Tilt-top table

c. 1830–c. 1860
Wood, lacquer, paint, mother-of-pearl, gilding, possible paper mache
28 5/8 × 33 × 33 in. (72.71 × 83.82 × 83.82 cm)
Decorative Arts and Design
Wendy and Emery Reves Collection - Belle Chambre, Level 3
Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

During 19th-century Victorian era England, craftpersons made a wide range of furniture and objects that were decorated with dark lacquer, mother-of-pearl, and paint. Some of the furniture, especially that constructed of papier-mâché, was innovative in terms of its material and shape. The vogue for this decorative style lasted well into the mid-19th century. In 1860, for example, the two main centers of production in England, Birmingham and Wolverhampton, employed between 1,000 and 2,000 craftspersons making this line of furniture and related objects.

The sizable group of 19th-century English papier-mâché furniture is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Reves furniture acquisitions. During the 1960s, when Wendy Reves was building the collection, the ornate Rococo Revival style was poorly regarded by collectors, so the collecting of such pieces was extremely avant-garde on the part of Reves. Working through galleries like La Boutique du Village in Paris and Stair & Co. in London, Reves gathered together more than twenty examples, most of which are now at the Dallas Museum of Art. The collection is especially noteworthy because of its wide variety of forms.

The fact that the top of this table tilts up suggests that as late as the mid-19th century, furniture was still regularly removed from the center of a room when not in use and placed against the wall. Furthermore, the practice of tilting up the top allowed elaborately painted tables to function like a painting on an easel. This particular example is especially elaborate. Its central motif was achieved by inlaying pieces of mother-of-pearl into what might be a thin layer of papier-mâché over a wood substrate. Layers of paint and varnish were then applied atop the shell, producing lustrous flowers and birds, which were popular decorative motifs in 19th-century design. The table was further animated with finely painted gilt bands and scrollwork.

Adapted from

Dallas Museum of Art, Decorative Arts Highlights from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 43 and 55.