While we are always in awe of the woods available to early cabinetmakers, even they sometimes had to improvise to reduce costs to a reasonable level–fine wood was enormously expensive. During the first half of the 19th century one of the most elegant woods in use was rosewood (named for its fresh cut scent, not its color). The masterpiece center or breakfast table we are about to explore fully demonstrates this balance of costly materials with the desire of clients for elegant, fashionable furniture.
This table is attributable to the period of George IV/William IV, c. 1830′s and relates to international styles labeled classical to early revivalism. The triform base is pure classicism but the adaptation of the 18th century love of gadrooning and then taking it to new heights of detail and design speaks to revivalism or historicism. I am always in awe of the great designs throughout the centuries which take a motif and repeat it to ever greater effect. On the apron, the gadroon is barely developed as a dot and double gadroon repeated all around. On the top of each foot it becomes an exhuberant roundel or gadrooned mushroom! Finally on the pedestal all hell breaks loose! It is a confection a superbly executed turning and carving creating multiple festoons of gadrooning, as is seen in this next photo. The second photo shows the top and leads us to a discussion of the intriguin topic for this article–balancing costly materials with client pocketbooks.
Look first at the spectacular wood–rosewood at its most spectacular. Then carefully begin exploring the photo–first by looking at the exact center of the table top. This is two pieces of very thick veneer each over 25″ wide. Intriguingly, the cabinetmaker has chosen to NOT bookmatch the two pieces–the normal preference of the time. In fact he has reversed them and by doing so he has nearly concealed the joint and made the top appear as one piece of wood. Brilliant. Of course the veneer can only mean the thick top is another wood less costly than rosewood and a careful examination reveals it to be mahogany. This leaves another problem! Straight grained boring mahogany looks nothing like rosewood. And so the maker has false grained the edge to appear to be rosewood. Further examination of the table reveals a balance of rosewood veneers, solids, and rosewood grained mahogany throughout.
It is fairly easy to see in the next detail photo that the apron is rosewood veneer and so is the platform base. The gadroon/dart is mahogany but so worked as to be indistinguishable between mahogany and rosewood.
The final photo is of the massive under structure which allows this vast table to be tilted up, locked into position, and rolled on its concealed casters in the acorn feet to the side of the room to make space for dancing. Used in the end of a grand dining room, the banquet table would also have been highly mobile as well. Only the most spectacular palaces and country houses of the wealthiest of the landed aristocracy had formal banquet halls that did not serve multiple functions for entertaining. The entirety of the supports and all of the secondary wood in this table is mahogany, which you may discern through careful study of the photo (or if not, take my word for it!).
Scrolling up and down this photo you can also see that the pedestal shaft is solid rosewood–a lovely use of a massive piece of costly wood. The large ring that joins the shaft visually to the platform base is once again false grained! Needless to say this is one very heavy table–not a scrap of pine or other light wood in the entire piece.
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