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image icon Console table, c1825

Console table, c1825
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is an elegant console table, measuring 93 cm x 129 cm x 59 cm, made by an unknown furniture maker around 1825 in Tasmania. Its elegance comes from the way in which the angular simplicity of the overall shape has been balanced by a variety of ornamental features and the slight curvature of the front legs. These two legs (known as 'sabre' legs because of the resemblance of the curvature to a military sabre or sword) have some 'reeding' in the form of parallel grooves carved into the front surface that run up each leg to meet a spilling acanthus scroll. There are two drawers, each framed with a line of decorative beading. Carved motifs deriving from 'paterae' (a circular device based on a flower) enliven the surface between and on either side of these drawers. The warm honey tones of the surfaces identify the timber as red cedar. The relatively shallow depth and straight rear legs indicate that this table was designed to be placed against a wall.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an example of the Grecian Revival style of design that was fashionable in early colonial Australia and that incorporated stylistic elements of classical Greek architecture - this style was popular in colonial Australia from the 1810s to the early 1840s and can be seen in those examples of civic and domestic architecture that survive today
  • shows how a fashion for classical Greek design influenced colonial furniture design - the sophisticated use of ornamental motifs (particularly the acanthus scroll; the acanthus was a popular Greek decorative motif adapted from the acanthus plant, which is thistle-like in form) and the subtle contrasts between straight and curved lines demonstrate the table-maker's confident use of a Grecian Revival decorative vocabulary
  • is a piece of early colonial furniture made from a native timber, red cedar - a feature of Australian furniture-making is its use of indigenous materials, of which there are extensive varieties; the qualities of native timbers were recognised and experimented with in a variety of different items of furniture in the earliest period of European settlement
  • introduces an aspect of interior design in the colonial era - the table was probably intended as a piece of formal furniture for a hall or dining room and was designed to be seen from the front
  • is made from a timber that has been described as a signature Australian tree and was known to early colonists and timber companies as 'red gold' - red cedar forests were first discovered in the rainforests near Parramatta soon after European settlement; these timbers were widespread in the east coast rainforests from the Shoalhaven River south of Sydney to Cape York, but rapacious timber felling (by 1798, cedar was the third-largest export from the colony of New South Wales) meant that by around 1870 the cedar forests had almost completely disappeared along eastern Australia.