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image icon Bookcase, c1880

Bookcase, c1880
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a free-standing pine bookcase, measuring 251 cm x 110 cm x 52 cm, made by an unknown craftsman in about 1880. The base incorporates two drawers and a double-door cupboard. The upper part has bookshelves that have been set behind glass-panelled doors. The timber used in its construction is Huon pine, which has a rich honey tone, but in this instance has been given a finish to simulate darker timber. The simplicity of the overall design has been offset by decorative features in the form of carved units and decorative borders that create interest, mainly within the lower door panels and drawers and the outer edges of the bookcase. Carved grapes, pears, apples and cherries decorate the supporting frames of the doors. The applied cutwork around the doors is similar to that used to decorate late-17th-century silver. The central motif of the entablature (the section immediately above the bookshelf unit) and the drawer pulls (handles) both feature carved lions' heads, while the centrepiece of the 'broken' pediment that crowns the bookcase is a carved head of a stag with pronounced antlers.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an outstanding example of a historical revival design style that cabinet-makers in colonial South Australia adapted from a style popular in Germany in the later part of the 19th century - this style looked to the past and sometimes incorporated specific German references such as carved animals in the decoration; similar designs for bookcases, complete with antlers, can be found in German pattern books dating from the 1860s
  • uses nature as a source of ideas - decorative arts from many different parts of the world incorporate a wide variety of inventive approaches to using natural forms, such as plants and creatures, as the basis for decorative arts
  • references the skills brought into colonial South Australia by German migrants - around 200 of the German immigrant cabinet-makers in South Australia settled in country areas; they produced a wide variety of household furniture in a diversity of styles, from very sturdy and plain functional items such as cabinets and wardrobes, to very stylish and decorated items such as the 'stag antler' bookcase
  • is a tangible reminder of the traditions and culture brought to Australia, particularly South Australia, by German migrants - large numbers of Germans came to and settled in South Australia; by 1891 the population of German descent in South Australia was as high as 9 per cent; South Australian country districts, notably the Barossa Valley and Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills, attracted large numbers of German settlers, many of whom produced German crafts, particularly furniture
  • references the cultural prestige of books within colonial societies.