English. Circa 1790.


Height: 30" (76cm); Width: 46" (116.5cm); Depth: 18 1/2" (47cm)


Of fiddleback mahogany. Each with a central ratcheted leather inset surface flanked to either end with dished molded edges, pen and inkwell recesses, raised on pierced trestle supports, united by arched stretchers. One with restored supports.

The highly distinctive design of the tables draws inspiration from both French and Russian prototypes, most notably on a liseuse, or reading desk (figure 1) by the celebrated French furniture-maker Joseph Canabas (1712-1797).1 They are probably unique within English furniture in drawing on these distinguished precedents.

The distinctive trestle ends supporting the present tables are of a type found in French furniture of this period, narrow and pierced and raised on downward curving legs. Such trestles can, for instance, be found in an elegant Louis XVI travailleuse with a marble top and drawer set in the frieze beneath in the Ramsay Collection.2 However, in the desk designed by Canabas these trestle supports are strikingly close to those of the present tables, with elegantly lyre-shaped sections springing from a central pierced circle. As in the current pieces, curving brackets support a top with a raised rim, curved ends and a central tilting desk section flanked by shallow receptacles for holding pens or brushes.

Similar double-lyre pierced trestles also appear on a Kidney Table dating from 1780-90 (figure 2)  from the workshop of Matvei Iakovlevich Veretennikov in St. Petersburg, supplier of furniture to the Imperial Courts of both Catherine the Great and Paul I.3 A further Russian example in Karelian birch inlaid with marquetry designs was sold at Sotheby’s (30.11.79, lot 315).

The design of the Canabas desk is sufficiently close to the present pieces to suggest that the maker or original owner of the present tables was aware of the form of the liseuse desk and chose to adapt it to his own requirements. The English designer has also imparted a further sense of refinement to an already elegant form by eschewing the use of a horizontal stretcher, a conceit found on the finest standard end sofa tables of the period. Such an exchange of ideas did occur in the later eighteenth century with English interest in French styles and designs continuing throughout the period and persisting despite the Napoleonic wars.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.