glass with a trumpet bowl above a straight stem, enclosing an enamel twist, and standing on a thick domed foot.

The obverse of the bowl is engraved with an open rose head flanked by open and closed buds and trailing rose leaves, while the reverse is engraved with an oak leaf, star and the inscription ‘FIAT’ (all instruments of the Stuarts/Jacobite movement).
Estimate £2,000-3,000 (AU$3,830-5,740).

Jacobite_firing_glass_c1750_01a_Lyon_&_TurnbullFig. 1. Lot 105: A large Jacobite firing glass. (Lyon & Turnbull)

Also up for auction is the Young Pretender’s, ivory and silver mounted flute (lot 48).
Estimate £4,000-6,000 (AU$7,660-11,480).

Charles_Stuart's_ivory_flute_01a_Lyon_&_TurnbullFig. 2. Lot 48: Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s, ivory and silver mounted baroque flute. (Lyon & Turnbull)

Jack Plane

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