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Regency Work Table with Chinoiserie Penwork Decoration
Regency work table with Chinoiserie penwork decoration, circa 1820 English Japanned wood (birch, cypress, and mahogany), with penwork decoration, and fabric-covered workbox Measures: 31 in. high, 20 3/4 in. wide, 15 in. deep Recorded: Noël Riley, Penwork, A Decorative Phenomenon (West Yorkshire, Great Britain: Oblong Creative Ltd., 2008), p.128 illus. in color (as owned by Avon Antiques) Ex Coll.: [Avon Antiques, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England] Work tables were an important household staple during the Neo-Classical period. Typically placed in the round, near a sofa or chair (and not as "end tables" as they are so often used today), they were used variously by ladies as a place to write letters, to sew, occasionally even to paint a miniature. Although by definition a practical piece, they were, nevertheless, given considerable attention by cabinetmakers and their patrons, and a vast array of work tables in many forms were produced. This particular worktable, made in England, is decorated entirely with penwork, a fashionable Regency technique derived from japanning, which was meant to imitate complex and rich ivory inlay. (Japanning was itself the European simulation of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century east-Asian lacquer work that had been imported from the Far East into Europe). Much like japanning, penwork is commonly found on the paneling of cabinet furniture and the tops and sides of tables, as in the present example. Designs were both invented and borrowed from an array of sources including engravings, book illustrations, and textiles, or were produced by professional pattern makers and copied by artists skilled in penwork. Earlier designs included arrangements of flowers and foliage while later patterns used motifs from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian, as well as Far Eastern, designs, the latter evident on the present piece. Noël Riley beautifully describes the appearance of Chinoiserie penwork motifs in her book, Penwork, A Decorative Phenomenon (p. 126–27). In most instances, her prose almost seems to specifically describe the present work table: Chinese figures in penwork appear in costumes from flowing gowns to knickerbockers; some have hats and others have pigtails issuing like fountains from the middle of shaven heads; women are sometimes shown with elaborate hairdos. Some of these characters carry parasols, fans, kites, flags or balloons, or are shown playing games, smoking long pipes or taking tea… In common with japanned images from earlier periods, landscapes in the Chinese scenes are usually shown from a high viewpoint and often comprise turretted [sic] buildings, pagodas or kiosks; flowers sprouting from tufts, rocky clumps or arranged in vases, mountains, rocks, and fretted railings. Trees may be palms, willows or the gnarled and irregularly shaped leafy stumps of bonsai….” Riley notes the inclusion, in some instances, of a “fantasised oriental script” accompanying the scenic Chinoiserie images described above. On the present work table, not only do we see these made-up Chinese characters running up and down the four legs of the table, but punctuating each drawer knob on the front of the two drawers. This script lends a graphic and exotic nature to the table, and aesthetically complements the foliate and abstract borders and help create a consummate performance in penwork at its most dynamic. This table is distinguished not only by its extremely elaborate program of decoration, but also by the amazing condition in which it has survived. The ultimate published source on the art of penwork is Penwork: A Decorative Phenomenon by Noël Riley (2008), published by Oblong Creative, West Yorkshire, England, from which much information for this write-up was derived. Condition: Excellent, except for a few very minor areas of retouching. The wooden core of the workbox is modern; it has been covered with contemporary fabric.
- Of the Period
- Place of Origin
- Date of Manufacturecirca 1820
- Materials and Techniques
- Condition DetailsExcellent, except for a few very minor areas of retouching. The wooden core of the workbox is modern; it has been covered with contemporary fabric.
- WearWear consistent with age and use.
- DimensionsH 31 in. x W 20.75 in. x D 15 in.H 78.74 cm x W 52.71 cm x D 38.1 cm
- Seller LocationNew York, NY
- Seller Reference NumberFAPG 20939D
- Reference NumberLU903213586922
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