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Worktable

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Worktable

Artist: Anthony Gabriel Quervelle (French, 1789-1856; active Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1820-1856)

Date: 1825-1835
Medium: Mahogany, yellow-poplar, pine, rosewood, glass, brass, and fabric
Dimensions:
Overall: 30 3/8 x 23 x 16 7/8in. (77.2 x 58.4 x 42.9cm)
Signed: Engraved paper label inside drawer: "A.G. QUERVELLE / United States. / Fashionable. / CABINET WARE HOUSE. / No 126. / South Second Street / Below Dock. / PHILADELPHIA. / Delines Sculp."
Credit Line: Museum Purchase with funds from the Sarah T. Norris Fund, in honor of Carol E. Gordon, Curator of Decorative Arts, 1974-1983
Object number: 83.15
Label Text
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, finely crafted worktables with fitted drawers and compartments were elegant and popular additions to the furnishings of stylish American interiors. The earliest worktable forms were light in proportion and appointed with ornately pleated and trimmed textile bags. By the 1820s the French Empire and Restoration styles-with their curved profiles and larger dimensions-had transformed this specialized kind of table. In Philadelphia, worktables increased in size and became more architectural in their configurations, and textile bags disappeared.

The crotched-grained, mahogany-veneered fan shape on this Quervelle worktable is emphasized by the crossbanded-veneer border. Rounded corners, a convex drawer front, concave sides of the platform, and gadrooning complete the graceful integration.


Text Entries

During the federalist period small, finely crafted work-tables with fitted interior compartments and drawers became elegant and popular additions to the decorative furnishings of stylish American domestic interiors. The earliest forms—light in proportion, embellished with exotic wood veneers, and fitted with ornately pleated and trimmed textile work bags—were promoted in English and French pattern books and fashion periodicals during the late eighteenth century.(1) By the 1820s the French Empire and Restoration styles with their curved profiles and larger dimensions had transformed these specialized tables. In Philadelphia, tables became larger and more architectural in their configurations, textile work bags disappeared, and delicate turned legs and bases gave way to a variety of ornately carved central supports with platforms or feet.

A number of Philadelphia’s leading cabinetmakers produced elegant versions of the “work” or “toilet”

table.(2) MWPI’s richly veneered example bears the engraved label (fig. 24) of Anthony Gabriel Quervelle (1789-1856) (see cat. no. 17) , who is known to have made several variations of this form.(3) In 1831 he submitted a “Ladies Work Table” to an exhibition of mechanical arts at the Franklin Institute, where it was acknowledged to be a well-crafted, successful, and tasteful design.

The form, which grew in popularity during the 1820s and 1830s among several Philadelphia cabinetmakers, is described in The Philadelphia Cabinet and Chair Makers’ Union Book of Prices for Manufacturing Cabinet Ware (1828) as a “work table with pillar and 4 claws.” Quervelle probably utilized this same base configuration, with slight decorative variations, on gaming, dining, and center tables as well.

The support column of the MWPI example is carved with scrolled leafage that is flanked above and below by crisply turned concentric rings of varying diameters. The concave sides of the veneered platform on which the column rests and the carved scroll-and-paw feet are closely related to elements found on the engraving of a dressing stand depicted on Quervelle’s label and in the drawings of his manuscript sketchbook.(4)

The rounded corners, convex upper drawer front, and architectonically arched and recessed facade of the deep lower drawer are elements that can be found on other worktables attributed to Quervelle’s shop. They are combined in the MWPI example to produce a simple, yet graceful, balance to the form of the table. Quervelle produced striking, symmetrically centered patterns on the facade of the case using richly figured, crotch-grained mahogany veneers. His talent for combining decorative elements to create a successfully unified design is evident in the way he used inlaid banding of contrasting rosewood to outline the top of the table, employed crossbanded veneer to emphasize the arch of lower drawer, and applied gadrooning to the lower edges of the case and the platform to soften the geometric forms.

Essay by Jack L. Lindsey

1. See George Smith, Collections of Designs for Household Furniture (London, 1808); Thomas Sheraton, The Cabinetmaker and Upholsterers Drawing Book (London, 1793); and Rudolph Ackermann, The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (London: R. Ackermann, 1809-28).

2. The form, when fitted with a mirror on the underside of the top or on a tilting interior hinged frame, is also referred to in several Philadelphia cabinetmakers’ daybooks of the period as a toilet or dressing table. The terms seem to have been randomly assigned and interchangeable.

3. Robert C. Smith, “Furniture of Anthony G. Quervelle, Part Ill: The Worktables," Antiques 104, no. 2 (August 1973): 260-68, discusses the known worktables from Quervellels workshop in detail.

4. This sketchbook is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession no. 1995-12- 1-13). See cat. no. 12, n. 9, for a further description.