Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Butterfly cabinet

Butterfly cabinet

  • Place of origin:

    Berlin (probably, made)

  • Date:

    1840-1850 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hiltl, Anton (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Veneered in burr maple, decorated with lithographic printing; the interior drawers of cedar with ebony knobs

  • Museum number:

    W.9:1 to 2 -1965

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This small cabinet-on-stand was probably made for the storage of dried butterfly specimens. It was made in the first half of the nineteenth century, when interest in natural history was extremely high and the collecting of botanical and animal specimens was widely popular among educated people. The cabinet is a rare example of a form of printed decoration on wood that had been invented in Munich in about 1823 by a cabinet-maker Johann Georg Hiltl (1771-1845). The cabinet, however, was probably made about twenty years later and was almost certainly made in the workshops of Johann Georg's son Anton, who had moved to Berlin in 1824 and been appointed as upholsterer to the Prussian court in 1829. He is known to have made small tables with very similar decoration for Schloss Charlottenhof in Berlin in the 1840s.

Physical description

Specimen cabinet for mounted butterflies, in the form of a cabinet-on-stand with cabriole legs. Both stand and cabinet are veneered in burr maple and decorated with lithographed scenes of romantic scenery and ruins and with lithographed borders of scrolling ornament. The cabinet is fitted with 18 specimen drawers in cedar, set in two banks of nine, each drawer with a turned ebony knob and fitted with a sliding glass top panel. The drawers are enclosed by a single wide door (although giving the appearance of a central break), hingeing at the left and held in place on the right by the pilaster, which hinges over the end of the drawer in the manner of a Wellington chest, the lock at the top disguised by a sliding panel in the apparent block above the pilaster. The door is of panelled construction, showing mahogany on the inside. The top of the cabinet is set with a central raised attic plinth, behind a scrolling pediment that provides a front panel or handle to a sliding cover to a hidden compartment set within the plinth. At each corner the cabinet carries an acroteria or upstanding corner ornament in the Greek tradition, the flat, visible faces of these, decorated with lithographed butterflies and plants.

Place of Origin

Berlin (probably, made)

Date

1840-1850 (made)

Artist/maker

Hiltl, Anton (made)

Materials and Techniques

Veneered in burr maple, decorated with lithographic printing; the interior drawers of cedar with ebony knobs

Dimensions

Height: 136.5 cm, Width: 68.5 cm, Depth: 44.5 cm

Object history note

Purchased from Esta Dickson (Antiques) Ltd., 123 Gloucester Road, SW7, in 1965 for £165 (Registered papers 65/558). At the time this was thought to be English, possibly because it was purchased with a pencil drawing of a very similar cabinet (but showing no decoration), which is annotated in pencil 'price about 7Gs' - presumably '7 guineas'). The drawing shows a scale in feet and inches. The drawing, which is watermarked for 1838, is held in departmental files and is puzzling because it appears to be a British record of what seems to be, certainly, a German cabinet. It is interesting to note that the curators advocated its purchase as they were trying to build up the collection of Victorian furniture at the time, but clearly this did not appeal to them. In the acquisition papers there is a note with initials that may indicate that it was by John Hayward, saying 'It also represents the transfer ornament that was fashionable in the most decadent and disagreeable epoch'. The acquisition papers give no further clue to its history.

On loan to Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, ca.1975 - 2012.

Descriptive line

Specimen cabinet for mounted butterflies, in the form of a double-doored cabinet, on a stand with cabriole legs. Both stand and cabinet are veneered in burr maple and decorated with lithographed scenes romantic ruins and scenery.

Labels and date

Cabinet on Stand
About 1840
The exterior of this collector’s cabinet is decorated with landscapes, flowers and butterflies using a transfer-printing technique. Moistened prints (mezzotints in this example) were pressed onto the wood, leaving the decoration, which was then varnished. Munich furniture maker Johann Georg Hiltl used transfer-printing from the 1820s, and his son Anton may have made this cabinet.
Germany, possibly Munich; possibly made by Anton Hiltl
Mahogany veneered with transfer-printed bird’s-eye maple; ebony and glass

(Gallery 101 label text, revised 2017) []
Cabinet on Stand
About 1840
The exterior of this collector’s cabinet is decorated with landscapes, flowers and butterflies using a transfer-printing technique. Moistened prints (in this example, mezzotints) were pressed onto the wood, leaving the decoration, which was then varnished. Munich furniture maker Johann Georg Hiltl used transfer-printing from the 1820s, and he or his son Anton may have made this cabinet.
Germany, possibly Munich; possibly made by Johann Georg Hiltl
Mahogany veneered with transfer-printed bird’s-eye maple; ebony and glass

(Gallery 101 label text) [05/08/2015]

Production Note

This form of decoration, of lithography directly onto wood, was invented by Georg Hiltl and used by his son. It was used in Britain later on items of souvenir interest such as Mauchline ware. Although the drawing of the cabinet seems to suggest a British origin, the scenes illustrated suggest Germany. It is always possible that the cabinet was imported when new and offered to a client through the medium of the drawing.

Materials

Burr maple; Cedar; Ebony; Mahogany

Techniques

Carving; Veneering; Printing

Categories

Furniture

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.