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English cabinet in imitation lacquer, circa 1680. Photo: Stockholms Auktionsverk.

STOCKHOLM.- Nationalmuseum has acquired a magnificent English cabinet in imitation lacquer. Manufactured circa 1680, the cabinet had been part of the Biby estate collection since 1788. Nationalmuseum purchased the piece at last summer’s auction of items from the Biby estate.

Nationalmuseum has added a splendid English piece with a proud Swedish heritage to its antique furniture collection. The cabinet had been part of the Biby estate collection, owned by the von Celsing family, since 1788. According to family tradition, it once belonged to the mill owner Johan Lohe (1643–1704). Via Lohe’s daughter and grandson, it passed into Gustaf Celsing’s ownership in 1781 as a result of a purchase. This lengthy Swedish pedigree shows that high-quality English furniture was being imported to Sweden as far back as the late 17th century.

Japanese and Chinese lacquer pieces were the height of fashion and were much sought after in Europe in the latter half of the 17th century. European craftsmen soon started imitating Oriental lacquer, but lacked the proper technical expertise and materials. The Oriental lacquer made from the sap of the urushi tree (Rhus vernicifera) is incredibly hard and water-resistant. European craftsmen had to rely on various shellac-based varnishes. In England, the dominant technique became known as “japanning”, alluding to the style’s geographical origins.

The cabinet acquired by Nationalmuseum is believed to have been made in London around 1680. Its upper part is entirely modelled on Japanese works in its form and ornamentation, while the underframe reflects the European baroque aesthetic with lavishly carved, gilded ornamentation. The square Japanese cabinets were originally intended to sit directly on the floor, but in Europe they were mounted on stands to match local furniture.

Nationalmuseum’s purchase of this English cabinet has been made possible by a generous bequest from Axel and Nora Lundgren. Nationalmuseum has no budget of its own for new acquisitions, but relies on gifting and financial support from private funds and foundations to enhance its collections of fine art and craft.