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Brief description

Bow-fronted corner cupboard, japanned in blue and gold in imitation of East Asian lacquer, probably made in Europe c.1720- c.1740.

Object name

corner cupboard

Object number


Production date

c.1720-c.1740 (manufactured)

Production place

Europe (made)


Georgian (1714-1837)





Physical description

This bow-fronted cupboard is a segment in plan, designed to be hung in the corner of a room. It has a bow front, made up of two shaped doors, the PL door has a moulding which overlaps the PR door. The two doors are attached with two gilt metal pierced hinges apiece and each has an engraved escutcheon plate. The doors are decorated in gold with scenes of figures, foliage and buildings in imitation of lacquer from East Asia.

The cabinet has three internal shelves: the lower two of which have an outward curve, echoing the shape of the doors; the upper shelf has an inward curve. There are a number of holes in the two sides of the back indicating how the cabinet has been attached to the wall or panelling of the room.

The original blue colour of the piece, which was confirmed as Prussian blue in Dr Tracey Chaplin's Pigment Analysis Report 07.07.2006, has been obscured by layers of blue smalt which has discoloured and shellac, as well as being painted green at a later date on the inside. The analysis report also revealed that the interior of the cabinet was originally "painted with red ochre and then varnished; the interior was then gessoed and painted on two occasions with Prussian blue and re varnished, with the varnish discolouring over time. The interior was then painted with the green paint now visible at the surface (which is a mixture of chrome yellow and probably Prussian blue, as found on the exterior of the cabinet), and varnished"

The original gold leaf decoration is still largely intact with red toning and black lines visible in some areas, though there has been some loss in the raised areas. Brass powder paint has been used to recreate worn areas or make additions to the original design. (See Alex Schouvaloff's conservation report)

Object was physically marked with its Object Number on the underside, on 08/02/2010.


Height: 92cm

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Object history note

Japanese lacquer was first imported to Europe in the late 16th century. The success of Asian artefacts stimulated British production of imitations such as japanned wares. Japanning is a process of coating metal or wood surfaces with various varnishes that are subsequently dried and hardened by heat.


Adam Bowett, independent furniture historian examined this object on 26th January 2009.

He described this as a blue japanned hanging bow-fronted corner cupboard dating from c.1740. It is decorated with Chinoiserie in gold, silver and other colours and has a moulded cornice over two doors enclosing three shaped shelves on a moulded base.

He commented that hanging corner cupboards became popular from c.1710 onwards, and changed very little thereafter. He noted that japanned cupboards were especially popular up to about 1740. This example has a double bead door moulding which would suggest that it might date prior to c.1740.

He analysed the construction of this corner cupboard in detail although some details were unavailable as this cupboard remained fixed to the wall during the examination. He suggested that the backboards appear to be a combination of oak and deal placed vertically and nailed to the back of the cupboard. Where the two sets of boards meet at the angle of the cupboard, the left hand board overlaps the right hand board and is nailed to it. The top board is made of deal, and runs at 45 degrees across the angle of the cupboard and is nailed to the rebate of the cornice. The cornice is made of deal and is possibly a composite construction. The stiles are made of deal and are through tenoned into the cornice and into the base moulding. The base moulding is made of deal and appears to have been sawn from a single piece. The cupboard has interior shelves made of deal and housed in grooves in the stiles at each side and nailed through from the back boards. The top shelf is concave fronted, while the middle and lower shelf are convex. The base boards are made of deal, placed at 45 degrees across the angle and have been nailed to the base moulding.

The doors are constructed on a deal frame composed of two vertical stiles and three horizontal oak rails, which are all butt-jointed and glued. The face of the door is constructed from a thin oak skin, which is bent and either glued or possibly nailed onto the curved shape frame. Each door is secured by two brass pierced butterfly hinges and secured by pins. The lock is an iron lock secured by four nails. The escutcheons are brass and have been pinned and the gap between the two doors is covered by double bead moulding in oak. The left hand door is secured at the top and bottom by two brass bolts which are fixed by pins with small domed brass heads. The right hand door has an iron lock secured by four pins, possibly made of iron. The cupboard has a lock escutcheon which is made of brass, as is the corresponding sham escutcheon, and both are fixed with brass pins; the junction between the two doors is covered by a narrow oak strip of ‘B’ or double-bead section.

The interior is entirely covered with a green paint which overlays an older and probably original finish of red. There are also traces of gold or brass speckles to the leading edges of the shelves. The extreme lower left portion of one of the backboard has been replaced and spliced in, otherwise the boards appear original. The top boards and the cornice appear original however the bottom boards have probably been replaced. He noted that green paint had been removed from the cupboard doors and stiles during conservation.

The left and right inner stiles of the doors are marked with VIII. The top right hinge has been replaced on the inside leaving the original in situ on the exterior. The corresponding door stile has been planed to fit. The lock and catches and escutcheons appear original.

In conclusion he noted that this is a typical example of a japanned corner cupboard and in common with many blue japanned articles, must quite rapidly have appeared green due to the yellowing of the top varnish. He suggested that this colour change explains the green paint which overlays the original finish on the interior, and on the cornice and base mouldings.

A full transcript of notes from this examination is available on the object's history file and as a digital asset.

Transcript of text from mobile phone guided tour, Stories of the World, Geffrye Museum (20 March 2012- 9 September 2012):

My name is Nishat and I’m 16. I’m going to talk to you about the bow-fronted cupboard, in the corner between the window and the fireplace in this room. What drew me to this object was the scenery and the gold leaf decoration as it stood out against the cobalt blue background, which now looks a bit green! It’s a corner cupboard and inside it are shelves. As well as decoration it could’ve possibly been used as a means of storing little trinkets or medicine. The most interesting piece of information I found about this object was that the gold leaf decoration has remained largely intact even though the blue, red and green finishing has slowly worn off and had to be restored over time.
It was ‘japanned’ and made to imitate East Asian lacquer where wood is dried out then varnished. In addition, the imagery on the cupboard may have been influenced by Eastern Asia as the scenery is very typical of that of Japan and China. I personally don’t know of anyone with this object in their home. That may be because the creation of this type of cupboard was made to fit in with the growing trend in the late 17th century of imported japanned wares, and isn’t a trend now.
When investigating this cupboard for this tour, I enjoyed finding out about the trends that were present in the past and the different techniques that were used to create things that we use every day. It’s important for an object like this to be in a museum as it shows what homes in the late 17th century had and what were the growing trends which could be compared to those of today.


Label text for 1745 Period Room (Room 3), Geffrye Museum, 2010:

Corner cupboard

The corner cupboard is decorated with ‘japanning’. This finish was achieved by applying layers of varnishes and glazes to the surface of the cupboard and was so-called because it imitated lacquer from Asia. The scenes picked out in gold leaf and bronze paint are not an accurate imitation of the pictures on Asian lacquer, but a fanciful European version of them. The cupboard was thought to be green japanning, but careful cleaning and pigment analysis revealed that it was blue, discoloured by a layer of varnish which had yellowed over time. Corner cupboards were often used for the storage of tea equipment in the parlour.
Blue japanning, with gold leaf and bronze paint, on a softwood carcase, 1720s–1740s

Label text for the exhibition At Home with the World, Geffrye Museum (20 March 2012- 9 September 2012):

Corner cupboard

This cupboard’s japanned decoration was built up layer by layer, imitating the East Asian lacquer fashionable in England in the early eighteenth century. Such cupboards were used to house tea equipment and there is a clear link between the fanciful Eastern figures painted on the doors, and the decoration of tea wares.
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