Cabinet-on-stand: the Witcombe Cabinet, Circa 1697, 203.0 cm height 120.0 cm width 60.0 cm depth© The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath

A large cabinet on a carved and silvered stand with carved and silvered cresting. The cabinet consists of a rectangular case containing ten drawers of varying sizes enclosed by two doors attached by five external decorative brass hinges on each side and secured by a central lock with a large decorative pierced and engraved brass plate.  The exterior surfaces of the front doors, sides and drawer fronts of the cabinet are entirely decorated with  polychrome japanned work on a white ground in imitation of Chinese and Japanese porcelain.

This magnificent ivory-ground japanned cabinet-on-stand was allocated to the Holburne Museum of Art, Bath in Lieu of Inheritance Tax in 2005. As part of the Museum Network Partnership the cabinet was recently conserved and technically analysed by the Senior Furniture Conservator at the Wallace Collection. This has led to exciting discoveries about how the cabinet was made and decorated. 

The cabinet came from Witcombe Park, Great Witcombe, South Gloucestershire. It was probably acquired by Sir Michael Hicks (1645-1710) who built Witcombe Park in the 1690s. The cabinet appears to have remained at Witcombe Park for over 300 years until it was allocated to the Holburne Museum in 2005. This probably accounts for its remarkable state of preservation. 

The carcase is made of oak and pine or spruce, veneered with fruitwood (probably pear). All its visible surfaces are decorated with the highest quality 'japanning'. Japanning is a form of painting and varnishing that was intended to imitate oriental lacquer. Most japanned cabinets of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries imitated the standard form of black and gold lacquer. The Witcombe cabinet resembles more closely the type of polychrome decoration seen on Chinese porcelain. It is beautifully executed with great delicacy and subtle colours. The interior drawers are decorated with charming vases of flowers, landscapes, figures, birds and lively insects which gleam against the pale background. Only about a dozen pieces of ivory-ground japanned furniture of this date survive. The Witcombe cabinet is one of four similarly decorated cabinets that all appear to have been made in the same unidentified London workshop. It is the largest and the finest of the group. 

The stand and cresting are also remarkable. They belong to a small surviving group of late seventeenth-century pieces of carved furniture which were silvered rather than gilded. Both the stand and crest are made of carved pine. Silver leaf has then been applied over a thick layer of gesso. Silvered furniture was intended to evoke the solid silver furniture made for Louis XIV at Versailles. The cresting on top of the cabinet has small brackets for the display of porcelain that was imported from China and Japan. Originally many of baroque cabinets had crestings, but most have been lost in subsequent years. 

Provenance: Probably acquired by Sir Michael Hicks (1645-1710) around 1697; thence by descent to Celia Hick-Beach; accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the Holburne Museum, 2005.