A Closer Look
EARLY C18th CHEST OF DRAWERS
Further to our previous explorations into what makes pieces interesting or special, we have been encouraged to continue our “Closer Look” initiative and share our insight into what differentiates the works we select from other perfectly genuine, yet somehow ordinary examples.
It has a solid mortice and tenon, peg jointed carcass and drawer linings which run from front to back, a construction typical of the late C17th. However, the delightful shallow depth, the graduated drawers, the detail of the moulding cut into the solid rails surounding each drawer and the fielded or “block moulded” drawer-fronts, indicate that it is of slightly later date.This chest of two short and three long drawers, dates from the first decade of the C18th and is a curious hybrid, which more than in part contributes to its overall rarity and appeal.
It has a fine thin plank top, which is enhanced by the bold applied moulding to the underside of the overhang, lending it a stylish “architectural” form which is complimented by the applied moulding beneath the bottom drawer and on the side returns. Together these “frame” the drawers in a pleasing fashion, which is further enhanced by the unusually tall “straight through” stile feet. These are simply extensions of the uprights and integral to the construction, yet lend a lightness and elegance to the chest.
Apart from these interesting hybrid elements of the construction, what is it that makes this so immediately appealing and “special”?The sides have a single plain horizontal panel above a tall vertical. These are plain and not fielded panels, and are inset into the framework in the traditional C17th manner, with a simple moulded detail, in contrast to the more sophisticated front. The drawers retain the original hand-made steel locks, yet curiously there are handle marks showing that originally, the chest had simple turned wooden pull-knob handles, in the manner associated with chests from the second half of the C17th. These drawers have been later fitted with the existing shaped and engraved brass plate handles and cast brass escutcheons, a style which became fashionable in the Queen Anne and Early Georgian period.
Colour of course! Colour and surface patina are paramount prerequisites to all of the finest and most desirable examples of early vernacular furniture. All the most exciting pieces boast a unique individuality, depth and variation of colour and a patinated “skin” that seduces the eye and tells the story of its age and integrity.
The top is "leathery" and not quite so well burnished because it has been exposed to more direct sunlight. It also bears various incidental scars, stains and years of use under candlelight. The front edge of the top has developed a rounded profile, with multiple small bumps and knocks, which now reflect light in little patches of sparkle. The sides remain plainer and darker than the top and front as they have met with much less handling and wear, less light and less attention from polish and dusters.So, when looking a little closer, you will note the variety and depth of surface to this chest. The rail under the two top drawers is golden in hue and paler where it has been worn and rubbed by years of use and handling. The centre of the second long drawer also has a paler honey colour where it has been regularly pushed closed, probably by knees. Signs of wear also lend a lighter colour and time-worn appeal to the top edge of the bottom drawer.
Then there are the particular qualities of the design to reconsider. The overall proportions and gradation, and particularly the block mouldings of the drawer fronts, create a variety of reflections, highlights and shadows, which lend it a subtle elegance and greatly enhance the surface interest.
It is sometimes worth taking a little longer to look and consider what it is that makes something special and how it came to be. It can be both exciting and rewarding......