Bending Asian lacquer in eighteenth-century Paris: New discoveries

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Christina Hagelskamp; Arlen Heginbotham; Paul Van Duin;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 61, Number sup3, p.91-96 (2016)


Rococo furniture decorated with fragments of Asian lacquer was highly fashionable in eighteenth-century France. The furniture's curvilinear designs forced cabinetmakers to manipulate flat lacquer elements so that they could be applied to a curved carcase. By removing material from the rear of lacquered wooden panels, they produced sheets of lacquered ‘veneer’ with enough flexibility to allow careful bending. Their application was usually limited to substrates that were straight or curved along only one axis. New evidence has revealed that cabinetmakers experimented with techniques allowing the use of lacquer veneer for decorating bombé furniture designs, characterized by curvatures along multiple axes. This article presents examples showing such strategies, found on a pair of corner cabinets from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (78.DA.119.1–2) and a commode from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands (BK-16652). In all three instances, the bombé forms are covered with Chinese lacquer veneer harvested from different types of export lacquer objects. X-radiography showed that segments of the veneer were removed to facilitate its compound bending, effectively tailoring it to the curved substrate. In addition, cross-sections from samples of the corner cabinets show that the original substrate of the Chinese lacquer is leather. The cutting techniques differ on all three objects, indicating that cabinetmakers were still searching for the most effective methods.