An Imposing Carved Mahogany Center Table In The Manner Of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson

October 24 2013, 5:14pm

Carlton Hobbs LLC The present table is a beautifully conceived and well-informed example of the British Regency’s taste for eclectic style, executed in the manner of Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson (1817-1875). Thomson worked predominantly in Glasgow, Scotland, as an architect and designer. He inherited the nickname ‘Greek’ due to his penchant for pre-Roman classical architecture, and continued the Greek Revival style even after it fell out of fashion. He was an innovator and his works regularly combined elements of Greek and Egyptian design with modern materials such as glass and iron. “[Thomson] took the architectural language of the Greeks, spiced it up with hints from Egypt and the Orient…and produced modern classical buildings of a distinctly personal character that were without precedent.”1 This British taste for exotic motifs achieved the momentum of a mania following the publications of such exploratory volumes as Vivant Denon’s Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypt (1802) and Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament (1856), which surveyed the forms and decorative devices of ancient civilizations. The use of such motifs became a statement of high fashion as well as conveying the impression of learned sophistication and a familiarity with the history of the ancient past. Figure 1 In addition to the massive churches and monuments in his body of work, Thomson also designed furniture. In his obituary, published on March 23, 1875, the Glasgow Herald notes that “[Thomson’s] works were all the result of most careful study; and his interiors, with which the public are necessarily less acquainted, are as remarkable for their beauty, the offspring of truth and originality, as are his elevations and façades.”2 A particularly extraordinary piece, and one of the few surviving examples, is a large sideboard he designed for his own dining room at Moray Place, today in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow. The present table exhibits many of the characteristics that defined the Regency style, widely informed by the Egyptian manner of design. It is ornamented throughout with decorative elements that appear on Thomson’s architectural works.  The table frieze bears alternating stylized anthemions and “crowns,” above a series of ridges. All of these elements can be seen in the architectural details of Thomson’s “finest and most elaborate villa,”3 Holmwood House, Cathcart (figure 1), for which Thomson also designed original interior schemes. Figure 2 The table base, comprised of unusually wide, splayed legs, bears resemblance to the tripod legs of ancient Chinese and Etruscan vessels. Each of the legs is decorated with carved anthemion, fan, and scroll motifs. A related version of this device can be seen on Thomson’s building designs, an example being the elaborate carved anthemions between the first-floor windows of the Grosvenor Building on Gordon Street, Glasgow, built by Thomson in the 1860s (figure 2).