The present table is a rare example of English lacquer furniture made in the reign of Queen Anne. Whilst bureaux and mirrors rendered in lacquer at this date are not uncommon, small elegant tables are few. The beautifully drawn cabriole leg supporting a cavetto frieze is particularly pleasing and is more normally associated with prototypes in figured walnut.

Trade between Europe and Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in a cultural exchange which sparked European enthusiasm for Far Eastern decorative arts, particularly painted furniture using lacquering technique. Lacquered furniture was first imported to Europe from China and Japan (hence the English term for the technique, “japanning”) and as contact with these countries increased, the “European rage for paint on furniture, through the ancient art of lacquer” was inspired. Japanned pieces were most often decorated with a black lacquer and decorated with raised and flat work often in the form of deities, pavilions, and fantastical creatures which were then gilded and detailed.

In England, “painted furniture gained popularity during the reign of William and Mary (1689-1792).” It reached its apogee in the early 18th century and demand was so high that the trade was unable to accommodate it. Books were published instructing the English in the art of japanning so that pieces could be made at home. In 1688 John Stalker and George Parker published their Treatise on Japanning and Varnishing, which provided detailed descriptions of lacquer recipes, processes, and designs. Tables, secretaries, chairs, and coffers were all made in this style, such as a tea table (circa 1710) similar to the present example in shape, which can be seen in figure 1. Furniture took contemporary British forms, but was decorated with distinctly Asian scenes of exotic animals and birds, flora, and landscapes. The English “worked hard to imitate the lustrous surface of Asian lacquerware, but the objects they created were distinctly European in character.”

Figure 1