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Cupboard

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1690- ca. 1700 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carcase of softwood (probably pine), with some oak, veneered in kingwood and ebony, with marquetry of sycamore (partly green-stained), holly, hornbeam, barberry, padouk, pearwood (sometimes ebonized), pewter sheet (sometimes engraved), pewter stringing and bone. Mouldings, turned handles and turned feet are in ebonized wood. Escutcheons and internal drawer handles of gilt-bronze. Steel hinges, locks and key.

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Miss Margaret Coutts Trotter

  • Museum number:

    1439:1-1882

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 5 (La Tournerie), case EXP []

Large, double-height cupboards had first been made as fashionable furnishings in France in the 16th century. At that period they were usually made in native hardwoods, particularly walnut, with carved decoration. The form of furniture remained I use throughout the 17th century but by the end of that period it was more fashionable to cover furniture with multi-coloured veneers of fine woods, both those grown in France and those imported from areas of Africa, the Caribbean, South America and Asia, with which trading links were growing rapidly. The designs were composed using elements taken from widely available engravings of flowers, animals and birds.

This cupboard also shows the influence in its design of another fashionable piece of furniture, the cabinet-on-stand. The top section, rather than repeating the two cupboard doors of the lower tier, is made like a cabinet, with a small central cupboard flanked by banks of drawers.

Physical description

A cupboard with two tiers, the upper section, slightly breakfront in form, consisting of a central door, enclosing a small compartment with six drawers, flanked by two banks of four drawers. A narrow cornice section surmounts the cupboard. The lower section has two doors, enclosing a single compartment with a fixed, central shelf. The cupboard is raised on four turned, ebonized feet of globular form.

Design
The cupboard is entirely decorated with inlaid panels, showing flowers, vases, birds and butterflies. The sides of both tiers, the doors of the lower tier and the central door on the upper tier, all show compositions with a variety of vases, with flowers, foliage, and butterflied. The door of the cupboard of the upper tier additionally shows a parrot. The panels are composed in a variety of tropical and European woods inlaid into ebony grounds, the panels outlined with pewter stringing, the panels on the sides with double stringing, the outer frames veneered with kingwood, set with the grain running diagonally. On the doors of the lower tier, the panels are outlined with an ebonized moulding and framed with L-shaped panels of formal foliage and flowers in several woods, inlaid into a ground of ebony, edged with pewter stringing, against a frame of kingwood, set diagonally. The leading edge of the right-hand door is set with an ebonized moulding, almost certainly an addition to cover shrinkage.

The visible drawers of the upper section and of the frieze are set with more formal arrangements of flowers and foliage in a variety of woods, inlaid into an ebony ground, the panels framed with ebonized mouldings.The central drawer on the upper case, below the cupboard door, is set forward of the frame, following the breakfront of the door. Immediately above it is a deep moulding of ebonized wood, providing a plinth below the cupboard door. On the sides of the frieze, the lower tier shows similar panels, simply stringed with pewter against the kingwood ground.

The base of the upper case and the cornice, are veneered with cross-banded kingwood, with ebony mouldings.

The central cupboard of the upper tier opens to the left. The interior of the door is veneered with kingwood panels, outlined with ebony and pewter stringing, the centre of the door set with a panel of arabesque wood marquetry in dark and light, above a panel of kingwood. Within the cupboard, four drawer fronts show arabesque marquetry of scrolls, symmetrically arranged, two with a dark design on a light ground, two with the reverse. Above this nest of drawers are two slightly wider ones, the lower set with book-matched, diagonally set kingwood, the upper with a larger panel of inlay, similar to those on the exterior drawers of the piece.
The edges of all the drawers are set with ebonized mouldings and the centre of each is set with a gilt-brass knob.

Construction
The cupboard is built as two cases, in softwood (probably pine), with some oak. The jointing between the cases is concealed. The lower case is raised on four large, globular feet, joined to it with circular tenons, wedged from above. Both cases are constructed with through dovetails. The back of the lower tier is composed of horizontally set boards, chamfered on the vertical edges and held in place with strips of wood glued and screwed to the back edges of the case, which effectively extend its depth. These are veneered in ebony of the side surfaces. The back of the upper tier is also composed of horizontal boards, set into rebates cut in the sides, top and bottom of the case and fixed there with hand-forged nails.

The interior of the upper case is divided into three compartments by two vertical dividers, tenoned into the top and bottom of the case. Dustboards are set into grooves in the uprights and the sides, inserted from the back before the backboard was placed. The lowest of these, in the central compartment, forms the floor to the central cupboard. On the front edge it is set with the ebonized moulding that forms the plinth to the door. On either side, three more dustboards are set in the side compartments only. The dustboard do not reach fully to the back of the case.

The door of the central cupboard is set on two pivot hinges. It appears to be of breadboard construction, with cleated ends. The lock is accessed via a keyhole set in the side of the right vertical partition. An original escutcheon is now missing. The lock, of steel, has a single bolt, with a double throw mechanism.

Inside the central cupboard, the lower four drawers are set within a nest or frame of softwood boards nailed or screwed to the major dividers, between the top of the case and the drawer divider that forms the base. Oak drawer dividers are set in grooves cut in these. For the two drawers above the nest, the width of the drawer opening is reduced by a thin board glued to the uprights and veneered on the front face, making these drawers the same size as those in the nest. All the internal drawers are in oak, with softwood fronts, and are dovetailed at the corners. The drawer bases sit in rebates in the front, back and side and are pinned up. On the top drawer only, the sides and back are lower than the front.

The externally accessible drawers of the upper case are similarly constructed, the sides and backs being slightly lower than the fronts. On the central front drawer only (below the cupboard) the drawer front is extended on either side with blocks of oak so that it overlaps the front of the vertical divisions, to continue the breakfront of the cupboard. On the frieze drawers, the turned knobs have been added since 1916 (date of a photo in which they do not appear).

The lower case is built in the same was as the upper, with a single thick dustboard of softwood, tenoned into the sides to create the frieze compartment. The central partition of this is composed of several blocks of oak, and runs the full depth of the case. The frieze drawers are constructed in the same ways as the external drawers of the upper case. The single shelf of the lower case is nailed down onto battens which are nailed to the case sides. The doors of the lower case appear to be of breadboard construction, the right-hand one with an additional moulding on the leading edge. The lock is set flush to the right door and the left is secured with a bolt top and bottom.

The top and back of the cupboard are stained black, the colour applied over one of the labels, so presumably dating from the late 19th century or later.

The cupboard shows evidence of a number of repairs.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)

Date

ca. 1690- ca. 1700 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carcase of softwood (probably pine), with some oak, veneered in kingwood and ebony, with marquetry of sycamore (partly green-stained), holly, hornbeam, barberry, padouk, pearwood (sometimes ebonized), pewter sheet (sometimes engraved), pewter stringing and bone. Mouldings, turned handles and turned feet are in ebonized wood. Escutcheons and internal drawer handles of gilt-bronze. Steel hinges, locks and key.

Marks and inscriptions

The drawers and dust boards variously marked with arabic numberals indicating the position of the drawers in the cases. The drawers in the two banks of drawers in the upper case are marked with ink, pencil and crayon, the numbers running in two opposing sequences. The internal drawers are only marked in red crayon or ink.

3 labels, originally inscribed in ink, but now illegible, originally glued to the case top but now in the departmental archive. One was said (by Gillian Wilson, 1970s) to have repeated the text of the one set by Miss Coutts Trotter inside the drawer recess (see next entry). The other two had been stuck one on top of the other. The top one appeared by the handwriting to date from the mid-18th or early 19th century. The one underneath could be late 17th or early 18th century in date. This seems to have been put on before the cabinet was painted black.

4th part of the 5 pieces of furniture taken out of the Chateau de Montargis when under demolition 18.. by order of Louis Philippe bought by me and presented to the South Kensington museum - 1881
In inscription on paper label (now removed to departmental archive), originally glued inside the space that houses the middle drawer in the left bank

The drawers and dust boards variously marked with arabic numberals indicating the position of the drawers in the cases. The drawers in the two banks of drawers in the upper case are marked with ink, pencil and crayon, the numbers running in two opposing sequences. The internal drawers are only marked in red crayon or ink.
All Montargis labels now in FF15/CB39/2.

Dimensions

Height: 192.5 cm overall, Width: 140 cm overall, Depth: 53.2 cm over top of lower case, Height: 91.5 cm of upper case, Height: 103.7 cm of lower case

Object history note

By repute part of the furnishings of the Château de Montargis in 1832. Previous history undocumented but possibly acquired by Philippe duc d'Orléans (1640-1701) for one of his residences and thereafter possibly by descent in the family until transferred as part of the furnishings of the Château de Montargis to the French state in the late 18th century. The château was sold to the comte de Latouche-Tréville in 1791 then sold by his descendants to Jean-Antoine Massé in 1809. This cupboard and four other pieces in the V&A collections (1440 to 1442-1882) bought c. 1832 at the château by Miss Margaret Coutts Trotter (1809-1882), who bequeathed the pieces to the V&A in 1882.

Historical context note

Double-height cupboard were fashionable in France from the second half of the 16th century and continued in fashionable use until the end of the 17th century, when cupboards or armoires with single, tall doors, became more popular. This piece shows design elements from another item of fashionable late-17th century furniture, the cabinet on stand and the form of the upper cupboard, with a small central cupboard surrounded by banks of drawers, seems to derive from this form.

When double-height cupboards first appeared, they were usually of solid wood, with carved decoration. This version parades the fashionable wood marquetry that developed in the second half of the 17th century. The use of flower motifs, and of the formal arrangement of vases on plinths, was taken from engraved sources, although these were often used as the basis for designs rather than slavishly copied. Flower heads from different sources might be combined together to create these lavish displays. The flower heads are set against a ground of ebony and the technique used is inlay rather than marquetry, with a single ground of ebony being laid down and then individual motifs being laid onto this, marked round, the ground cut away and the motifs inlaid into it. By the time that this cupboard was made, Parisian marquetry cutters were using both home-grown woods (often stained with bright colours) together with imported tropical hardwoods (generally more colourful by nature). Details could be added to the individual pieces of wood by scorching them in hot sand (giving the appearance of a rounded surface) or by engraving lines that were filled with black resin to give the detail of leaf veins.

It is possible that the panels were made by a specialist marquetry workshop and simply bought in by the cabinet-maker who made this piece. On the sides, and inside the central door, panels of slightly smaller size seem to have been enlarged with bands of plain kingwood veneer to fit the size of the cupboard doors or panels.

Descriptive line

A two part cupboard, the upper part with a central cupboard door, enclosing a small compartment with six drawers, above a single drawer, between two banks of five drawers; the lower part with two door enclosing a compartment with a single shelf. The cupboard is veneered in ebony and kingwood, all the surfaces ornamented with marquetry of flowers (some in vases), foliage, a parrot and a butterfly, in tropical woods on a carcase of softwood and oak.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Alcouffe, Daniel, Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Christian Baulez, Denise Ledoux-Lebard, Il Mobile Francese dal Medievo al 1925. Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1981, illl. p. 27

Production Note

The cupboard was almost certainly made in Paris, although it has not been connected with a particular workshop. It is likely that the panels of marquetry were supplied by a specialist marquetry workshop, also unidentified.

Materials

Softwood; Oak; Kingwood; Ebony; Sycamore; Holly; Hornbeam; Barberry; Padouk; Pearwood; Pewter; Bone; Gilt-brass; Steel

Techniques

Cabinet making; Veneering; Marquetry; Inlay

Categories

Furniture; Marquetry

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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