Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Her Majesty's Furniture: The Plum Pudding Desk, 1800-20

Desk of Plum Pudding Mahogany
The Victoria & Albert Museum

John Jones, a keen collector of French decorative arts from 1700 to 1800, left his collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1882.  While many of his pieces were truly magnificent and authentic, many were later proven to be copies.  Jones, of course, wasn’t aware of this, and had been conned by clever forgers who knew that, at the time, at least, their counterfeits would not be spotted.  Now, of course, with science on our side, we’re able to spot these forgeries.

Here’s a famous piece from Jones’ collection which was originally thought to be something much grander and older than it turned out to be.  The curators of the V&A now feel that this handsome desk actually was made between 1800 and 1820 as a much simpler piece (without the porcelain plaques) of furniture.

The desk was probably veneered all over with the dappled mahogany that is now seen everywhere except the doors. This kind of veneer is colloquially known as “plum pudding” mahogany and was very fashionable at the beginning of the 19th century.

The circular plaques were most likely added between 1860 and 1880, in imitation of the Sèvres porcelain plaques that were used on furniture in the 1780s. These plaques, it seems were created made from old plates, but the original decoration has been removed with acid, and this floral decoration added.

The goal with this deception was to make the desk look as if it had been made in the1780s.  Jones purchased the desk believing this to be true.

Nonetheless, the piece of oak, pine and mahogany, veneered with plain mahogany and 'plum pudding' mahogany, with its gilt-bronze mounts, doors set with circular plaques of painted porcelain, and top set with a slab of Carrara marble, is still attractive even if it wasn’t an important French antique.

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