Not just a simple card table Art: A recent acquisition by the Baltimore Museum of Art is a stunning piece of furniture with painted Chinese scenes.

July 28, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

A remarkable card table recently acquired by the Baltimore Museum of Art relates to the art, architecture and history of Baltimore in the early 19th century.

A painted card table of about 1815, it comes from a period when Baltimore was one of the leading centers of painted furniture. This unusual example has a large Chinese fishing scene on its top, and other scenes with Chinese characters painted on its front and side aprons.

According to BMA curator of decorative arts, James A. Abbott, the only other examples of Baltimore painted furniture with Chinese scenes are two chairs believed to be from the same set as the card table and now owned by the Winterthur Museum near Wilmington.

The set is attributed to Baltimore furniture maker Thomas Renshaw and the decoration to painter John Barnhart, based on similarities to a BMA settee signed by Renshaw and Barnhart. "It is quite exceptional," Abbott says of the table. "It defines its own aesthetic."

The table and the rest of the set are believed to have been ordered by John Donnell, a merchant in the China trade who lived near Baltimore in a country house named Willow Brook. The house, built in 1799, was one of the great Federal period country houses that then dotted the local countryside.

Willow Brook was torn down in the 1960s, but its remarkable oval drawing room and entrance hall were re-created at the BMA with the original plasterwork, windows and other architectural elements from the house. So, in a sense, the table has come home.

It was purchased from an anonymous descendant of the Donnell family in April, and is now on view just outside the oval room. After it has been on view for several months it will be removed for conservation. A remarkable survival, it has all its original paint and needs only minor repair and cleaning. After cleaning, its red, gold and blue-green color scheme will be much brighter than it looks now. "It will be extremely vibrant," says Abbott.

The Baltimore Museum of Art on Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st streets is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission $6 adults, $4 seniors and students, 18 and under free. For information call 410-396-7100.

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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