Work Table

Made by Jennens and Bettridge, Birmingham, England, 1816 - 1864

Made in Birmingham, England, Europe


Painted papier-mâché with mother-of-pearl and gilt decoration (exterior); silk velvet and silk (interior)

29 1/4 x 22 x 17 inches (74.3 x 55.9 x 43.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 294, European Art 1500-1850, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Bequest of Emilie deHellebranth, 2001

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Traditionally, papier-mâché (an English term that uses French words - literally "paper-chewed") was molded from pulped paper and glue. But by the middle of the nineteenth century, finer objects, like this table, were made with sheets of paper that were compressed into a mold and heat dried. The surface was then japanned--a process that imitates Asian lacquerware techniques--before being further ornamented.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Jennens and Bettridge of Birmingham, England, was among the foremost manufacturers of papier-mâché articles in the nineteenth century. The firm was awarded a prize medal in its class at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in London’s Hyde Park in 1851. The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue, a contemporary record of the Great Exhibition, featured engravings of a number of objects from Jennens and Bettridge’s display, including this work table. Commended by the authors for its novel shape, the table is in the Moorish style, incorporating variations of arabesque ornament and Renaissance-inspired forms. Its top is adorned with imitation gems mounted beneath foiled glass, a method of decoration patented by the firm and thought particularly suitable for objects in the Alhambra style. The jeweled lid opens to reveal a variety of needlework tools arranged in a velvet tray, which, when removed, uncovers a silk-lined storage compartment below.

    Traditionally, papier-mâché (an English term incorporating the French word for “chewed”) was molded from pulped paper and glue. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the finer examples of papier-mâché, such as this table, were more commonly made with sheets of paper that were compressed into a mold and heat dried. The surface was then japanned—a process that imitated Asian lacquerware—before being ornamented with mother-of-pearl, painted, and gilded.

    Evidence suggests that both the work table and a related toilet box (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2001-152-2) were purchased in England in the 1850s and remained in the buyer’s family until entering the Museum’s collection. The importance of the manufacturer, the quality of the workmanship, the strength of the provenance, and the association with London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 all combine to make the table and the toilet box the most significant articles of papier-mâché among the Museum’s holdings. Diane Minnite, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 73.

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