A George II Walnut Fretwork Mirror – Part One

I don’t consider myself an overly vain individual – truth be told, I prefer to avert my gaze when I catch sight of my own reflection (cue disparaging witticisms and raucous laughter from the back stalls). However, I do like mirrors; not the looking glasses you understand, but the frames around them.

I still have a large piece of looking glass plate left over from the recent Pair of George II Walnut Girandoles and Two Small Mirrors. I’m afraid the plate may be broken if I don’t use it up and it just seemed propitious to make another mirror while I still had the specific materials and tools to hand.

All the recent cutting and fettling of looking glass plates raises a potential safety issue I would like to acquaint you of: Regular readers will know that my tin workshop, at 3m x 3m (10′ x 10′), is not much more than a solar-heated tool cabinet and that I carry out the majority of my work outdoors in The Lemon Studio beneath the blue and sunny Melbourne skies. It really is very pleasant working outdoors.

Natheless, it is widely acknowledged that there exists a rather large hole in the ozone layer directly over my abode (some would claim it extends a little further than my immediate suburb) which allows the sun’s radiation to beam down on me virtually unimpeded. While cutting and ageing the glass plates recently, there were a few occasions when I inadvertently tilted them such that the sun seared my retinas with a level of insolation that Solar Energy Generating Systems’ concentrated solar power installation in the Mojave Desert can only dream of! I am only now beginning to see detail in the shadows again. Be careful when working with looking glass outdoors!

Enough divagation. In 1675 fewer than ten per cent of sampled rural English households possessed looking glasses, but by 1725, they were as common as beds, chairs and tables.[1] During the same period, about seventy five per cent of London’s propertied households possessed looking glasses.[2] Mirrors were not immediately for the betterment of domestic life; rather they were a sophisticated commodity and served to reveal one’s refined taste. A gentleman could posture before a mirror, confirming his own status in the reflection of his sumptuous surroundings.

During the eighteenth-century mirrors and lighting became essential luxuries that showed off fine furnishings to their best. Candles cost 1d. each in 1739,[3] but in conjunction with mirrors, the illumination of formerly dark rooms was dramatically transformed and when placed opposite windows, mirrors mimicked paintings by reflecting the outdoor scenery.

A contemporary French art critic, La Font de Saint-Yenne, lamented the effect mirrors had on traditional paintings, but conceded:

[…] the advantages of these mirrors, which are something of a miracle, were in many ways deserving of the favour that fashion granted them: piercing walls to enlarge rooms and to join them with new ones; returning with high rates of interest the rays of light they receive, whether those of daylight or candelabras. How could man, from birth an enemy of darkness and of all that can bring about sadness, have refrained from loving an embellishment that cheers him while lighting his way, and that, in deceiving his eyes, never deceives him in the real pleasure he gets from it? [4]

My penchant for mirrors is no more so than for desirious little gems like the one below.

A circa 1735 George II walnut fretted and cushion-moulded mirror of unusually small proportions.

Though this mirror conforms, in materials, construction and overall design, to a genre of its period, its size makes it somewhat irregular. Fretwork mirrors are usually in the region of 28″ to 48″ (711mm to 1219mm) high, yet the height of this mirror titillates my ruler at a mere 21-3/4″ (552mm). It is no grandiose looking glass for an elegant room, but would still have been a fashionable  little mirror for a conspicuous bedroom, office or parlour. This is borne out by the use of expensive, figured walnut veneer.

The quality and singularity of the mirror piqued my interest, so I will be making a copy of it. The ‘cushion’ moulding is about as straightforward as it comes and I’ll pull some figured walnut out of the stack from which to cut some congruent veneers.

[1] Lorna Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 1660-1760, Routledge, London, 1988, quoted by Maxine Berg, Luxury & Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Oxford University Press, 2010, p.115.

[2] Ibid, p. 313.

[3] Ibid, p. 124.

[4] La Font de Saint-Yenne, Réflexions sur quelques causes de l’état present de la peinture en France, The Hague, 1747, p. 13, cited by Sabine Melchoir-Bonnet, The Mirror – A History, Routledge, London, 2001, p.81.

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Mirrors & Girandoles and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A George II Walnut Fretwork Mirror – Part One

  1. Robert Lindh says:

    Could you possibly let out your secreats for aging modern mirror glass?Bob Lindh,USA.


  2. yaakov says:

    Very interesting post. Thanks!



I welcome your comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s