Antique English Furniture - Woods, Satinwood

Satinwood came from the West and East Indies, and was in use for furniture- making from about 1780 until 1810. It is a wood with a warm yellow colour, and has a close grain that takes a high polish. It was used mainly as a veneer, but unless handled carefully by the cabinet-maker it has a tendency to split. Towards 1800 it was used in the solid for making chairs and for the legs of veneered tables. Satinwood was an expensive timber, and it was used, on the whole, only for special pieces for wealthy clients.

Satinwood furniture was sometimes elaborately inlaid with other light-coloured woods, but mostly it was decorated by having oil-painting as part of the design. Much of it is said to have been the work of the woman artist, Angelica Kauffmann, but this is seldom, if ever, true. Chairs, as well as tables and cabinets, were decorated with painting, and this took the form of small bouquets of flowers and garlands of trailing leaves which suited the slender shaping of the woodwork.

About 1900 there was a revival of interest in eighteenth-century satinwood furniture. Old pieces were brought out from cellars and attics, where they had been hidden as unfashionable, and were restored and sold for large sums. At the same time, a large number of copies and near-copies were made for those who could not afford the real thing. These pieces have now had half a century of wear and tear, so the prospective buyer should be on his guard. Often, too, the old painting on an eighteenth-century piece has been removed because it was worn, or for some other reason, and has been replaced by the work of a modern artist. This happens commonly with table-tops, which inevitably get scratched and stained in daily use. Such restored pieces are worth less than those on which the decoration is original.



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