Carving and Gilding

27-04-2019

Gilding is the process of covering a material with a thin layer of gold. Adding golden hits to furniture dates back to the seventeenth century in England and the outcome has remained highly prized ever since. During the eighteenth century, gilding was used in imitation of French styles of furniture which were popular at in the period.

The application of gold to wooden surfaces involves a number of materials and takes place in numerous stages. First, Gesso, a type of plaster, is applied to the wood in layers. Many thin layers are built up to create the appropriate thickness or depth of Gesso. Once the right depth is achieved, the gesso is craved to create new decorative elements on the existing wooden framework. When the carver is happy with the designs, the gesso is coated with a mix of finely ground red clay water and glue called bole. This layer gradually polished to create to create a smooth and even surface which facilitates the application of the gold coating. Finally, sheets of gold leaf are applied to the carving, and carefully overlapped so as to cover the entire surface. The covered area is then burnished with stone tools. This final polish brings out the luminescence of the gold leaf.

Gilding is used to add decorative details to furniture, or to give a piece the appearance of solid gold. Several fine examples of gilding are on display at in the galleries of Reindeer antiques, the earliest of which dates from c.1700. This exceptional William III carved settee was commissioned by Sir Thomas Osborne, the First Duke of Leeds for his house at Wimbledon, Surrey or for Kiveton Park, Yorkshire. The wonderful carved gilt gesso decorations of this piece are in the Baroque taste and clearly inspired by the designs of Daniel Marot.

William III Baroque carved giltwood settee, BA192

From c.1760, we have a carved George III Chippendale period mirror in the rococo taste. Surrounding the mirror, the gilding highlights the contrast of light and dark in the profusely carved with C and S scrolls of acanthus leaves, bull rushes and Ho Ho birds.

Georgian Chippendale giltwood mirror in the Rococo taste, JR

Finally, a rare William IV period kidney shaped writing table from c.1835 features giltwood scrolling acanthus leaves on an ivory paintwork background. The sophisticated design suggests that the table was made by one of the leading cabinet-makers of early Nineteenth Century London. The carved giltwood decoration is typical of pieces designed in the highly fashionable Italianate manner and is similar to pieces supplied by Morant to the Duke of Sutherland for Stafford House, St. James's.

William IV writing table with carved giltwood and ivory paintwork, BA206

LAPADA Guide to Giltwood Furniture, <https://lapada.org/guides/lapada-guide-giltwood-furniture/>

Author: Gregor Wittrick