Offered by Antiquités Philippe Glédel
18th Furniture, country french furniture
Very rare small table in cabaret opening by a drawer in belt, with Louis XV base punctuated with shoes. It is made of gaïac wood from Saint-Domingue.
We can easily attribute it to La Rochelle, which had the main trading posts in Santo Domingo and specialized in the use of guaiac in its workshops.
The model is indeed of great rarity, on the one hand because Louis XV guaiac tables are much less common than Louis XIII models, but especially because this one is almost exclusively made of guaiac which is exceptional. In truth we have never encountered in our career a Louis XV table exclusively in guaiac, but on the other hand a single small model, but Louis XIII, is known to us (we have placed it in documentation).
What spoils nothing is that we are dealing here with a superb guaiac particularly contrasted: well veined with brown on a light background. On this table, except for the astragal of the top and the left rear leg which are made of walnut, everything is made of solid guaiac, including the top, which is very rare and constitutes a tour de force (see below). The question arises as to whether these parts should be rebuilt, and in truth it is not a simple one... In spite of our experience, our carpenter and ourselves cannot decide: what is certain is that the walnut leg, perfectly chosen for the well marked brown vein that runs along its edge *, has been mortised to the base since the 18th century (the way it is done is the same, the pegging is the same, with this specific and inimitable rounding of the time) Did our craftsman run out of guaiac or did he redo the walnut leg after an accident less than a decade later? No one can really say **.
* Note that the thing is not visible, unless you look very, very closely.
** However, we are more inclined to the thesis of a very old accident restored by the same workshop because, by experience of certain specificities of La Rochelle, we think that the two back legs would have been made of walnut, and not only one. If this were indeed the case, we would have to think that the edge of the tray would also be redone later, which seems curious.
The guaiac (gaïacum sanctum / guayacan, palo santo), imported since the 16th century for its curative properties (hence its name of life wood or holy wood) and for its hardness (hence its other name of iron wood), is a tree growing in tropical areas of South America, mainly in the West Indies, whose exploitation is now strongly regulated by CITES because of its massive exploitation which is gradually leading to its near extinction.
The guaiac is certainly the hardest wood in the world, and indeed its density of nearly 1.3 does not allow its buoyancy. If it has been used in cabinet making because of its spectacular veining and its natural polish, it is mainly used for the manufacture of small parts requiring increased resistance characteristics. Its main uses are for jewelry and industry, for carvers' mallets, seat and bed casters (George Jacob used it in this way) and in shipbuilding for pulleys and propeller parts (it is considered to last three times longer than steel or bronze, both because of its density and its natural self-lubricating properties). The finest guaiac comes from the island of Santo Domingo.
The wood of guaiac is so dense that it lends itself more readily to the lathe (this is why we will see many tables with turned legs Louis XIII, much less with curved legs Louis XV) and it is almost impossible to saw it into boards. Moreover, the logs are not very thick and it is for these reasons that one almost never meets (except for very rare and very small specimens) tables made exclusively of guaiac. Most of the time they have an oak top and frame, sometimes mahogany for the best quality tables, and even more rarely some guaiac belts.
Table in very good condition (top, belts, base) and restored to its original beauty by a filling, the guaiac just waxed (indeed this wood, by its natural qualities already mentioned has a very remarkable luster).