11112 A FINE ANGLO-INDIAN SOLID CARVED WOOD DINING TABLE IN FOUR PARTS Western India. First Half Of The Nineteenth Century. Measurments: Height: 30 1/2” (77.5 cm) Width Unextended: 69 2/3” (177 cm) Width Fully Extended: 139 3/4″ (355 cm) Depth 63” (160 cm).
Of solid Indian, carved rosewood. Consisting of four pieces designed to stand-alone as separate tables if required, each leaf composed of two broad cuts of wood with carved, molded edges, resting on a frame with four elaborately carved and turned legs, in the form of an inverted acanthus bud or lotus flower, with protruding lobed finials below with original brass casters.
A Philadelphia Estate
This table is an example, on a large scale, of the high quality of British-influenced furniture produced in western India in the early decades of the nineteenth century. The country was at that time under the rule of the East India Company, which by then had extended its trade monopoly to include administrative and military functions, requiring the settlement of thousands of British staff in India’s main cities and maintaining over 60,000 troops. The full conquest encouraged the British to make less effort to fit in with native culture, and many expected to continue to live in a similar style to what they were used to at home, especially with regards to the furnishing of their homes. Importing pieces from Britain was expensive and thus the Indian furniture industry adapted to create pieces, which, like this table, were hybrids of British style and design, made with local materials and techniques.
The table is constructed from solid Indian rosewood as would have been expected of high quality Indian furniture at the time; in Britian on the other hand veneers of this wood were used and, solid, carved pieces were uncommon. Dalbergia Latifolia was a rosewood available in India, which was noted for being hard, heavy, durable and resistant to insects and “became a favored wood for furniture made for officials and traders”.1 English design books were distributed throughout India; for example, Chippendale’s Director, Ackermann’s Repository of Arts and the Gentleman’s Magazine are frequently listed in library inventories of the British.2 Indian craftsmen became skilled at executing European designs but insisted on using their traditional tools, which meant that the finishes differed from the prototypes. (Later in the early nineteenth century Maria Graham (Lady Callcott), 1785-1842 the famous writer of travel books, would confirm that carpenters used chisels and axes and held the timber in place using their toes.3) On the present table the shape of the legs closely relate to English design precedents of the late Regency period, such as a legs of Fashionable Chairs in Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts, Vol IV 1817, (figure 1) and Henry Whitaker’s Designs of Cabinet and Upholstery Furniture in the Most Modern Style of 1825 (figure 2). However, the carving quality is more free-flowing than would have been the case in England. Other Indian Rosewood pieces from a similar period that have appeared on the art market in recent years have also been found to bear legs of a similar format (figure 3).
One of the locations where Indian craftsmen developed a particularly comprehensive understanding of European requirements was Bombay, where westernized Parsee traders and craftsmen dominated and by the 1820s the standards of craftsmanship had become highly developed that pieces produced. It has been suggested that the rapid expansion of the Bombay Presidency in the early nineteenth century seems to have stimulated the production of pieces in rosewood, making this a likely point of origin for the present piece.4
The ownership of dining tables was generally low among the population, and was the reserve of the wealthy. The format of the present piece, whereby each of the individual four sections could stand alone, was especially favored; “the most popular varieties of dining table were those that consisted of separate tables that could be assembled but were equally effective as standing or pier tables when apart”.5 Such tables were ideal for the large-scale dining which was a common occurrence in India’s ruling classes; Colonel Thomas Munro acquired a dining table from a Madras-based English furniture manufacturer R Thompson in 1814 which came in four parts, was 16 feet in length, with three extra flaps that could extend the table to 22 feet.6 Indeed long dining tables have been described as “a hallmark of Indian interiors”.7 It would appear it was not uncommon for these tables to fill the entire length of an apartment, which were often of considerably greater size than what was normal in England.
This table is a fascinating, relatively early example of a piece of Anglo-Indian furniture. Later in the century, owing to the influence of the international exhibitions, the interest and desire for Indian furniture would increase, both in British India and in Britain. The present table’s large scale, refined carving quality, lavish use of rosewood and close emulation of English Regency taste indicate that it must have been an important commission for the British ruling elite. The piece is also notable for its ‘ergonomic’ planning; the square framed bases have been carefully sized to sit well back from the edge of the table, thus allowing ample leg room to the diners.
- Adam Bowett, Woods in British furniture-making, 1400-1900 : an Illustrated Historical Dictionary, London 2012, p. 206
- Amin Jaffer, Furniture from British India and Ceylon, London 2001, p. 78
- Ibid., 79
- Bowett, op. cit., p. 208
- Jaffer, op. cit., p. 69