An early 19th century Ceylonese specimen wood, ivory and pewter inlaid carved ebony table, the top of various specimen woods including palm, rosewood, calamander and satinwood, issuing from a central ivory flower finished with further engraved decoration, the veneers divided by chequer-banding with pewter inlay, the frieze carved with a border of petals, the columnar support carved in solid ebony, resting on an ebony base with concave sides, the down swept legs terminating in claw and ball feet.
Ceylon became a British colony in 1796, when the British East India Company took control of the island from the Dutch. Its Governors were drawn from military backgrounds up until 1830, after which they tended to be civil servants. It is recorded that a number of the British Governors in Ceylon and other officials and merchants commissioned local cabinetmakers to produce furniture for their own houses as well as government buildings.
The contents of the Governor's residence in Colombo, the King's House, were described in an inventory of 1833 and included 'One table with different woods of Ceylon, with ebony feet', the earliest known reference to specimen wood tables in Ceylon. After his death in 1838, Sir Edward Barnes' property was sold at auction in London, including a quantity of Ceylonese furniture. There were a number of tables, one described thus: 'A three feet circular centre table of ebony, the top inlaid with various specimen of fancy wood, the edge finished with ivory and ebony a la Greque border, on turned pillar, and finely carved claws, terminating with peacock's heads'.
Galle was an active commercial centre in the 19th century. The highly skilled artisans working there produced outstanding pieces of furniture, ranging from small boxes to items such as this table. One of the most striking features of 19th century Ceylonese furniture is the diversity and beauty of the indigenous cabinet making woods, including calamander, Ceylon teak, tamarind, iron wood, pol-coconut and ebony. Much of this furniture design derived from English pattern books but the carved and inlaid work was of local origin. The Ceylon Times in 1850 published an editorial section relating to the forthcoming Great Exhibition in London the next year: 'Like India, Ceylon possesses many manufacturers who would hold their own with the productions of more favoured countries. Her infinity of carved wood and manufacturers, the beauty of various specimens of inlaid work in wood and ivory... are well known to many.'
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