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Walnut and Early Furniture

Saturday 18th July 2015 at 16:58

In looking at the collection of late 17th. century Kingwood pieces in my last Newsletter/Blog I have overlooked a key aspect and whilst acknowledging that Kingwood Cabinets, like those illustrated in that newsletter, were only ever made for a very few wealthy clients, this in itself should have implied that many more similar items would have been produced by the skilled cabinetmakers like Thomas Pistor in Walnut, ( Laburnum and Olivewood) as well. They would not have been as expensive as their counterparts in Kingwood but certainly could rival those for quality and craftsmanship. Indeed, I have had examples in Walnut considerably more complex than the Kingwood Pieces. The escritoire detail shown here is from one I had a few years ago which had the most incredible interior fitted with some 35 or so drawers.
















Charles II Burr and Figured Walnut Escritoire with fully fitted interior.

Every drawer retained the original hand written ink labels instructing exact locations for each one. Just as pleasing are the many other Walnut and even Yewwood Escritoires I have handled over the past four decades. If one looks hard enough and long enough, I have always found something very special about each and every one of them. Whereas the above was, I am sure, made in London which was the very centre of the British Fine cabinetmaking trade at that time, there were provincial examples being produced all over the country using local timbers as well as imported veneers. They ranged greatly in design and construction and one very attractive example was the cabinet on chest I had about 5 years ago which had a delightful design to the doors with a delicate arched pattern.

William and Mary period Walnut Cabinet on Chest.

I have often wondered when looking at this whether or not the cabinetmaker who made this was also a clock case maker as the pattern on the doors resembles the shape of many early clock hoods.

Walnut Clock showing Arched Dial and Conforming Door

By the second quarter of the 18th. century both Kingwood and Walnut were losing favour, the choicest cuts of the  latter also being imported from Mediterranean countries, chiefly Italy and southern France. The French had placed an embargo on the exportation of timbers to Britain and supplies were soon exhausted. The costs spiralled at a time when the earliest logs of Mahogany were being imported as ballast for returning ships delivering slaves and goods to the sugar plantations abounding in the Caribbean Islands. This soon became the staple for Fine English Furniture Making in the Capital and in many more provincial centres such as Lancaster and York. The changing styles were also more suited to construction in solid Mahogany which lent itself to carving in the new Palladian and Rococo traditions.

That does not however mean that no furniture was produced in Walnut later in the 18th. Century. Indeed there would have been substantial amounts of  Walnut available in England as there would have been Elm in Scotland and the Borders or Oak just about everywhere as with Yewwood, although the latter is rare as it is so very slow growing, The Walnut used would not have had quite the exotic figuring seen on those cuts from warmer climes but attractive pieces were produced for family usage in all the above timbers. One such item has just recently come into stock and is shown here.

George III Walnut Lowboy with Chamfered legs, quartered top and original handles.

This pretty and very useful Lowboy or Dressing Table is a perfect example of how provincial cabinetmakers would have made items to please their clients showing they knew all about chamfered legs more usually associated with Chippendale Tables yet retaining the quarter veneered top so much in evidence during the late 17th. and early 18th. centuries. This may well have been made to go with an existing collection of walnut items where a fashionable Mahogany Table would have looked uncomfortable or where the price could not be justified.

It was not until the end of the century and the coming of the Regency Period in the 19th. century that exotic burrs in Amboyna, Walnut and other timbers became highly fashionable again and we also see the limited return of Kingwood used in the straight grain longer cuts as a finishing veneer on boxes and other small pieces

As ever,


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