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  • image XF356
Pedestal desk, XF356, English, unknown maker, c.1819-20, mahogany, ivory and brass. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photograph: Hugh Kelly.

Pedestal desk, English, unknown maker, c.1819-20

Mahogany, ivory and brass

Height: 94cm
Width: 155.5cm
Depth: 53.5cm

Museum number: XF356

Curatorial note

With four drawers in each pedestal, the drawers with large brass bailed handles and numbered ivory discs; all drawers have original brass locks stamped on one side BARRONS beneath a crown and on the other PATENT beneath a crown; the original knee-hole now fitted with a door to create a cupboard (an alteration made between 1884 and c. 1894);1 the drawer above the cupboard has no ivory number and has different handles to the other drawers; it is also part of the infill to the kneehole

Until c.1819 the Walpole desk (XF261) stood in the window of the Breakfast Room, where it is shown in C J Richardson’s preparatory watercolour for the 1830 Description (Vol. 85A) in 1818. It was then moved to Soane’s first Picture Room at the back of No. 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (J Britton and A Pugin, The Public Buildings of London, 1824 plate 2) and this built-in desk installed.2

This desk is described in the Furniture and Fittings inventory as ‘A Mahogany Case containing 8 Drawers, numbered from 92 to 100, fitted into Recess under Venetian Window East side’. It was originally fitted to a conventional straight-sided window bay. However, in c.1828 Soane cut away the wall to either side of the window and inserted a pair of recessed cabinets with doors or ‘moveable planes’ which open to reveal pictures hung within. This not only expanded his display space but enabled him to increase the mirrored effects in the room by setting the framed pictures inside within mirror glass borders. The altering of the window bay meant that the sides of the desk had to be adapted and it therefore has two triangular sections of mahogany pieced in to fill the gap where the wall has been cut back to create the splayed planes.

Before the kneehole was converted into a cupboard the pull-out table XF89 stood within it, as shown in J M Gandy’s view (Vol 82, 26) and C J Richardson’s preparatory watercolour for the 1830 Description. This was a practical, space-saving arrangement similar to that in the Study, see XF335, and XF181).

The later drawer and cupboard were removed in late 2013 to enable the restoration of this original arrangement, but have been added to the SM Building Archive. In the opinion of Tom Lawrence from Arlington Conservation who carried out the work the door and drawer, along with the framework within the kneehole against which the door closed, dated from about the 1920s. It may be that the work to provide an extra cupboard was carried out by Arthur Bolton at about the time that he was creating the Research Library and rationalising storage of books, archives etc. throughout the Museum.

1 The knee-hole, with table, is shown in the view published in The Graphic magazine in 1884. By the time the first photograph of the room was taken by George Birch (Curator 1894-1904), the knee-hole had been converted into a cupboard.
2 SM Archive SNB 9 July 1819 ‘…at home the greater part of the day directing the Altns. of .. Picture Room, Breakf: Rm. &c.’.

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