11001

A WALNUT, EBONISED DISPLAY CABINET MOUNTED WITH VICTORIA BAS-RELIEF WARE PLAQUES

English. Signed And Dated, 1878.

Measurements

Height: 112" (284 cm); Width: 73" (185 cm); Depth: 35 1/2" (90 cm);

Research

Of walnut with ebonized reeded moldings. Inset Wedgwood Victora bas-relief ware plaques on blue and green ground. The cabinet of angular projecting outline is surmounted by a gallery formed of Wedgwood foliated ballusters. The upper section with central glazed door enclosing reeded edged shelves of customized shapes. The side flanks divided by angular pilasters, enclosing shelved open continuous niches. The central oblique section with concealed drawer, the side returns of compliant shape. The conforming lower section with glazed central door and flanked by open shelved niches. The whole profusely mounted with Wedgwood panels of various shapes with subject matter including Hamlet, The Canterbury Tales, Othello, Paradise Lost and Comus. All raised on a plain plinth. The velvet lining probably original.

Marks:
Stamped twice to exterior:
Wedgwood & Sons. Manufacturers. Etruria.
Chas Toft. Sc. 1878.

Provenance:
Private Collection, Paris

This monumental cabinet bears the signature of Charles Toft (1832–1909), chief modeler at the Wedgwood ceramics manufactory from 1877 to 1888. It was the focal point of the company’s installation at the extraordinary Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 and figure 1 shows a sketch in ink preserved at the Wedgwood Museum archives indicating how the piece was to be dressed for this event. Wedgwood enjoyed considerable success at the exhibition, reflected by the company being awarded a gold medal by the judges1 and the present cabinet was mentioned in a number of reviews of the exhibition, both in the Illustrated Guide to the British Section and the Reports of the United States Commissioners, with almost identical wording, as “a cabinet, decorated with jasper plaques, illustrative of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton, modeled and designed by C. Toft.”2

An indication of the great effort and expense that went into the design and manufacture of this piece is the fact that the plaques and other porcelain elements had to be custom made: the plaques to the central section are tapered to match the angle of the drawer and the flanking side panels, and the balustrades that form the gallery were almost certainly made only for this piece. The foliate sectional panels that form the leading edge of the projections are so narrow that it seems likely they were also customized. Another interesting refinement is the design of the ebony and brass handles to the slanted drawer; these were specially constructed to restrict the range of their ball joints to avoid damage to the central plaque.

The piece incorporates Toft’s recently created range of plaques in “Victoria bas-relief ware” depicting subjects from English literature. The theme of this cabinet would have chimed perfectly with the taste of the period; the arches of the upper section are topped by bas-reliefs of leading figures from the canon of English literature. In the center is a bust of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), flanked by personifications of Fame. On the right-hand side is a profile of John Milton (1608-1674), on the left is one of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400).

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.