Cf: The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, London, 1st February 1883, pp. 154-155
The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, London, 1st July 1887, p. 12
The Art Journal, 1887, article by Lewis F. Day, p. 199 and Fifty Years' Development of the Graphic Arts, pp. 210-214
The 'Art' sideboard-cabinet executed by James Lamb (d. 1903) for the Manchester 1887 Exhibition is a masterpiece of the Manchester firm's 'modern Renaissance' style. Celebrating the Triumph of the Cardinal Arts, its poetic laurel-crowned pediment frames trophies and figures symbolising the union of the Arts of Painting and Architecture.
Its superb quality and stylistic historicism epitomises the 'art furniture' displayed at Lamb's premises in John Dalton Street and lauded at various International Exhibitions. The firm, launched by James Lamb in 1843, was commended for its displays at the London 1862 Exhibition and the Paris 1867 Exhibition and received a gold medal at the Paris 1878 Exhibition. The 'Art' Sideboard was displayed on Lamb's stand in the 'Objects of Industrial Design' section of the Manchester 1887 Exhibition, which was held to honour Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and celebrate the improvements made in the 'Applied Arts' in the fifty years since her accession. The Art Journal of 1887 praised this cabinet as Lamb's 'most ambitious and distinguished work'.
Its design relates to the richly carved buffets of the Renaissance period, such as those acquired by London's Museum of Ornamental Art in the 1850s, but it is largely conceived as a French 'Dressoir', being manufactured in walnut enriched with ebony and gilt brass. It would have been designed under the dfirection of Mr. W. J. Estall, chief of the firm's artistic staff, and its architecture combines Louis Seize elements with features from 'Adams' sideboard-tables illustrated a century previously in Messr. A. Hepplewhite & Co.'s The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, 1788, as well as from sideboards in Thomas Sheraton's The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book, 1793. Its trellised glazing features a French hollow-cornered tablet such as Thomas Chippendale featured in The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Directors, 1754-62.
In 1883, an article had appeared in The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher and was quite rhapsodical over the style of the firm's work, in which '....a more classic tendency is observable, and the best features of Eighteenth Century English Renaissance are admirably utilized. The artists on Mr. Lamb's staff delight in a species of solid and beautiful classicism....'. It continued '....The best lines of eighteenth century English style are re-rendered with exquisite delicacy in ebony and coromandel, satinwood and mahogany, walnutwood and gold, and every other artistic combination possible'. Lamb's work was admired for '....its noble proportions, rich wood, and choice carving...', and particular mention was made of their dining room sideboards, whose prices ranged from '...Seven or eight hundred apiece to unpretentious yet artistic little buffets at twenty guineas'. While noting that the Castlefield workshops were equipped with the most up to date wood-working machinery, it was explained that it was their 'skilful bench work' that resulted in the production of 'solidity, thoroughness and perfect finish' and enabled them to produce furniture 'fit to adorn the houses of the merchant princes and nobility'. James Lamb was not content 'with merely reproducing the last new thing from London, but successfully stamps upon his productions an individual character'. It was the individuality of his 'productions....in the most florid of Renaissance..' that was stressed in another article that The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher published four years later in 1887. It was in the same year that details of this 'Art' sideboard featured in a special Jubilee edition of The Art Journal in an article entitled 'Fifty years' development of the Graphic Arts'. Illustrated with photogravures produced by the Parisian firm of Petit et Cie., it included the 'Art' tablet, the 'Artist' door panel and a drawer front with fruiting branches.
The sideboard has a bow-fronted glazed cabinet between pedestal commodes, whose paired pilasters are festooned with husks and imbricated pattarae. The stand has an ebony banded frieze fretted with a pattaraed ribbon-guilloche; while its hermed and Etruscan-pearled feet are tied by balustraded and hollow-fronted stretcher-trays, whose tops are incised with acanthus-enriched tablets and scalloped spandrels. On the commode doors 'Apollo' sunflowers frame tablets, symbolic of the Arts; in one, a classical maiden holds a paint brush and pot beside a desk, while in the other her mural-crowned companion holds a compass and symbolises the Art of Architecture.
The sideboard's superstructure has a palm-wrapped cornice and nests of drawers carved with flowering laurel and fruiting branches, while their brass escutcheons are likewise fretted with laurel framed lyres. In the centre, one recessed tablet is carved with a laurel-framed desk displaying an artist's palette and materials; while the other has an ivy-framed desk displaying a pilaster capital beside an architect's compass and set-square. The entablature's brass-railed shelf has its bracket carved with Adamesque festoons of Roman acanthus husks between tablets of berried foliage; while the arched and fluted pediment is flowered with laurels emerging from an acanthus-enriched 'urn' bracket. The sideboard sides are decorated with a foliated rosette above framed panels with diamond lozenged compartments. An ebony-banded tablet of coromandel is let into the top of the cabinet, whose velvet and fringed interior recalls the firm's all inclusive role as interior decorators as well as cabinet-makers. This dual role was noted in Lamb's obituary in The Journal of Decorative Art and British Decorator for September 1903. It recorded that 'His name was a synonym for the best in everything he did...'. In the furniture and decorating business 'his name for fifty years stood as a landmark for all that was best in both spheres of industrial art'.