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Oval table

Late 18th century.


Pierced and gilt ivory with leather and mica

Height: 70 cm
Width: 92cm
Depth: 76cm

Museum number: MGR2

Curatorial note

Ivory with leather set into the top; mica behind the pierced work frieze; some details gilt. With six cabriole legs terminating in tiger’s paw feet and a drawer centre front; the frame of the upper register (with the drawer) is in the form of a mica backed pierced work frieze, in solid ivory.

This table is part of a set which includes the four ivory chairs XF169-XF172 and which Soane believed, wrongly, had been seized by British forces from the Palace of Tipu Sultan after his defeat at the fall of Seringapatam in 1799. 'Tipoo Sahib', the Muslim ruler of Mysore, fascinated the British - almost everyone in Soane's London knew him as a 'monstrous tyrant', who had stood against British advancement in India and invited Napoleon to help him defeat them. In contrast, Tipu Sultan is still remembered on the Indian subcontinent for his courageous stand against British forces and as a just administrator and patron of the arts. Moni Moshin has written movingly of how 'stories of his unconquered spirit' are still told in Muslim families on the subcontinent today.

In the 1820s the ivory table and chairs were displayed with the chairs in the Picture Room, where it stood in the centre of the room covered with a cloth and with a cork model of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli displayed on it as shown in J. M. Gandy’s view of 1825 (Vol, 82, 90). However, by the time of Soane’s death it had been moved to the Morning Room. It was considered of such importance that, unlike the chairs, it was included in the Works of Art list in the 1837 inventory rather than in the ‘Furniture and Fittings’ inventory. It is described there as ‘An ivory table richly carved with gilt ornaments (parts of the drawer front defective)’. By the time Sir John Summerson compiled a card index of furniture in the 1950s it was supported on a ‘mahogany undercarriage’ that took the weight – the remains of a genuine late eighteenth century oval centre table, much damaged (XF311).1 This was dispensed with when the table was restored by Spink Restoration in 1986. Lucy Wood made a close examination of the table in 2000 and noted that the newsprint backing to the silvered paper behind the fretwork frieze (visible in the damaged areas) included the date 1816.2 Soane commissioned quite extensive repair work to the table in 1833 when he paid George Carstairs for ‘charing Antique oval ivory table’, ‘a new drawer & Gilding do, new locks’ and for the top to be lined with ‘colour’d Morocco leather’.3

In 2015 this table was reinstated in its original position in the recreated Morning Room as part of Phase 2 of Opening up the Soane.

1 See XF311. The ivory table had almost certainly been weakened by work recorded in the SM Archive, Bolton Parcel 1, Dove Brothers Day Work Account, December 29 1917 to January 4 1918, ‘Taking off legs of ivory table to pass doorway in Breakfast Room, fitting same to table after removal’.
2 Letter to Margaret Richardson dated 19 June 2000 in the object file at Sir John Soane’s Museum.
3 SM Archive XV.K.3 (uncat.). 1833 Sept 5: Repg & Charing Antique Oval Ivory Table / Make a new Drawer & gilding do, New / locks £7.4.6d. / Nov 16th: Line the top of your Oval Ivory table with [?marone ? = maroon] coloured morrocoa leather make good the ivory mouldings round the edge £1.2s. Minor work to the ivory chairs is mentioned in the same bill, described as Reprg three Antique Ivoery Chairs Make Good all deficiencies in Cutting & Gilding the ivory & Put a new Cane Bottom to One of Do £6.15 .

Provenance help-art-provenance

Made by an unknown maker in Murshidabad; first recorded in England in the collection of General John Crewe, later 2nd Baron Crewe (1772-1835); sold London, Farebrother, 13 July 1810, lots 169-170; ‘Mathews’; Sir Richard Westmacott; in Soane’s collection by c.1824 (latest).


J. Soane Description of the Residence of John Soane, Architect, London, 1830, p. 24; 1835, pp. 15, 85.
R.W. Symonds, 'Furniture in the Soane Museum', Country Life, January 27 1950, 221-223.
Exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, The Raj. India and the British 1600-1947, 1990, p.156, cat.161(ii), pl.161.
A. Jaffer, 'Tipu Sultan, Warren Hastings and Queen Charlotte: the mythology and typology of Anglo-Indian ivory furniture', Burlington Magazine, Vol. CXLI, no.1154, May 1999.
M. Mohsin 'Ivory for a Tiger?', leaflet produced for Sir John Soane's Museum as part of the 'India Now' festival, 2007.
Christie's Catalogue, 7 July 2022, The Exceptional Sale, Lot esssay for llot 12: A suite of Indian solid ivory and parcel-gilt seat furniture [4 chairs and a sofa], Mani Begum's gift to Warren Hastings, Mursidabad, c.1785.

Exhibition history

The Raj: India and the British 1600-1947, National Portrait Gallery, London, October 1990 - March 1991

Associated objects

XF169, set
XF170, set
XF171, set
XF172, set

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk