Not currently on display at the V&A

Desk

ca. 1895 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This small writing table looks like a folding table, but in fact its structure is rigid. The designer has chosen to accentuate the manner of its construction by designing the mounts around the bolts that hold the table together. Brass has been used for the structural stretchers as well as for decoration. Every element of the woodwork is subtly carved to suggest that it is built out of naturally shaped timbers. The decorative carving of certain areas also suggests the free-flowing lines of Japanese design, which had been much admired for at least 30 years by the time this table was made.

We do not know for certain who designed the table, but it is likely to have been the work of the French architect and designer Hector Guimard. He is best known for the metal arches that he designed for the entrances to Paris Metro stations. As a young man, Guimard had studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, under a teacher, Gustave Raulin, who had been very influenced by the Gothic Revival architect Viollet-le-Duc (1814–79). Guimard's work shows marked influences from Viollet-le-Duc. In the present table this influence can be seen in the way that the construction is made clearly visible as part of the decorative design. It is also revealed in the use of hand-worked metal mounts rather than the cast mounts that were standard in furniture making.
read The Whiplash A flick of the wrist. A sensuous curve. A freedom from restraint.
object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved rosewood, with mounts of wrought brass
Brief Description
Writing table of carved rosewood, with brass mounts; French (Paris), 1892-7, H. Guimard ?
Physical Description
A small writing desk of carved rosewood, with brass mounts. The desk has an open stand which gives it the appearance of a folding desk, although the structure is rigid. The sides and front are composed of asymmetrically set x-struts, joined by pegs or bolts, the sides additionally strengthened with low stretchers of turned and pierced brass. The frieze and top surface of the writing table are roughly rectangular, but the sides are not straight and the front edge is convex, and the rear edge concave to allow space for the user. The shallow frieze section is fitted with a single drawer that can be drawn out on either side. The drawer linings are of beech. All the wooden elements of the desk are carved to give them a free, natural form and some areas are carved with whiplash foliage and pierced. The carving shows strong influence from Japanese design. The mounts of the piece are in brass that has been worked by hand rather than cast and chased. The mounts are both decorative and functional and the bolts that fix together elements of the table are designed as part of the mounts. On the front and the PR side are large pierced mounts filling in one quarter of the x-frame. Other mounts are applied to the wood, often as the base for bolts that are fixed on the back with nuts. The feet are mounted in brass, with each mount differing slightly from the others. The two ends of the drawer each carry brass handles of twisted and wrought metal, of differing designs. One nut is missing from the mount on the PR back foot
Dimensions
  • Height: 70.5cm
  • Width: 54.6cm
  • Including splay of legs depth: 41cm
These measurements have been checked on the object
Styles
Gallery Label
  • Europe and America 1800-1900, room 101 WRITING TABLE About 1895 This desk has the characteristic 'whiplash' lines of French Art Nouveau, but the use of metal struts also recalls the teaching of the French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79). He had advocated a rationalist style inspired by Gothic but making use of new materials. France, Paris; possibly designed by Hector Guimard Rosewood, with brass mounts (05/08/2015)
  • DESK Attributed to Hector Guimard (1867-1942) Paris: about 1895 Rosewood with brass mounts W.15-1971 The use of metal struts in this desk recalls the teaching of the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879), whose writings advocated a rationalist style inspired by Gothic but making use of new materials. Guimard was stronlgy influenced by Viollet-le-Duc.(pre 1990)
  • Europe and America 1800-1900, room 101 WRITING TABLE About 1895 France, Paris; possibly designed by Hector Guimard Rosewood, with brass mounts Museum no. W.15-1971 Guimard is best known for the entrance arches that he designed for the Paris Métro. Like those, this desk has the characteristic 'whiplash' lines of French Art Nouveau. The use of metal struts also recalls the teaching of the French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79). He had advocated a rationalist style inspired by Gothic but making use of new materials.(2006)
Object history
This desk was purchased from Bob Walker, after an introduction made for the Museum by the celebrated collector of 19th-century decorative arts, Charles Handley-Read (see refs., 2016)
Summary
This small writing table looks like a folding table, but in fact its structure is rigid. The designer has chosen to accentuate the manner of its construction by designing the mounts around the bolts that hold the table together. Brass has been used for the structural stretchers as well as for decoration. Every element of the woodwork is subtly carved to suggest that it is built out of naturally shaped timbers. The decorative carving of certain areas also suggests the free-flowing lines of Japanese design, which had been much admired for at least 30 years by the time this table was made.



We do not know for certain who designed the table, but it is likely to have been the work of the French architect and designer Hector Guimard. He is best known for the metal arches that he designed for the entrances to Paris Metro stations. As a young man, Guimard had studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, under a teacher, Gustave Raulin, who had been very influenced by the Gothic Revival architect Viollet-le-Duc (1814–79). Guimard's work shows marked influences from Viollet-le-Duc. In the present table this influence can be seen in the way that the construction is made clearly visible as part of the decorative design. It is also revealed in the use of hand-worked metal mounts rather than the cast mounts that were standard in furniture making.
Bibliographic Reference
Jervis, Simon Swynfen, 'The Dispersal of the Handley-Read Collection', The Decorative Arts Society Journal, vol. 40 (2016), pp. 49-76, this desk discussed and illustrated on p. 51.
Collection
Accession Number
W.15-1971

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record createdJune 26, 2001
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