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  • image XF181
Table, XF181, fitting the kneehole of the desk XF335, by Thomas Martyr & Company, 1818, oak, mahogany, ivory and brass. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photograph: Hugh Kelly.

Table fitting the kneehole of the desk XF335 by Thomas Martyr & Company, 1818

Oak and mahogany with ivory disc and brass fittings

Height: 71cm
Width: 48cm
Depth: 50cm

Museum number: XF181

Curatorial note

On four stout plain tapering legs each with an entasis, on brass castors and with an additional gate leg for a drop-down flap at the back. The table has one drawer of solid oak with a mahogany front; drawer has a pair of brass knobs, a brass-lined keyhole and lock stamped BARRONS PATENT with a crown; the drawer has an inset ivory disc 119 matching those on the lower side drawers of the desk.1 The table top has reeded edges; beneath the drawer is a groove to assist with putting out the table

This desk and table are marvellous examples of Soane’s skill at designing practical furniture for limited space. The desk itself was made in 1816 and the table two years later. This difference in date is reflected in the lock on the table drawer, which appears to be original but is different from those on the desk drawers.

As in the adjacent Dressing Room (XF187), the desk is not central beneath the window: this may be the result of alterations made to the window bay during Soane’s lifetime, which related to the extension of the skylight by one bay. The desk is a separate piece of furniture around which the pigeonholes have been built (the desk top does not continue to form the top of the flanking pigeonholes: they are separate units).

The light falling onto the desk was regulated by the dwarf Venetian blinds mentioned in the Furniture inventory of 1837.2 Above the desk was a ‘free floating’ shelf across the window for the display of objects; this clever design means the shelf does not abut the window or have a solid back and this arrangement also helps to allow the maximum light to fall onto the desktop both from the window and from the skylight, filled with alternating strips of primrose yellow and amber glass.

There are desks built in beneath the windows of not just this small study but also the adjoining Dressing Room and the Breakfast Room on the other side of the courtyard, and there are other desks and work spaces all around the Museum. Although to some extent this is explained by the housing of Soane’s books and papers all around the house, it may also reflect the fact that he had very poor sight and needed to work where the best light was to be had at any given time.

1 This number enabled the identification of the table as being the one from the Study during the restoration in 1991.
2 These were removed after Soane’s death; facsimiles copied from an example in the English Heritage Study Collection were installed by Peter Thornton in 1991.

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