The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Knee-hole writing-table
  • Knee-hole writing-table
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • France
  • c.1715-25
  • Oak, première-partie Boulle marquetry of brass, turtleshell and mother-of-pearl, walnut, gilt bronze, brass, steel
  • Object size: 78.2 x 128.3 x 70 cm
    Weight: 66 kg
  • Stamp: 'J.T. NEEDS / 6 DOWN STREET / PICCADILLY; LATE /' a crown / 'J.BRAMAH / 124 PICCADILLY'
  • F58
  • Great Gallery
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Although the maker of this knee-hole writing-table is unknown, the marquetry appears to have been executed in the same workshop as that on other pieces of furniture, including the marquetry on a casket in the Wallace Collection (F34) which has some characteristic motifs in common. In the past this table has been thought of as a 'made-up' piece comprising different elements from the 18th and 19th centuries, but the consistency of the marquetry suggests that it is in fact an early 18th-century writing-table in its entirety, albeit the subject of some 19th-century alterations. These include the addition of new mounts, such as the lions' masks on the sides, new locks and new keyhole escutcheons, as well as a reduction in the overall height.
    Although not a common model, the authenticity of the design of this table is supported by the existence of comparable (but not exact) examples. These include a Boulle marquetry table at Versailles with the same design of legs and drawer fronts, a similar one but with different marquetry in a private collection, and a table in the Huntington Collection which has been re-veneered with kingwood and satiné. The Versailles table has undergone dendro-chronological analysis which suggests that it was made after 1727.

    The marquetry design of the writing desk depicts various scenes from the story of Diana and Actaeon (taken from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses') in which the unfortunate young hunter Actaeon comes across the goddess Diana while she is bathing; furious at being seen in a state of undress, Diana pours water over him and turns him into a stag, in which guise he is torn to pieces by his own hunting dogs. In the marquetry interpretation, the author has cleverly used mother-of-pearl to depict the water.