Decorative “penwork” design for chessboard
A very rare “Penwork” design sheet for a table
with a chessboard format and floral borders
Printed circa 1830 – 40
24 x 20 in / 61 x 51 cm
A considerable number of chess tables can be dated to the 1830s from the design of their bases. These tables were probably supplied with blank tops by the cabinet makers for customers to purchase from the artist shops, such as Ackermann & Son Ltd, to be decorated in penwork at home. Like needlework and drawing, penwork was largely the preserve of ladies whose position in society precluded paid labour but encouraged artistic endeavours.
Penwork” was a technique of simulation with watercolour practised mainly from circa 1810-50, in an attempt to reproduce the glamour and richness of ivory-inlaid furniture. Visually it was invented also to imitate the exotic lacquer cabinets and screens imported from the Orient. These woodcut design sheets were created specifically to be used and, once done so were thus destroyed. Hence the rarity to find a complete sheet in its original state.
(Illustrations of examples of finished tables illustrated above have been taken courtesy from Noel Riley’s book “Penwork – A Decorative Phenomenon” published by Oblong in 2008)