In the past few months I have taken on yet another Chippendale marquetry project. The Chippendale Society have asked me to build a replica table top belonging to a table that was originally made for Harewood House in 1772, for the then circular dressing room. The dressing room was subsequently removed during remodelling of the house, some 100 years later. The table was later discovered in a damaged condition and eventually, in 1976, sold at Christies at auction, and purchased by the Chipp
endale Society. It underwent a restoration programme, by the late David Hawkins, yet in recent years some of the veneers have changed colour due to exposure to light and ultraviolet radiation. It was decided by the Chippendale Society to make a replica copy, both of the marquetry top and the exquisitely carved legs and plinth. Completion by the 2018 tercentenary exhibition, which takes place in the Leeds Museum, is our target date.
This table is the only one made by Chippendale, which is painted on the frieze and legs. The picture here clearly showing the original blue, red and pink paints, set behind the delicate white carvings. Ian Fraser, Honorary Conservator Chippendale Society, will make the replica base and legs.
The marquetry top is unique, in as much as the background veneer is ripple sycamore treated with iron sulphate and logwood (Campeachy) to turn the veneers into silver/grey ‘harewood’. (See small sample piece below). The original colours of the exquisite marquetry have been mapped by German scientist conservationist, Dr Heinrich Piening, using his now familiar UV VIS Spectonomy analysis. Heinrich performed the tests at
Temple Newsam House, in November 2015. When all the coloured veneers needed are to hand, my work will commence. I have already secured the ripple sycamore veneers, and will shortly treat them with iron sulphate and logwood in a large fibreglass dye bath, borrowed from Temple Newsam. The two dyes were identified by Heinrich during his tests on the original harewood. Iron sulphate is both a dye and a mordant (taken from the French mordante – to bite), which allow dyes to stick to the material. Logwood on its own produces a purple dye, but reacts quite differently when merged with iron, as the above result shows. The majority of the original marquetry is ‘inlaid’ into the harewood background, allowing me to replicate the technique using my inlay knife and hammer.
The table top, seen below, shows a central panel, with matching end panels to right and left. The centre panel has a central stylised acanthus arrangement, radiating left and right, and surrounded by a circular garland of laurel leaves, which link into acanthus leaves and ‘C’ scrolls to each side, terminating around acanthus flowers. The acanthus flowers are unique, because they are created in marquetry, using veneers sliced from the Berberis bush. I have been able to source this timber locally, and now sliced into veneers, in readiness for the marquetry work. The natural colour of Berberis wood is yellow, and was regularly used as a source of dye in Chippendale’s time.
The panels right and left mirror each other, and consist of oval fans, each surrounded by swags of laurel leaves, then surrounded by a decorative banding. At the four corners, small oval fans are surrounded by stylised acanthus leaves and flowers. Red, pink, yellow, green and purple dyed veneers, plus blue and green stringers, form the colourful creation Chippendale was recognised for. The whole assembly is divided and surrounded by tulipwood cross banding. The design colours, echo Robert Adams architectural design for the room, showing matching themes to the circular walls and ceiling. Its one of the most ambitious creations of his illustrious career, and a great honour and challenge to me. Engraving to the marquetry work, adds beauty and finesse to its decorative brilliance, and my replica will receive this professional addition, artistically and skilfully added by a local engraver, Malcolm Long. Our designer only used engraving on the most prestigious commissions.
The table has a curved back and matching curved front, made to fit against the circular dressing room wall, which it was intended for. Cut-outs at either end were made (after delivery) to fit around two mirror frames. This on-site alteration suggests the two wall mirrors were installed after completion of the table. Our replica will have the same features.
I have also been asked to film most of the processes, such that visitors to the Leeds Museum in 2018, can watch a video showing how the work was cut and assembled, and at the same time see the finished replica. This is a most exciting project for me to be involved in. All the 18th century techniques I intend using for the reconstruction, will also feature in my next book, hopefully available by the 2018 exhibition. I expect the work to last approximately nine months, aiming for completion by mid summer 2017.
For more information regarding the Chippendale Society of England please visit their website here.