The application of wooden veneers to a surface to create pictures or applied word for decoration.
|Historic area of significance||London|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||17th century|
Marquetry is the covering of the surface of a board or piece of furniture, either entirely or in part, with wooden veneers in the form of a skillfully applied design or picture. It differs from inlay, which is the insertion of thin pieces of veneer, ivory, brass, copper, tortoiseshell etc. into a solid base. Both fell under the heading of ‘intarsia’ across the majority of Europe, with the exception of France where the word ‘marquetry’ and the craftsman ‘marqueter’ were always used.
Inlaying or overlaying of wood, metal, ivory or bone is known to have been practised by the Babylonians and Egyptians nearly three thousand years ago and also occasionally by the Greeks and Romans, but it was not until the thirteenth century that marquetry as we know it became widely used by the Italians. The first to really exploit marquetry were the Olivetans, an order of Dominican monks from a monastery on Mount Oliveta near Siena. Known as the ‘cloistered intarsiatori’, they went out to decorate churches around Siena, Florence, Bologna and Perugia with biblical scenes, scroll and floral work on choir stalls.
Marquetry was revived in a more perfect and artistic form on furniture around the sixteenth century when its use spread all over Europe from Holland (where floral designs were popular) to Spain. The period 1642–1731 saw the emergence of world-famous artisans as Andre Charles Boule, J.F. Deben, J. Henry Reisner and David Roentgen. All were favourites of French royalty and about 1743 Louis XIV of France caused a Marqueters Guild to be formed. He provided free workshops in which apprentices had to work for six years before they were allowed to undergo a strict examination which, when passed, entitled them to become Members of the Guild.
It was in those workshops that the now famous ‘donkey’ for multiple cutting was invented of which copies, in almost its original form, were used in this century by such famous marqueters as George Dunn (whose work can be found in such places as Buckingham Palace). The firm of A. Dunn & Son (Marqueterie) are still successfully trading from Wharf Road, Chelmsford, Essex. One of their most prestigious commissions was the restoration and remaking of the marquetry panelling for the new Orient Express trains.
In Britain, furniture was made from oak until the first Stuart reign introduced furniture from the continent veneered in walnut. This walnut furniture reached its most popular form during the reign of William & Mary and Queen Anne. Master craftsmen like Chippendale veneered in mahogany; Sheraton and Hepplewhite used mahogany and satinwood veneers. In France, the art of decorative veneering reached its heights of perfection in the Louis periods, where the famous Ebenistes used rosewoods and many fruitwoods in addition to the ebony, which gave them their name.
A variant of marquetry techniques was invented towards the end of the seventeenth century in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, Kent and was called Tunbridge Ware. It is made by gluing together coloured sticks of wood, similar to the size and shape of matchsticks, in a bundle, which showed a pattern at the end, rather like seaside rock. The end is then sliced off very thinly and mounted on to the finished article. The popular style of border was usually a pattern copied from the famous Berlin wool weavers, so often used by ladies working cross-stitch. The last of the families in this industry died out about 1880 but samples of their work are still to be found in antique shops and museums.
In the mid-twentieth century marquetry was revived as a pictorial hobby, and the Marquetry Society was formed in 1952. It is through this organisation that it is increasingly accepted as a form of art/craft, which produces not only pictures but clocks, coffee tables, jewellery boxes and articles of light furniture.
The Marquetry Society website gives details of the basic techniques involved in marquetry. The website also features galleries of approx 2000 examples of marquetry drawn from our earliest days in the 1950s up to the present day and many examples of marquetry from around the world.
In some cases, other materials such as mother of pearl are used.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Craftspeople currently known
- Quentin Smith (QJS Marquetry)
- Original Marquetry
- Apres Furniture
- Heritage Inlay
- ACE Marquetry
- Amber Bailey
- Ian Smith
- Tony Jacklin
- Grace Winteringham
- Tim Clayton – tutor for marquetry course at the Boat Building Institute
A small number of hobby kits are available from QJS Marquetry, Peak Dale Products, Cove Workshop and Original Marquetry.