A George II Irish Elm Dressing Table – Part One

I’ve been unable to locate the original photographs I took of this dressing table, but the restoration worksheet dated ‘February/March, 1988’ assigns the piece to a ‘Mrs. […], Kilbride, Co. Wicklow (ex Powerscourt).

The table had been purchased by the then owner’s husband and probably originated from an auction at Powerscourt House Estate, Enniskerry, County Wicklow, built between 1731 and 1741 (and not the 3rd Viscount Powerscourt’s William Street Dublin townhouse, built between 1771 and 1774), when the 9th Viscount Powerscourt and Lady Sheila Wingfield sold off a quantity of belongings to help fund refurbishments at Powerscourt after The Second World War.

My sketches, notes and patterns relating to the table are dated, rather appropriately, “17th March 1988“.

The circa 1740 solid elm dressing table was of very fine quality; equal in construction and execution to commensurate mahogany furniture of the early to mid eighteenth-century. A fine example of Irish cabinetmaking and anomalous with the sort of provincial furniture often associated with native timbers. The external corners of the legs above the knees were radiused, affording the impression of the carcase sides flowing seamlessly one into another (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Irish mahogany lowboy with radiused carcase corners and hooked ears, circa 1740.

The lower sections were archetypal cabriole legs, but terminated, not in the more common circular pad feet, but trifid feet (fig. 2), which, while not decisively Irish, are more frequently found on Irish furniture.[i] The combination of trifid feet and boldly hooked ears (fig. 1) on the other hand leave no doubt as to the table’s Irish origins.

Fig. 2. Irish elm lowboy with cabriole legs terminating in trifid feet, circa 1750. (Christie’s)

The elm table in fig. 3 is of a corresponding quality to the Powerscourt dressing table and is almost certainly Irish – the central carved shell motif and moulded lower edge on the apron are very similar to a lowboy in Irish Furniture.[ii]

Fig. 3. George II elm lowboy, circa 1745. (Christie’s)

The Powerscourt dressing table had the customary one long and two short drawers above a shaped apron. Unusually though, the table was intended to be free standing (as opposed to being positioned against a wall); its back was finished to the same level as the remainder of the table, and its top, with all four corners similarly radiused, was encompassed by an ovolo moulding and overhung all four sides equally.

Figure 4 illustrates the more customary, plain, unfinished back (pine in this instance) with un-moulded top rear edge, square-edged upper legs, though oddly, with fully developed ears on the legs.

Fig. 4. The plain back of a George II Irish elm lowboy, circa 1750.

Jack Plane

[i] The Knight of Glin and James Peill, Irish Furniture, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 200.

[ii] ibid, image 168, p. 244.

About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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2 Responses to A George II Irish Elm Dressing Table – Part One

  1. D.B. Laney says:

    Your good work is well appreciated.
    D.B. Laney


  2. Pingback: Future Proofing My Exploits | Pegs and 'Tails

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