commenced 1858 /1868 – 1870
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: furniture, tables, Frame: Australian tulipwood; case: brush cypress pine; workbag: blackbean and rose mahogany; veneers: rose mahogany, Huon pine, brush cypress pine, Queensland blackbean, [probably] Tasmanian musk and native cherry; brass hinges and lockplate; brass and porcelain castors; replaced pleated silk fabric cover to work bag.
Sydney cabinet–making firm Raphael & Co was run by British–born Joseph G Raphael, who had arrived in Sydney around 1839, in partnership with Andrew Lenehan and Edward Flood. Lenehan had come from Ireland in 1835 and, in 1841, had set up his own cabinet–making firm with Flood, taking over the former cabinet–making firm of James Templeton. Lenehan’s workshop supplied furniture to Sydney’s Government House in 1846 and, by 1863, he had acquired new premises on King Street. Raphael took over the running of Lenehan’s business in 1868, forming Raphael & Co.
Lenehan and Raphael were both British–trained and were importers of furniture. The design of this worktable (for sewing and needlework) illustrates the amalgam of historical revival styles that characterised mid–Victorian period furniture produced in Australia. The great exhibition of 1851 in London, which celebrated industrial technology and design, created a taste for flamboyant furniture and virtuoso craftsmanship. The influence of this exhibition was seen in the Australian production of elaborate and expensive furniture that celebrated the use of Australian native woods.
This worktable has a support structure of solid turned and carved tulipwood, on four brass and porcelain castors. The frieze is Huon pine and rose mahogany veneer and the corner blocks are tulipwood with applied shields of Huon pine. The hinged lid is solid brush cypress pine veneered with strips of book–matched tulipwood, Huon pine and black bean, with a central motif of four connected diamond–shaped panels in Huon pine, Tasmanian musk and native cherrywood veneers. Under the lid, its precisely fitted interior consists of 30 small compartments surrounding a larger rectangular compartment. A tapered workbox slides out from underneath the table and is covered with new pleated silk in a colour based on the deteriorated original silk fragments. The table retains its original waxed patina and bears a partial Raphael & Co ink stamp on the base of the workbox.
This worktable, with its fine, turned frame elements, elaborate veneers and precise functionality is an excellent and rare example of the best of Australian design and production of the mid–19th century.
Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra