|The Completed Sofa|
A recent piece that I restored was an English sofa made during the Regency period. The sofa was made primarily of Beech and had Brazilian Rosewood veneer inlayed with brass in a process known as Boulle work, named after a French cabinetmaker named Andre Charles Boulle (1642-1732) who specialized in Marquetry and invented the process. The process employed in Boulle work is to layer a sacraficial piece of veneer with a piece of the primary veneer being used and a sheet of contrasting veneer or metal. On top of these layers an image is applied. Using a fine saw, the layers are simultaneously cut through producing a piece of veneer with a positive and negative image as well as a piece of metal or contrasting veneer with a positive and negative image. The image itself is sacrificed in the process and the sacrificial veneer is used to keep the valued veneer from splintering with the force of the saw. The cabinetmaker is then free to use the veneer as the image and the metal as the groundwork or to use the metal for the image and the veneer for the ground. In fact, pieces can be seen where one image is on the front of the piece and the reverse is on the opposite side. The difference between this and marquetry is that with marquetry, each piece is cut individually to create the image.
During the time when this technique was first developed, examples were seen in silver and tortoise shell. The silver was sometimes also engraved. For most of the 18th century, this practice was out of favor, but it came back into use in the early 19th century in England and can be seen on pieces made during the Regency period. In most of these pieces from the Regency period, brass and Rosewood are used. This is commonly seen in sofas as well as occasional tables and chairs.
Most of the front facade of the sofa I worked on was covered in Boulle work. Where it was not covered, The primary wood (Beech) was stained and fauxed with India ink to simulate Rosewood. In addition to all of this, the feet were capped with cast brass casters that were extremely ornate and echoed the design of the Boulle work. Below is a photo of the sofa when it entered my shop.
The central image on the veneer is seen in the photo below. This was seen in four separate places on the sofa and was probably made all at once. The image is a stylized plant growing around and out of an Urn. The urn is a commonly used symbol in neoclassical furniture forms.
While walking through a friends garden, I realized that the plant in question was a Poppy plant. Once I looked at the image closely, I could see the seed pod in the center of the image flanked by the serrated leaves. Below is a close up of the seed pod followed by some poppy plants showing their seed pods and serrated leaves.
The piece had some veneer loss as well as some missing brass. In addition to this, the finish was in really rough shape and the joinery in the back and in the feet was loose. One other major problem was that the brass casters had completely seized with corrosion. Below is a close up of one of the casters and the brass inlay held in place with some string.
This photo shows a veneered board that was applied to the skirt of the sofa completely dislodged from the sofa.