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Centre table

Centre table


Maker unknown (Tasmania)

wood (Huon pine veneer, blackwood veneer, unidentified eucalypt veneer, Australian cedar); metal (brass and steel fittings)

74.5 h x 96.5 w x 96.5 d cm

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) State Collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, collected by Mr George Burrows.



This table is from the collection of George Burrows, Tasmania. No previous history of ownership is currently available.


Exhibition tables were made for two main purposes: to display the skills of craftsmen and to demonstrate the decorative potential of the various materials employed, in this case veneers cut from Tasmanian timbers. While surviving examples of such tables are not common, a significant quantity of exhibition tables of Australian, and particularly Tasmanian, manufacture seems to have survived. The comparative popularity in Tasmania suggests a desire on the part of the colonists to explore and demonstrate the qualities of local timber resources. In the case of this table, the veneering is confined to simple geometric shapes and is quite rough in its execution. This, combined with the overall naive design of the table itself, suggests that there was a strong emphasis on the specimen veneers. The central columns of most tables of this kind often incorporate turning, carving and elaborate shaping. The simple two-stage octagonal column used here is unusual in its simplicity and may point to unevenness in available woodworking skills. The use of applied mouldings at the base of the column and at the graduation from the thicker, lower section to the finer, upper section is particularly unusual and naive in its resolution.

As a furniture type the exhibition table may have its origins in several divergent sources. The collecting of specimens—in this case various species of wood but often different types of stone or other materials—which are then brought together in a dramatic display is consistent with the emerging culture of scientific enquiry. It also suggests the popularity of collecting as an activity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The abstract geometric decoration may have distant origins in the severe decoration of the Greek Revival style popular in the first decade of the century. Another source may be vernacular furniture traditions, or regional inflections of mainstream styles. The diagonal stringing to the column, for example, was commonly used in quality Irish furniture in the nineteenth century.


A tilt-top circular centre table with single column support and circular base. The top has an elaborate pattern in inlaid wood—a central fan motif from which radiates a ‘sunburst’ motif of twenty Huon pine points against a blackwood ‘ground’. This is framed by a broad ring made up of highly figured Huon pine veneer segments and beyond this is a further ring made up of alternating and inverted Huon pine and blackwood triangles. Each stage is separated by fine bands of hatched veneers in alternating colours. The supporting column is octagonal, with an upper, narrower section and a broader lower section, both decorated with a string inlayed diaper pattern. The base is circular and divided into eight, slightly concave facets, decorated with bands of veneers in different woods. The base rests on four turned bun feet.

Statement of Significance

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of decorative arts made in Tasmania throughout the colonial period. This includes objects made between 1803 and 1901. Many of these items are similar to contemporaneous objects made in Britain but can be distinguished by an idiosyncratic inflection derived from the colonial context of their production. Elaborately veneered tables such as this one, while not peculiar to the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century, appear to have been made here in unusual numbers. In fact, most of the known examples featuring elaborate decoration using varied timbers originate in Tasmania. In this example, the miss-match between the decorative qualities of the veneers and the table’s naive construction suggests a particular and unusual context of production. The octagonal column is either an imported local variant from a provincial location in the British Isles or the innovation of an individual maker. In either case, it would appear that a skilled wood-turner was not available. This table probably has nationalistic origins as an effort to exhibit, and possibly celebrate, the decorative potential of the colony’s native timbers.


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© 2009 Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
This page was last modified on : 26 August, 2010