CANVASES, CARATS AND CURIOSITIES

Aristocratic Appointments: A Glimpse into The Spectacular, One-of-a-Kind Furniture of The Elite

4 minute read

Extravagance reigned supreme for the 19th-century British elite. The economic, scientific, social and artistic transformations of the period gave birth to a lavish culture of leisure, and opportunities to showcase this new-found luxury were multitudinous. Few methods of conveying wealth were more expressive and personal than the furnishings that graced one’s home. Exceptionally crafted by master cabinetmakers utilizing some of the most exquisite materials, these superlative furniture creations give a sense of just how opulent the lives of the affluent really were.

 

More Than a Meal

Everyone eats, but in Victorian England, dining truly became an art form. Splendid furnishings that were utilized during elegant meals and dinner parties were the focal points of any well-appointed dining space. The sideboard, in particular, was an indispensable furnishing for the fashionable dining room. At its most basic, the sideboard’s primary function was to provide a space to offer guests an assortment of delicacies while also providing storage and easy access for dining accouterments such as linens and table ware. But by the 19th century, the sideboard evolved into a work of art in and of itself that became just as important as the foods served. Crafted of majestic sandalwood and cross-banded mahogany, this Pedestal Sideboard Suite would have displayed the homeowner’s finest silver and porcelain for all to see in a most stately manner.

English Satinwood and Mahogany Pedestal Sideboard Suite. Circa 1885.

English Satinwood and Mahogany Pedestal Sideboard Suite. Circa 1885.

Crafted in the Neoclassical Adams style, this sideboard is made all the more exceptional as it comes complete with both its original, matching flatware urns and cellarette, that allowed guests to choose from a variety of libations from the comfort of the dining table. These elements typically become separated from a sideboard or simply damaged with the passage of time. Complete Victorian suites of this caliber are immensely rare, making this group one of the finest our gallery has seen in decades.

 

Leisurely Activities - Antique Game Tables

Irish Mahogany Games Table. Circa 1900.

Irish Mahogany Games Table. Circa 1900.

The center of the table lifts to reveal a crystal decanter service.

The center of the table lifts to reveal a crystal decanter service.

When fun and games were in order, the elite participated in grand style. A masterpiece of beauty, ingenuity and scarcity is this incredible Irish Mahogany Games Table was made with entertainment in mind. A few turns of the crank mechanism at the table’s center opens six frieze drawers filled to the brim with game pieces to play everything from chess and cards, to Parcheesi and cribbage. Simply turn the crank again to reveal a wonderful crystal decanter set that allowed the gamer to enjoy a little extra fun. Additional turns of the mechanism open additional drawers filled with glass tumblers, inkwells and pens to keep score, and even ashtrays for the occasional cigar. Classified into the realm of mechanical furniture, these creations account for some of the most innovative and fascinating furnishings ever made.

 

Globe-Trotting Souvenirs

Italian Micromosaic Table. Circa 1845.

Italian Micromosaic Table. The table's surface features historic sights of antiquity executed in painstaking micromosaics. Circa 1845.

A close-up of the micromosaic detailing St. Peter's Square.

A close-up of the micromosaic detailing St. Peter's Square.

The Grand Tour was considered compulsory for the young, well-educated aristocrat. Accompanied by a teacher or guardian, the “Grand Tourist” was expected to return home with a greater understanding of the world and its history, accompanied with mementos of their travels. These Grand Tour souvenirs were highly coveted, and few other art forms were as desired as those that incorporated the ancient technique of micromosaic. With roots dating back to the grand mosaics of ancient Rome, the art form re-emerged during the 18th and 19th centuries, most notably in the Vatican, in the form coined “micromosaic” due to the miniscule tiles used. Seven intricate scenes of ancient ruins and monuments comprise the surface of this amazing Italian Micromosaic Table. Unprecedented in beauty and complexity, each extraordinary scene was crafted utilizing thousands of tiny fired colored glass tiles, or “tesserae” meticulously placed to depict monuments such as the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Square and the temple of Vespasian and Titus. Typically, micromosaic is found utilized in smaller objets d’art. To find a table incorporating this important medium is beyond exceptional.

 

Best in Show

Exhibition Model of the Expanding Table by Samuel Hawkins

Exhibition Model of the Expanding Table by Samuel Hawkins

The Victorian era was also the golden age of the Great Exhibitions. Millions of visitors, including royalty, traveled to see the world’s most distinguished artisans from nearly every discipline to display their greatest creations on a global scale. For these craftsmen, their exhibit was a watershed moment with the power to make or break their career. A masterpiece of engineering and cabinetmaking is this one-of-a-kind Exhibition Model Expanding Table by Samuel Hawkins that was created as a display model for the London Great Exhibition of 1851.

The ingenious wind-out screw mechanism allowed the table’s base to accommodate concentric leaves.

The ingenious wind-out screw mechanism allowed the table’s base to accommodate concentric leaves.

Intended to solve the conundrum of expanding a circular table to accommodate more guests, this model was showcased prominently at the Exhibition and was described in great detail in the event’s official catalog. Before modern advertising, these “World’s Fairs” were the sole opportunity for craftsmen and inventors to market their creations to a mass audience, especially the cultural elite who attended the fairs to learn about and acquire the “latest and greatest” innovations for themselves, of which this table would most certainly qualify.

These and many more objects of rarity and provenance are featured in M.S. Rau Antiques antique furniture collection

 

 

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