Throughout the 18th century in Europe, veneers and marquetry were favourite means of decorating furniture. For many people 'marquetry' suggests an image of decoration in differing tones of golden brown, but when the piece was new the effect was very different.
Particularly popular in France was the rich purple of kingwood contrasted with the vibrant orange stripes of tulipwood. Parquetry and oyster veneers (the circular and oval shapes created by cutting across rather than along a trunk) set off to perfection glittering gilt-bronze mounts. In the middle of the century, pictorial and floral marquetry became highly fashionable. The marqueteur used veneers ranging from rich, dark brown, through purples and reds to almost white. If a colour could not be supplied naturally, such as blue, pink or green, a stain was used; the veneers were immersed in stain until saturated, or in some cases the colour of a tree was changed chemically before it was felled. Animation was added by scorching the veneers in hot sand or, increasingly, with engraving. 19th century makers keen to replicate or rework 18th century ideas and styles practised the very same techniques.
Nowadays one can generally only imagine the highly coloured furniture that took its place in the jewel-like settings of the 18th century interior, alongside brightly decorated Sèvres porcelain and glowing textiles. Wood veneers, unlike porcelain, can be bleached out by strong sunlight, and when exposed to air will, within a generation or so, change colour through oxidisation. A long-standing practice in Europe, though less used in England, was to scrape surfaces to refresh the bright colour, but over time this destroys the veneer. It is sometimes now only possible to discover the original colour on the reverse of the veneers or where the wood has been protected from light and air. It is therefore exciting to find even 19th or early 20th century marquetry decoration that has retained some of its originality and liveliness of colour, such as on this lot.