A Cabinet-Maker's office

Oil Painting
ca. 1770 (made)
A Cabinet-Maker's office thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 118a
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
Paintings showing the interiors of offices and workshops are rare in Britain before the end of the 18th century. The increasing number of wealthy manufacturers and entrepreneurs supplying the luxury trades meant that portraits, hitherto mainly the preserve of the aristocratic members of society, were commissioned by wealthy members of a new and burgeoning middle class. Although the conventional studio backgrounds to portraits were still used, sometimes the workshop or the office was employed as a setting by the more confident sitters for the portraits. They were proud of the lucrative businesses they had built up.

Subjects Depicted
The painting shows a cabinet-maker pointing to a design for a commode and bookcase which has been coloured for presentation to a client. He is leaning on the bookkeeper's desk, which supports the order book and various account books. The figure to the right, pen in hand, is probably the bookkeeper. The simple panelled room contains a desk, stool and plain bookcase for housing the records of the cabinet-maker's business. Only a substantial business, such as that managed by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), would require a full-time book-keeper.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
oil on canvas
Brief Description
Oil painting, 'A Cabinet Maker's Office', British School, ca. 1770
Physical Description
Oil painting depicting two men working in a cabinet maker's office, one displaying a plan or design, and the other looking on, holding a pen.
Dimensions
  • Canvas height: 52.7cm
  • Canvas width: 70.2cm
Style
Gallery Label
British Galleries: This is an unusual record of a cabinet-maker's business premises. The cabinet-maker leans on the bookkeeper's desk and points to a presentation design. Successful cabinet-makers like Chippendale were businessmen rather than craftsmen and employed a range of specialist staff to make the furniture and help to run the business.(27/03/2003)
Object history
The V&A purchased A Cabinet-maker's Office from a Mr Richard Booth of Brynmelyn, Hay-on-Wye, who was a director of an Oxford firm of art dealers, Bonfiglioli Ltd. Correspondence, dated 20/2/1961, on Nominal file MA/1/B1901 notes that 'the picture was brought in by one of their 'runners', who said that he bought it at the sale of a Welsh solicitor.' No further information on its provenance is given on the file.
Historical context
The V&A acquired A Cabinet-maker's Office from a Mr Richard Booth of Brynmelyn, Hay-on-Wye, who was a director of an Oxford firm of art dealers, Bonfiglioli Ltd., Fine Arts, 36 Little Clarendon Street, Oxford. Correspondence, dated 20/2/1961, Nominal file MA/1/B1901, notes that 'the picture was brought in by one of their 'runners', who said that he bought it at the sale of a Welsh solicitor.' No further information on its provenance is given. The museum acquired the painting in the belief that it would make an interesting connection with the cabinet furniture already in its collection (letter from the Deputy Keeper of the Department of Woodwork, dated 23/2/1961, Nominal file MA/1/B1901).



The painting shows a cabinet-maker pointing to a design for a commode and bookcase which has been coloured for presentation to a client. He is leaning on the bookkeeper's desk, which supports the order book and various account books. The figure to the right, pen in hand, is probably the bookkeeper. The simple panelled room contains a desk, stool and plain bookcase for housing the records of the cabinet-maker's business. Only a substantial business, such as that managed by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), would require a full-time bookkeeper. In suggesting a date for the painting, former Keeper of the Department of Woodwork, Mr Ralph Edwards, suggested that 'the partly straight, partly curved front of the bureau in the drawing [the design for a commode and bookcase] may represent alternatives which "might be had" by customers. There are many instances of this sort of thing in 18th century pattern books published by cabinet makers. The form of this piece, the swan-necked pediment, and the marquetry or paintings in the lower part, may point to a date in the region of 1770.' (letter from the Deputy Keeper of the Department of Woodwork, Mr W.A. Thorpe, dated 7/2/1961, Nominal file MA/1/B1901)


Paintings showing the interiors of offices and workshops are rare in Britain before the end of the 18th century. The increasing number of wealthy manufacturers and entrepreneurs supplying the luxury trades meant that portraits, hitherto mainly the preserve of the aristocratic members of society, were commissioned by wealthy members of a new and burgeoning middle class. Although the conventional studio backgrounds to portraits were still used, sometimes the workshop or the office was employed as a setting by the more confident sitters for their portraits. They were proud of the lucrative businesses they had built up.


Summary
Object Type
Paintings showing the interiors of offices and workshops are rare in Britain before the end of the 18th century. The increasing number of wealthy manufacturers and entrepreneurs supplying the luxury trades meant that portraits, hitherto mainly the preserve of the aristocratic members of society, were commissioned by wealthy members of a new and burgeoning middle class. Although the conventional studio backgrounds to portraits were still used, sometimes the workshop or the office was employed as a setting by the more confident sitters for the portraits. They were proud of the lucrative businesses they had built up.

Subjects Depicted
The painting shows a cabinet-maker pointing to a design for a commode and bookcase which has been coloured for presentation to a client. He is leaning on the bookkeeper's desk, which supports the order book and various account books. The figure to the right, pen in hand, is probably the bookkeeper. The simple panelled room contains a desk, stool and plain bookcase for housing the records of the cabinet-maker's business. Only a substantial business, such as that managed by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), would require a full-time book-keeper.
Collection
Accession Number
P.1-1961

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record createdMarch 27, 2003
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