An exceptional Neoclassical mahogany and inlaid four-drawer chest or “bureau”, about 1785-1815

A truly remarkable and rare Neoclassical mahogany, mahogany veneered four-drawer chest or bureau with a central inlaid shaded urn. This central inlay is shaded by using what is called the “hot-sand” technique, which, according to research kept by advanced scholars of English and American Furniture and Decorative Arts of both Great Britain, Europe and the newly formed Republic of “The United States of America”, requires a very talented cabinet-maker who is inordinately patient. This bureau dates about 1795-1810

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This extraordinary and strikingly handsome bureau or bow-front mahogany chest of drawers exudes a vibrant color, has an excellent stance, and exceptional “patina” of age. Also, the chest exhibits details, both in form and design, that is often and liberally associated with both the well-known cabinet-makers, Thomas Sheraton, and George Hepplewhite. The years 1785 through 1820 are now referred to as the Neoclassical era, in both The United States of America, Great Britain, and most of Europe.

This chests’ solid mahogany top is “thumb-molded” and it is constructed with remarkably high figured mahogany. At the top of the three-lower drawers are three-graduated smaller drawers. The central top drawer has an inlay which displays a shaded urn, from which emanate flowers. This shaded effect was made by using  the “hot-sand” technique; a novelty of the day that was widespread and extremely popular, both in Great Britain and The newly formed United States of America. The background of this refined inlay has been colored with a light-green color. The “hot-sand” technique is achieved when a cabinet-maker places a very thin piece of a soft and light wood, with very little graining, often white pine (pinus strobus) or holly (Ilex), satinwood (Nematolepis squamea~seven species known)and maple ( Sapindaceae family~over one-hundred species) into a very fine sand, often beach sand, which is then heated, often by means of a torch. When this fine sand reaches a temperature that will “char” the edges of the inlay, but will not burn the v=wood-veneer. then the cabinet-maker places the thin veneer into the hot sand until it has almost been burnt, which produces a “shaded” effect on the veneer, which is then carefully cut to the desired size for inlay. This “hot-sand” technique has been utilized by cabinet-makers for almost five centuries. It was frequently used by cabinet-makers to create quarter “fan” inlay. All six drawers of this chest of drawers have a three-line inlay.

 

NOTES/ABSTRACT: Much unlike its’ predecessor, the Chippendale era, defined as the years 1755 through 1780, much of the furniture from the Neoclassical, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton eras (defined here as the years 1785-1820), relied heavily upon two-dimensional and geometrical designs, as well as inlays. During the Neoclassical period, cabinet-makers employed much of Thomas Sheraton’s and George Hepplewhite’s designs on chair back-splats, legs and often oval, oblong, triangular and rectangular patterns and various other inlays to achieve its’ delicate, light and “airy” appearance.

Prior to the Neoclassical era, Chippendale furniture and its’ designs in both the United Kingdom, The United States of America, Europe, and Great Britain employed three-dimensional carvings to create bold, but oftentimes “heavy” appearance. By 1795, Chippendale designs had become “passe” and no longer fashionable or desirable

The English cabinet-maker, Thomas Sheraton, was one of the leading exponents of Neoclassicism. Sheraton gave his name to a style, or form, of furniture that is primarily characterized by the late refinement of the last Georgian styles. Sheraton became one of the most powerful source of inspiration behind the furniture of the late-eighteenth century. In 1791, Sheraton published in four-volumes a series of publications entitled “The Cabinet-Maker’s and Upholsterers Drawing Book” [sic]. At least six-hundred cabinet makers and joiners subscribed to his publications and they were immediately widely influential over a large part of “The United Kingdom”.

Many find it too surprising to be true, but during Thomas Sheraton’s late career, he did not have a cabinet-shop of his own. It has been determined that Sheraton himself never made any of the designs of furniture that were shown in his books. No pieces of furniture have ever been traced to him directly. A piece of furniture described as being “by Sheraton” , or “in the Sheraton Style” simply refers to the design of the particular piece and not to the maker of the piece itself. Thomas Sheraton and his impact, both in architecture and cabinet-making, cannot be understated.

Although very little is known about George Hepplewhite, according to some sources, he served his apprenticeship with Gillows in Lancaster, but that theory is somewhat debatable. Many scholars are very sceptical about this theory, as there is no concrete proof about this. What is known about George Hepplewhite is that he based himself in London, around 1775, where he opened a cabinet-shop. It is recorded that George Hepplewhite died in 1786, but the business was continued by his widow, Alice. In 1788 she published a book with about three hundred of his designs. It was entitled  “The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterers Guide” with two further editions published in 1789 and 1790.

Amazingly, despite George Hepplewhite’s popularity, and his published books/directories by him, to date, there are absolutely no documented pieces of furniture made by George Hepplewhite’s work-shop or his firm in existence. Hepplewhite’s name is synonymous with furniture of a distinctive style that is light, airiness, and light in appearance.  Reproductions of his designs continue to this day. One characteristic that is seen in many of his designs is a shield-shaped chair back, where an expansive shield appeared in place of a narrower back-splat. 

DIMENSIONS: Height: 36 1/2″, Depth: 23 1/2″, Width: 45 1/2.

CONDITION: This exceedingly desirable late-eighteenth century mahogany chest of drawers has no major repairs or alterations whatsoever. The stamped brass hardware, most likely made in Birmingham, is completely intact. Each drawer in this chest retains its’ original steel lock. A careful examination of theis chest of drawers, including the case itself, revealed nothing irregular, other than magnificent construction. Interestingly, the chests’ bottom revealed a series of approximately twelve blocks; a true sign of “workmanlike” construction. All the drawers are “cock-beaded”. The three-quartered dust-boards, or planks of wood between the drawers, remain intact. It is this author’s opinion that this bureau was either made in Scotland, or made in another cabinet-shop by a cabinet-maker, who was trained in Scotland. The chest has laminated bracket feet, which are chamfered, and then glued to the case; a very workmanlike detail.

PROVENANCE: A notable Columbia, South Carolina family.

FURTHER DOCUMENTATION AND TEXT PENDING

If you are interested in purchasing this chest of drawers, or if you would like additional information about it, please feel to contact C. Lyman McCallum, Jr. personally at 1~803~834~3787 or simply email us at chicoraclm@msn.com

 As always, your inquiries are welcomed!