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image XF111
Cupboard, XF111, English, unknown maker, early nineteenth century, possibly designed by Soane, mahogany, deal, oak, brass, glass and mirror glass. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photograph: Lewis Bush

Cupboard, English, unknown maker, early nineteenth century, possibly designed by Soane, mahogany, deal, oak, brass, glass and mirror glass

Height: 281.5cm
Width: 135.5cm
Depth: 33cm

Museum number: XF111

Curatorial note

The upper section with two mirrored doors, which retain their original mirror glass with moulded glazing bars covering the joints; the mirrors are bordered by narrow slips of coloured glass on either side; both doors with brass diamond-shaped keyhole escutcheons (as used elsewhere on ‘Soane’ furniture); right-hand door with modern lock and missing a typical Soane ivory numbered or lettered disc (the circular cut-out remains) from below the escutcheon; later catch fitted to the left-hand door. Internal wooden back-plates to upper doors, which mask the coloured glass, have been added; the one on the right-hand leaf is cut to accommodate the modern lock. The right-hand upper door has a double bead moulding down the left-hand edge, matching that on the lower right-hand door. The interior of the upper cupboard has four fixed shelves with a central divider, all with reeded front edges. Between top and bottom cupboards are three drawers with mahogany drawer fronts grained to resemble rosewood and neatly constructed oak sides, backs and bases; original brass locks to left and right-hand drawers stamped FOSTER & CO, with a crown, and PATENT; centre drawer lock is unmarked and may be a replacement; the central drawer has a diamond shaped brass keyhole escutcheon but cut to admit a later knob handle (now missing); the left-hand drawer has later oval brass keyhole escutcheon; right-hand drawer missing its keyhole escutcheon. The lower cupboard doors have central wooden panels grained to resemble rosewood; these are bordered by narrow slips of clear glass; lower doors are missing their diamond-shaped keyhole escutcheons (outline visible) which matched those on the upper doors; right-hand leaf is missing an ivory numbered or lettered disc originally above the escutcheon (the circular cut-out remains); later catch fitted to the left-hand door. The interior of the lower cupboard is fitted with one fixed shelf each side of a central divider; left-hand shelf and central divider have reeded front edges, the right-hand shelf is a plain replacement; the lower doors do not have back-plates. The cornice at the top of cupboard has a reeded front edge but is perhaps later; the plain plinth (which is not moulded or finished) is also perhaps a later addition. The front three to four inches of the carcase are mahogany; the remainder is deal.

This cupboard seems likely to have been designed by Soane. It has characteristic glazing bars and narrow slips of coloured glass, which are mentioned in the 1837 Furniture and Fittings inventory description:

‘A Deal Bookcase … the upper folding doors filled in with looking glass in 4 Squares, the margins with 8 slips of deep orange colour Glass; - the lower doors filled in with wood in lieu of Glass and with four narrow slips of glass’

Although this piece was clearly a single item of furniture in Soane’s day it seems to be formed from the carcases of two cupboards. Peter Holmes of Arlington Conservation examined it in 2007 and observed that its original depth was the depth of the drawers (21 cm) which are considerably shallower than the carcase they slide into (33 cm deep); as noted above the front three to four inches of the carcase are mahogany and the remainder deal. There are later facings on the inside of the sides to the upper cabinet but not in the cupboard below. The shelves in the upper cabinet have also been deepened. These observations confirm that this piece was originally a pedestal bookcase.1 The slips of glass in the lower doors are narrower than those in the upper doors, as implied by the 1837 description already quoted. The lower doors have a moulded edge on the carcase whereas the upper doors do not. The mirror glass is original.

Peter Thornton considered that this cupboard was the one originally in the basement Ante Room but this is incorrect. All the views of the cupboard in the basement show a piece without drawers and they show it easily accommodated, with a pediment, within the height of that room, for which this cupboard is too tall, even without a pediment. Recent research has revealed that in fact this bookcase stood beneath a dramatic ‘light shaft’ at the east end of Soane’s ‘small library’ or ‘book passage’ on the second floor (32/2C/4 and in the 1835 Description).

In the upper cupboard are two loose, deep drawers with mahogany cock-beaded fronts on oak carcases, each with two small brass ring-handles on circular back plates. These do not seem to belong to this cupboard but appear to date from the Soane period and would have been amongst those used to store documents in the Soane Office.2

In 2015 this cupboard was reinstated in its original position in the recreated Book Passage as part of Phase 2 of Opening up the Soane.

1 Description, 1830, plate XIV, a plan of c.1829-30, seems to show this piece on the south wall of the second floor book passage and clearly shows it as a pedestal cupboard.
2 These drawers at present sit one on top of another but do not fit the shelves, either like this or side by side.

Literature

Peter Thornton, Soane and Furniture, 1985.


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