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Washstand - Burges Washstand
  • Burges Washstand
    William Burges, born 1827 - died 1881
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Burges Washstand

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London, England (made)

  • Date:

    1879 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    William Burges, born 1827 - died 1881 (designer)
    Walden, John (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved, painted and gilded wood; marble top and bowl inset with silver; bronze tap and fittings

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs T.H. Minshall

  • Museum number:

    W.4 to D-1953

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, room 122e, case 6

Object Type
William Burges (1827-1881) disliked Georgian furniture of the 18th and early 19th centuries. This washstand, designed by him, epitomises how he thought furniture should look. Brightly painted, using rich materials and with complex fitments and references to literature and myth, the washstand was nonetheless highly functional. It has a water tank in the upper castellated section with a tap. The marble basin, inlaid with silver fish motifs, is fitted with a tap in the form of a bronze animal. The basin swivels so that the dirty water can be tipped into a bucket in the cupboard below.

The Tower House, in Melbury Road, London, was the home of Burges from 1878 until his death in 1881. He designed every aspect of the house himself. The outside of the house was in the Reformed Gothic style, while the inside was decorated in the most elaborate fashion. This washstand was made for the Guest Chamber, of which a visitor wrote, 'The whole chamber is like an ancient shrine or reliquary'.

William Burges was an architect as well as a designer of furniture, metalwork and jewellery. His most important projects include Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch, near Cardiff, in Wales. His style was heavily influenced by medieval art. He never married, was a freemason and a collector of armour, and was described by the wife of his patron as 'ugly Burges who designs lovely things'.

Physical description

The marble bowl is inset with silver fishes and a butterfly.

Place of Origin

London, England (made)


1879 (made)


William Burges, born 1827 - died 1881 (designer)
Walden, John (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carved, painted and gilded wood; marble top and bowl inset with silver; bronze tap and fittings

Marks and inscriptions

Latin inscriptions, reading in translation 'Come and Wash', 'New Life' and 'William Burges had me made'
[Washstand] 'VENEZ LAVER'
[Washstand] 'VITA NOVA' 'NEW LIFE'


Height: 160.5 cm maximum, Width: 79.5 cm maximum, Depth: 56.7 cm maximum, Weight: 116 kg

Object history note

The washstand was designed by William Burges (born in London, 1827, died there in 1881) and made in London for the Guest Bedroom at Tower House, Burges's home in Kensington. Burges's Estimate Book (National Art Library 86.SS.52) includes a reference to a washstand for himself, on 2nd October, 1879, made by a carpenter, John Walden, at a cost of £50.

Descriptive line

Washstand, carved painted and gilt wood, with marble bowl inset with silver fishes and a butterfly. English, 1880. Designed by William Burges.

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

Jonathan Meyer, 'The Nineteenth Century. Empire and Eclecticism', in 'The Intelligent Layman's Book of British Furniture 1600-2000'. London, The Intelligent Layman Publisher Ltd, 2005, pp. 104-185, ill. p. 113, 155 and pp. 164-165
Edward Joy, The Country Life Book of English Furniture. London: Country Life Ltd., 1964, illus. fig. 113

Labels and date

Designed for the Guest chamber at Tower House along with the bed next to it. The bowl is inset with silver fishes and a butterfly. Inscribed WILLIAM BURGES ME FIERI FECIT MDCCCLXXX (William Burges had me made 1880). [1993]
The top, bowl and soap dishes of marble. The bowl inset with silver fishes and a butterfly. The back and water tank set with small mirrors and the taps and fittings of bronze. Inscribed VENEZ LAVER (on cold tap), VITA NOVA (on back), WILLIAM BURGES (left side), and ME FECIT MDCCCLXXX (right side).
Designed for the guest chamber, Tower House, Melbury Road, London, W14.
Given by Mrs. T.H. Minshall [pre July 2001]
British Galleries:
This washstand was designed by William Burges for the guest bedroom of his own house, based on the poem 'Vita Nova' (New Life) by the Italian poet, Dante (1265-1321). The motifs suggest a garden full of new life. [27/03/2003]


Silver; Wood; Bronze; Marble; Reflective glass


Carving; Painting (image making); Gilding

Subjects depicted

Fish; Butterfly


Furniture; British Galleries

Collection code


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