The oak credence table and candlestick used by Henry Wallis, R.W.S. (1830-1916) in The Death of Chatterton (1856) were integral elements in what has become one of the most iconic paintings associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and one of the most recognisable images in British art. Following the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's principles of ‘truth to nature, and attention to detail’, Wallis attempted to recreate the moments after the poet Chatterton's death from taking arsenic.
When exhibited at the Royal Academy in the Summer Exhibition of 1856, the picture (purchased by the artist Augustus Leopold Egg) established Wallis’ reputation and received universal praise, being described by the Art Journal as showing 'marvellous power….and….a safe augury of the artist's fame’, while John Ruskin claimed it was ‘faultless and wonderful'. To this day, the painting continues to draw much attention as it hangs in Tate Britain – most recently being described by Malcolm McLaren as being ‘pure unadulterated fashion and so contemporary for that…far better than any cover of Dazed and Confused'.
The painting featured a number of 18th century props, including the table and chamberstick, the latter of which has symbolically gone out, a metaphoric reference to the ending of the young poet’s life. Of significant interest to the table is the later incised armorial band around the table frieze, which may have been added by Wallis himself - or at least under his instruction. The armorial relief - visible in the painting - emphasized the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's interest in medieval history.
Both the table and the chamberstick were kept by Wallis's son Felix and remained within the family, which suggests the significance of the table to Wallis and his descendants, perhaps as a reminder of the artist’s most celebrated work.