11428 A LARGE AND ELEGANT GEORGE III DINING TABLE OF WELL FIGURED MAHOGANY WITH SATINWOOD CROSS BANDING AND GUN BARREL BASE, RETAINING SIX OLD BUT LATER PERIMETER LEAVES English. Circa 1795. Measurements: Diameter with leaves: 90 1/2″ (230 cm) Diameter without leaves: 71 3/8″ (181 cm) Height: 29 3/8″ (74.5 cm).
Of well figured mahogany (ocean wood), West and East Indian satinwood. The circular top with central reserve of highly figured mahogany is surrounded by a wide crossband of West Indian satinwood, the edge is crossbanded within boxwood line inlaid edging. The base with gun barrel stem from which issues four mahogany and satinwood inlaid legs, all raised on original brass toes and casters. The table can be extended concentrically by means of six additional old but later crossbanded satinwood leaves. Minor repairs.
Southern U.S. Private Collection
This very large dining table is beautifully detailed with a very fine cut of figured mahogany for its central reserve known as “ocean wood.” The name is “supposed to have been given from a fancied resemblance the grain presents to the undulation of the sea”1 (figure 1). Alternatively, a famous specimen of Honduran mahogany was imported on a ship called Ocean, which was recorded in 1837: “There are also the Plum and the Peacock mottle; this last resembles the tail of the bird. A log strongly marked with this figure, ex Ocean, from Honduras, sold for nearly £1,000.”2.
The quality and design of the table is further enhanced by the use of a broad crossband of West Indian satinwood, perhaps the costliest timber employed in English furniture during the George III period. Its “pale, vivacious” qualities of color and figure matched well the incoming taste for light, elegant neoclassical furniture from the late 1770s to 1790s.3 Thus, its prized position among leading cabinet makers caused the timber to be valued at a multiple of the finest mahogany. “Hispanola mahogany was fetching between 8d. and 10d. at this time,” while satinwood could go for 2-3 shillings per foot.4 Here, the band is exquisitely framed by fillet line inlays of kingwood and boxwood.
The base is of the prized “gun barrel” form, so-named owing to its resemblance to the smooth cylindrical taper of gun or canon barrels. The four elegant swept legs are also inlaid in West Indian satinwood to their leading faces. At some point in the table’s history it acquired a further set of (East) Indian satinwood radial leaves that allow the table to be extended around the perimeter to a dramatic seven and a half feet (228 cm) in diameter.
The table is an exceptional example of a late eighteenth century circular dining table. Tables of this type, measuring over six feet in diameter, are rarely found that date from the 1790s. This was the decade when the shift from rectangular to circular examples began to occur. Prior to the eighteenth century, dining at long tables had been the custom, subject to a strict order according to the social hierarchy. “The relatively more democratic nature of general society”5 that emerged meant that dining became more of a social custom where circular tables replaced rectangular forms, allowing for less formal, more intimate dining. The popularity of mechanical furniture from leading makers like Sheraton and Gillows included extending dining tables, which allowed for flexibility when it came to the size of a group and, along with other furniture items of convenience, “eased the process of dining and encouraged conviviality.”6
- Bowett, Adam. Woods in British Furniture-Making, 1400-1900: An Illustrated Historical Dictionary. Wetherby: Oblong Creative, 2012. 173.
- Bowett, Adam. Woods in British Furniture-Making, 1400-1900: An Illustrated Historical Dictionary. Wetherby: 4. Oblong Creative, 2012. 218.
- Ibid., 219.
- Girouard, Mark and Dana Arnold (ed.). “Life in the English Country House,” Reading Architectural History. New York: Routledge, 2002. 160.
- Christie, Christopher. The British Country House in the Eighteenth Century. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000. 256.