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China table

1765-1775
Origin: America, Virginia, Williamsburg
OH: 28 1/2"; OW: 34 3/16"; OD: 22 3/8"
Mahogany and oak
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1991-431
Appearance: Rectangular table; straight rails with applied fret and foliate carving; astragal head applied to lower edge of rails; four tapered legs with applied foliate carving and beaded corners on outer surfaces; block feet with applied carved rosettes and slightly recessed casters; applied, foliate carved knee brackets; originally featured a gallery around the top edges.

Construction: The side and end rails are tenoned into the legs, and two medial rails are tenoned into the side rails. A series of small glue blocks originally secured the veneered top to the frame. A gallery was set into a rabbet on the edges of the top. The knee brackets were originally sprig-nailed to the legs and rails. Leather-wheeled casters are recessed slightly into the block feet, which are integral with the legs. All of the carving and fretwork on the rails, legs, and feet is applied, as is the astragal molding on the lower edges of the rails.

Materials: Mahogany top, top veneers, rails, brackets, and legs; oak medial rails.
Label:Despite the replacement of its gallery, this china table illustrates an important phase of late colonial furniture production in Williamsburg. The abundant rococo ornamentation and tapered legs verging on the neoclassical give the table an overtly British appearance and reflect the design standards of London and other large British urban centers in the 1760s. While a close inspection of the table's carved details reveals that its execution falls short of the best London standards, that such an ambitious project was undertaken in a relatively small town like Williamsburg says much about the abilities and the orientation of its furniture makers. The table is also an example of the tastes and aspirations of the Virginia gentry.

The CWF table, which has no recorded history, is one of four nearly identical examples presently recognized. The second, known through photographs, was collected in the United States before 1931. The third was first owned by Virginians George and Martha Washington and is now at the Smithsonian Institution. A fourth with a history in northern Virginia was discovered in 1995. All four feature the same combination of sawn fretwork and carved fruit, flowers, and foliage on their rails and legs. Structural details such as the presence of paired oak medial rails beneath the tops correspond as well. The similarity continues even to the presence of casters recessed into the feet of each table. The objects differ only in the height of their rails and the shape and ornamentation of their feet. While the CWF table has blocked feet with carved multipetaled rosettes, another has four-petaled flowers while the remaining two have feet composed of architectural guttae.

The vines, rosettes, grapes, and other embellishments on these tables are not integral with the legs and rails but were carved on blanks and then applied to the tables with glue and wrought sprigs. The sawn fretwork on the rails was applied in a similar manner. While this approach at first appears more labor intensive than solid carving, it may have expedited the fabrication process. By carving the ornaments on blanks, the artisan did not have to cut away the ground around each element and could simply glue the pieces to table surfaces that he had already planed to near perfect smoothness. Notably, another china table of a much more ambitious design produced in the same shop incorporates many of the same decorative devices but was carved from the solid. Though more durable, the ornaments on the flat surfaces of the latter table do not exhibit the depth and crispness that the tables with applied carving do.

Attribution of these tables to Williamsburg rests largely on the similarity between the carved rosettes and leaf fronds on their rails and those worked into the back of the Masonic Master's chair made for Williamsburg Lodge 6 in the 1760s. Sawn fretwork of a closely related nature also appears on the legs of china table 1980-95, which has a long history in Gloucester County, less than twenty miles from Williamsburg.
Provenance:Acquired by an antiques dealer from a family in northern Florida ca. 1990. He would not reveal information about the object's history. Sold by dealer at auction, Sotheby's, 1991.
Mark(s):Large Roman numerals were scratched into the side rails and the underside of the top when the latter was reset in the twentieth century.
Inscription(s):There is an illegible pencil inscription on the underside of the top.