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Desk thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Furniture, Room 133, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery

Desk

1925 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This desk was exhibited at the Paris Art Deco exhibition of 1925. Although its shimmering silver surfaces are typically Art Deco in style, its simplified kneehole desk form and its bun feet are features of traditional British furniture. Edward Maufe designed this desk for the Paris exhibition, but we do not know the exact details of how it was commissioned. Maufe's wife, Prudence, was chief buyer for Heal's department store in London, which was known for pioneering modern furniture. She was responsible for the arrangement of the British Government Pavilion at the Art Deco exhibition.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Mahogany carcase, with ebony writing and top surfaces, gessoed and gilded with white gold, with haldu wood footrest and feet, and copper alloy, ivory, rock crystal and silk handles
Physical Description
A two-tier desk in two parts. The lower section in the form of a pedestal desk made of two banks of four drawers linked by a central drawer at the top and a cut-out stretcher at the bottom. The exact nature of the carcase structure and joints is not immediately visible. A crack on the side of the lower left bank of drawers reveals that the sides are made of at least two pieces of wood joined by a tenon or dowel. The drawers are dovetailed and reinforced with a quarter round moulding on the inside length and stainless-steel screws secure the back section.



The desk is raised on eight stained rounded octagonal feet decorated with a silver-coloured bandeau, probably oil gilded with white gold leaf.



The upper section is composed of two cupboards with panel doors which lift and slide back into metal runners to reveal a series of pigeonholes and a drawer. The cupboards surround a slightly taller but shallower central unit, itself divided into seven compartments: large double flap doors revealing a compartment including a narrow drawer, two narrow bevelled flap doors each opening onto a series of seven drawers, four ‘secret’ compartments hidden behind decorative carved pilasters accessible through a push and release system.



While the inner drawers have turned rounded octagonal ivory pulls, the external drawers and doors have stylised copper ally pulls with hanging faded turquoise knotted silk tassels each finished with clear crystal and turned ivory beads. Four additional tassels (no beads) were found in one of the drawers.



Two dowels in the lower section ensure that the upper section of the desk is secured on top.



According to a microscopic examination of wood samples led by former V&A scientist Jo Darrah in 1980, the carcase and drawers are probably made of mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) and the footrests of stained haldu (Adina cordifolia). The tops of both sections are probably made of ebony (Diospyros ebenum), with exposed surfaces stained to a dark brown, probably waxed or polished. All other exposed surfaces of the desk, (except the back, are decorated with white gold leaf. To achieve this finish, the surface was coated with a white ground, probably made from chalk and animal glue, which was smoothed before being painted with black bole, a refined clay, possibly containing graphite. The surface was then water gilded with white gold leaf. The edges of the gold leaf are visible in some areas and show the leaves used measured approximately 8cm2. White gold leaf usually contains gold and silver. The lack of tarnish indicates the presence of a clear protective varnish coating. The drawers and doors are outlined with hazzeling, a type of decoration executed with a chisel into the white ground before applying black bole.



The desk has been partially repaired in 1969 (surface repair) prior to a loan and in 1983 (surface, foot, tassels, top section doors) in preparation for display in a V&A gallery dedicated to 20th-century design.

Dimensions
  • Height: 107cm
  • Width: 134.3cm
  • Depth: 53cm
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
This piece of furniture was designed by Edward Maufe and made by William Rowcliffe in 1925 It was first shown in the British Government Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition of International Decorative Art.
Gallery Label
29. Writing desk Designed by Edward Maufe (British 1883-1974) Made by W. Rowcliffe, London, Great Britain, 1924-25 Mahogany, camphor wood, and ebony, gessoed and gilded with white gold; ivory, rock crystal and silk handles Given by Prudence, Lady Maufe Circ.898-1968 This desk won a gold medal at the 1925 Paris Exhibition. It was one of the few British pieces to receive praise from the critics. The combination of luxurious materials and techniques with simple shapes and traditional plank construction was unusual in British furniture of the period. [This label was written for the 20th century gallery which closed in 2020]
Credit line
Given by Prudence, Lady Maufe
Object history
Object sampling carried out in 1980 by Jo Darrah, V&A Science; drawer/slide reference 6/5.



The object featured in 'The Jazz Age, An Entertainment', an exhibition held during the Brighton Festival at the Brighton Art Gallery, 7 May – 15 June 1969.
Subject depicted
Summary
This desk was exhibited at the Paris Art Deco exhibition of 1925. Although its shimmering silver surfaces are typically Art Deco in style, its simplified kneehole desk form and its bun feet are features of traditional British furniture. Edward Maufe designed this desk for the Paris exhibition, but we do not know the exact details of how it was commissioned. Maufe's wife, Prudence, was chief buyer for Heal's department store in London, which was known for pioneering modern furniture. She was responsible for the arrangement of the British Government Pavilion at the Art Deco exhibition.
Bibliographic Reference
Wilk, Christopher, ed. . Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. p.202-3, ill. ISBN 085667463X.
Collection
Accession Number
Circ.898-1968

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record createdNovember 27, 2002
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