Double-ended sofa


National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

This elegant double-ended sofa was most probably made at the King’s Yard carpentry and cabinet-making workshop, which stood on Sullivan’s Cove in Hobart, Tasmania. It was probably commissioned and made for use by the Convict Department in a colonial establishment or the home of a colonial official. Its rare mark of a broad arrow and the letters CD, ink-stamped onto the original jute under-fabric on the seat back, locate it to Hobart and this maker. The Convict Department was part of the Imperial (as distinct from Colonial) establishment and was directly responsible to the Governor. The King’s Yard (or Lumber Yard) was active from about 1819 to 1835.

The style of the sofa is of the Regency period of the early nineteenth century, during which design motifs of classical antiquity were revived and interpreted by a number of influential English designers and cabinetmakers. Such designs were published in pattern books and served as guides for manufacturers in distant markets, including those in colonial Australia. This well-proportioned example, with its flowing lines, central gadrooned panel, finely carved leaf decoration on the scrolled back and applied paterae on the back and arms, demonstrates a refined understanding of the principles of Regency neoclassicism. Such motifs remained popular for domestic and official furniture throughout the mid nineteenth century; although, the lightness of design associated with this style gradually became more exaggerated, convoluted and coarser in later interpretations.

This sofa has survived with its original horsehair stuffing on the seat back and sections of the original jute lining fabric. The original woven horsehair upholstery has been lost through deterioration but enough fragments survived to serve as a guide for replacing it with modern woven horsehair fabric in a colour and pattern to suit the sofa’s Regency style. The patina on its wood frame has been preserved following removal of built-up shellac and dirt, and brass castors from the period replace those lost. With the acquisition of this sofa the National Gallery of Australia is able to document the design of the early nineteenth century in more depth and, through this fine example, show the important influence of neoclassicism on early Australian furniture design. Visitors will see a relationship to the fine examples of neoclassical design seen in other early Tasmanian and New South Wales colonial furniture and Australian silver also on display in the Australian colonial art galleries.

Robert Bell

Senior Curator

Decorative Arts and Design

in artonview issue 54, winter 2008 Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

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  • Title: Double-ended sofa
  • Date Created: c. 1820
  • Location: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
  • Physical Dimensions: w2130 x h980 x d580 cm
  • Type: Furniture,Tasmanian oak, Australian cedar, brass castors, horsehair mixture upholstery fabric, jute lining, horsehair stuffing
  • Rights: Purchased 2007
  • External Link: National Gallery of Australia