This sofa, by an unidentified Tasmanian designer and maker, is a fine example of the late neoclassical style of furniture produced in Australia in the mid-19th century. Such design was a development from the earlier, plainer furniture that had been made during Tasmania’s early colonial period and reflected the increasing confidence, visual complexity and design eclecticism of Australian production.

The plentiful supply of Australian red cedar gave local cabinetmakers an easily-cured, light, strong and white ant-resistant timber that was easy to work and carve. When polished, it resembled fashionable mahogany, making it a desirable and profitable export commodity throughout the 19th century. It was used for this sofa’s lyre-shaped frame, its rich colour and grain being enhanced by the extravagantly scrolled and gadrooned decoration on the high back rail. The upholstery is a modern replacement of the sofa’s original woven horsehair fabric, its natural glossy black colour and strength adding to the visual drama of this object.

Robert Bell

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002


  • Title: Sofa
  • Date Created: c.1840
  • Location: Tasmania, Australia
  • Physical Dimensions: w2100 x h1150 x d560 cm
  • Type: Furniture,cedar (toona ciliata), brass and ceramic castors, horsehair upholst
  • Rights: Purchased 1981
  • External Link: National Gallery of Australia

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