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Design

Design

  • Place of origin:

    Derbyshire (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1862 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Randall, J (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil, watercolour, cotton cloth

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Louise Birley and Stuart Samuel Birley

  • Museum number:

    E.304-2011

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case LD, shelf 28

These designs are for the pedestal and base of a table made by Samuel Birley for the London International Exhibition of 1862. The table is one of the most elaborate Derbyshire pieces known and won prizes in both the Furniture and the Mining classes. The Museum acquired the table after the 1862 exhibition as an example of Derbyshire work. These designs by J. Randall remained with the Birley family and were donated to the V&A in 2011, forming an important record of the design process.

Birley, whose cottage workshop was in Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire, made inlaid marble objects. These imitated the designs of Italian pietre dure (hard stones). Artisans working for the powerful Medici family had developed the art of pietre dure in Florence in the 16th century. The discovery in Derbyshire of plentiful quantities of grey limestone, which when polished achieved a smooth dense black colour, gave rise to a mosaic industry inspired by Florentine work. However, the Derbyshire makers inlaid pieces of coloured stone, marble, shell and glass directly into sockets cut into the solid stone, unlike the Florentine technique in which thin veneers of marble and hardstones were applied to a smooth backing stone.

Physical description

Design for the stand of a mosaic marble table

Place of Origin

Derbyshire (made)

Date

ca. 1862 (made)

Artist/maker

Randall, J (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Pencil, watercolour, cotton cloth

Dimensions

Length: 370 mm, Width: 450 mm

Object history note

Donated by Louise Birley and Stuart Samuel Birley. Stuart Birley is the great-great grandson of the older brother of the marble worker Samuel Birley. The designs for the pedestal of the table had been handed down through the family, but although the family thought them to be by the maker of the table, Samuel Birley, they were in fact drawn by the designer of the table, J. Randall. The design for the table-top has not been found.

Randall, whose first name and later history has not yet been discovered, is listed in a Museum report as a student at South Kensington in 1860. (V&A registered file on the 1862 Exhibition). The involvement of trained designers was something in which the South Kensington was highly interested. After the 1862 Exhibition, Museum authorities were keen to 'quantify how much the Design education promoted by the South Kensington had influenced design since 1851' and compiled a list of decorative firms exhibiting in 1862 who had employed designers who had been trained through the South Kensington system. They commissioned a survey and found that ‘344 students, in the employ of 104 manufacturers, had been engaged on the works exhibited...' (Anthony Burton, 'Vision and Accident: The Story of the Victoria and Albert Museum' 1999, pp 108-109.)

Derbyshire marble workers appear not to have employed designers for their usual products sold elsewhere, relying on a repertoire of floral ornament arranged in wreaths or sprays. But their exhibition pieces tended to be far more elaborate with finer inlay, which would have taken many months to complete. For exhibition pieces, it seems that the Derbyshire makers employed external designers.

Descriptive line

Design by J. Randall for the pedestal of a mosaic marble table made by Samuel Birley ca.1862

Production Note

The table for which this is a design was made by Samuel Birley. The relationship between Stuart Samuel Birley and the marble worker Samuel Birley is that the marble worker, Samuel, is the younger brother of Stuart's great-great-grandfather.

Subjects depicted

Table

Categories

Designs; Furniture

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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