A Maritime Bureau?

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).

Mason_Chamberlin__Captain_John_Bentinck_1737-75_and_his_Son_William_Bentinck_1764-1813_c1775_01aMason Chamberlin, Captain John Bentinck and his Son William Bentinck, c.1775.

I am no art connoisseur, but I can recognise proper perspective and good draughtsmanship, and Chamberlin’s photorealistic 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.

Jack Plane

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 Maritime Furniture and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Maritime Bureau?

  1. Bill R. says:

    Perhaps the desk is built in and extends deeper into the paneling as the panels behind the Captain have HL hinges. Just a thought.


    • Jack Plane says:

      I admire your lateral thinking, however I think it unlikely as the cabin would have been fitted out before a captain was given command of the ship and therefore the dimensions of his belongings would have been an unknown quantity.

      Ships’ furniture is not uncommon, so the reduced depth is certainly plausible.



      • Bill Rypka says:

        Just seems like such little usable storage in the drawers and pigeon holes, but then again it would have been a great writing surface plus if the charts are rolled up, then plenty of storage in the drawers. Thanks for sharing the painting!


  2. damien says:

    In external proportions the desk is close to the dutch chest, from probably the same period, mentioned in The Toolbox Book from J.Tolpin, and now actual again through a recent post from C.Schwarz.
    The plumb-bob on the wall got my attention. The desk looks heavy enough to have a way to fix it to the wall. Last detail, the doors and the wall having the same thickness, I suppose both can be removed, even if this does not show in the painting


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