Chair thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
South Asia, Room 41

Chair

late 17th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Carved ebony chairs and tables of this type have been recorded in English collections from as early as the mid-18th century, and much of the confusion about their origin is due to the belief held in the second half of the 18th and most of the 19th century that they were surviving examples of early English furniture. This idea was supported by the rigid, rectilinear forms of the furniture, which looked antiquated to 18th century eyes; the use of twist-turning, which was believed to be typical of Elizabethan furniture; the bizarre, intricate carving, which often included mythic beasts and figures; and the colour, black, which was commonly associated with furniture of great antiquity.

For Horace Walpole, who appears to have been responsible for this attribution, notions about the age of such furniture based on its physical attributes were confirmed by the existence of examples in houses with Tudor associations.

By the early 19th century Walpole’s views that carved ebony furniture of this type was both English and of early date had become firmly established. In actual fact this type of ebony furniture was made in South India, Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies in the late 17th and 18th centuries.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Ebony, carved and turned; caned seat
Brief Description
Furniture, ebony cane, carved, Sri Lanka, C18
Physical Description
Armchair of ebony, carved and turned, with drop-in caned seat. The back, on both the front and rear sides, and all sides of the seat rail, are carved in mid-relief with regular designs of bold flowerheads and vines issuing from a central flowerhead. Each side of the arms except the underside, and each side of the stiles, but the inside, is carved with like designs. The back is fitted with six twisted balusters, and on each side of these, half a baluster attached to the side of each stile. The arms terminate in scrolls and rest on barley-sugar twist supports such as constitute the legs and stretchers. The legs and stretchers join into a rectangular block, carved in the manner of the rest of the chair, which rests immediately above the chair's cup feet.
Dimensions
  • Height: 81cm
  • Width: 22cm
  • Depth: 50cm
Gallery Label
ARMCHAIR Ebony with cane seat Dutch East Indies (Sri Lanka or Java) 1680-1700 IS. 48-1886 Richly carved ebony chairs with twist-turned components were first made in the mid-17th century for Europeans living along India’s Coromandel Coast. Furniture like this was very popular at Dutch settlements in India, Sri Lanka and the Indonesian archipelago, where it was reproduced both in ebony and other less expensive woods. This chair is carved with a type of flower that was fashionable among Europeans at home and in the Dutch East Indies.(01/08/2017)
Production
Made in the Dutch East Indies.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Carved ebony chairs and tables of this type have been recorded in English collections from as early as the mid-18th century, and much of the confusion about their origin is due to the belief held in the second half of the 18th and most of the 19th century that they were surviving examples of early English furniture. This idea was supported by the rigid, rectilinear forms of the furniture, which looked antiquated to 18th century eyes; the use of twist-turning, which was believed to be typical of Elizabethan furniture; the bizarre, intricate carving, which often included mythic beasts and figures; and the colour, black, which was commonly associated with furniture of great antiquity.



For Horace Walpole, who appears to have been responsible for this attribution, notions about the age of such furniture based on its physical attributes were confirmed by the existence of examples in houses with Tudor associations.



By the early 19th century Walpole’s views that carved ebony furniture of this type was both English and of early date had become firmly established. In actual fact this type of ebony furniture was made in South India, Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies in the late 17th and 18th centuries.
Bibliographic References
  • The Art of India and Pakistan, ed. Sir Leigh Ashton, London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1950, p. 237.
  • The art of India and Pakistan, a commemorative catalogue of the exhibition held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1947-8. Edited by Sir Leigh Ashton. London: Faber and Faber, [1950]p. 237, cat. no. 1278
Collection
Accession Number
IS.48-1886

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record createdNovember 11, 2005
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