The vogue for lacquered objects and screens which were brought back to Europe by the East India Company in the late 17th century resulted in demand for larger pieces with a similar style of decoration. Western cabinet-makers turned to John Stalker and George Parker’s seminal 1688 Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing which provided the recipes for producing the various different colours but also templates of Chinese figures, plants and gardens which could be used to create seemingly authentic Chinese scenes. European ‘japanning' remained fashionable until the end of the eighteenth century. The unusual faux tortoiseshell interior reflects the vogue for this expensive and difficult to acquire material. Cabinet-makers in this period also tried to emulate tortoiseshell with the use of what was historically called 'Mulberry wood'. Burr alder, ash and elm were amongst the timbers treated using aqua fortis or nitric acid, heat and lampblack to create a tortoiseshell-like effect. Tortoiseshell was made fashionable by the influential designs produced by French cabinet makers such as Pierre Golle and André Charles Boulle. For more information on the use of aqua fortis see A. Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture 1715-1740, Antique Collector's Club, 2009, p.311.
An early 18th century Queen Anne black japanned bureau cabinet
A Queen Anne black japanned bureau cabinet
Heightened with gilt chinoiseries, the rectangular moulded cornice above a pair of arched bevelled plates enclosing a faux tortoise-shell and gilt chinoiserie decorated interior with a central cupboard door enclosing four short drawers, surrounded by ten short drawers and twelve pigeonholes; above a pair of candle-slides; the lower part with a sloping fall with reading rest, enclosing a sliding well, five drawers and four shaped pigeonholes, above two short and two long graduated drawers on bun feet, 98cm wide, 58cm deep, 203cm high.