England Cabinet on stand

This ornately veneered Cabinet on stand, c. 1685, is illustrative of the international orientation of English furniture production in the years following the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Indeed, use of the term ‘Cabenett:Maker’ only appears around 1660 when a select number of furniture makers were distinguished as such by the London Joiners’ Company. The term specifically referred to a specialist maker of veneered furniture. The later seventeenth century represents a unique chapter in English furniture making when a distinct continental flavour was manifested in furnishing styles at the courts of James II (1685–88) and William III (1689–1702) and the houses of their members of court. This was largely due to the presence of foreign artists and craftsmen, some of whom are known to have supplied furniture to the royal household, and who may have been lured to London by the prospect of re-building following the Great Fire in 1666.

The seventeenth-century English cabinet on stand takes its inspiration from Dutch and French examples of the period and would have formed one of the most important pieces of furniture in an interior. By the second half of the century such a piece of furniture had become a symbol of wealth and status and was an essential element in a fashionable apartment. The grouping of a cabinet with its stand, or ‘table’ as it was known, along with a pair of guéridons, or candle stands, was characteristic of Dutch cabinet-making of the last quarter of the seventeenth century and this combination appears in numerous inventories of the period. Nothing is known of the early provenance of the NGV’s Cabinet on stand but its fine craftsmanship and sophisticated decoration indicate that it must have formed part of an important interior commission. The style and handling of the veneered decoration bear close resemblance to a suite of furniture at Levens Hall, Cumbria – seat of John Grahme, a member of James II’s court – that was possibly supplied by the London cabinet-maker Thomas Pistor, or his son. It is therefore possible that the NGV’s Cabinet on stand is by one of the Pistor workshops.

The NGV’s Cabinet on stand is illustrative of a type of cabinet that appeared during the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Such works bear close stylistic links with Dutch and French examples, yet their overall appearance is uniquely English. They are characterised by a pair of doors that open to reveal sets of drawers arranged around a central door with further drawers inside. This formal arrangement derives from earlier, smaller cabinets from Augsburg and Antwerp. The stand often has drawers across the top and the turned legs are joined by a flat, curved stretcher. The NGV Cabinet on stand retains its original stand, which is extremely rare. The marquetry panels are arranged within a framework of olive wood oyster veneers, the central panels depicting vases of spring flowers with birds. The flowers are executed in a range of woods producing lively, naturalistic tones and the foliage is made from bone, stained green. Floral marquetry was a Dutch and French speciality, ultimately deriving from still life paintings, but the fashion for it continued in England well into the early decades of the eighteenth century.

Amanda Dunsmore, Senior Curator, International Decorative Arts and Antiquities (in 2017)