The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, is arguably home to one of the greatest art collections in the world, but the collections don’t stop at paintings and sculptures. Last autumn, they were joined by a permanent exhibition of antique desks, open bookcases and related items showcasing the work of American cabinetmakers up to the Victorian period.
To see why a piece of furniture may be described as a masterpiece, one only has to see the antique bookcase that the Lancashire firm of Gillows made for Mary Hutton Rawlinson, on display at the Judges Lodgings museum in Lancaster. The 100 pieces of furniture in the National Gallery exhibition of a similar quality, representing one of the finest private collections of early American furniture in existence.
In total, the collection comprises more than 200 items of furniture and decorative art, many with documents proving their provenance. Each room follows a specific theme, beginning with early 18th century Boston and Philadelphia pieces, including a mahogany antique desk and bookcase, antique dining chairs , a rare japanned dressing table and a veneered antique chest. Room two focuses on the popular rococo and Chippendale styles of the mid to late 18th Century, while the third room highlights the dramatic changes that occurred following the American Revolution, featuring antique desks, tables and bookcases made by English emigrants in the early 1800s.
The Kaufmann collection may be worth millions, but it is possible to buy a Victorian oak partners desk in Lancashire without breaking the bank; just visit a Preston antiques dealer.
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