During the 18th century, Irish furniture design possessed a style so unique that it was distinguishable from its European counterparts. One of the most influential designers during this time was William Moore (Irish, active 18th century), who established his workshop in Dublin in 1782. Moore attended the Dublin Society Drawing School and then in the 1760s, traveled to London where he was an apprentice to the pre-eminent London cabinet-makers Mayhew & Ince (British, circa 1758-1804). (2)
The designs of John Mayhew (British, 1736-1811) and William Ince (British, 1737-1804), were a great influence on Moore. Mayhew and Ince had previously worked on a number of English country homes with Robert Adam (Scottish, 1728-1792), who was a primary force behind the movement for a building to have a total unified style which would include the architecture, interior, and the moveable objects including the furniture, lighting, decorative objects, etc. (2)
Though there was certainly a style overlap between Irish and English furniture, as Irish cabinet makers used English pattern books, Irish designers like Moore would include distinctively Irish elements to their designs such as shells, baskets of flowers, and foliated details. (3)
Moore’s work shows stylistic similarities to that of his former masters, Mayhew & Ince. The commode pictured (figure A, for example) is of a half-moon shape, featuring a full repertoire in the Adam style, with a neo-classical frieze of urns, shaded paterae, and flower and husk swags, executed to dramatic effect in contrasting veneers. A vivid advertisement in the Dublin Evening Post on December 19, 1789 points out this skill in marquetry (a technique of decoration using different types of veneered wood or other materials placed together to form a pattern or image):
On Inlaid Furniture plain ditto-Pianoforte and Harpsichord Manufactory: Moore respectfully informs the nobility and gentry, he has removed from Abbey Street to Caped Street No. 47, where he carries on the cabinet making business in general. – He has a great variety of inlaid pier tables, which from his improvement in that line, he sells for half his original prices, his instruments are allowed equal to any imported; and hopes, from the elegance of his work and study to please to merit the approbation of those who shall honor him with their commands. (2)
Furthermore, Moore’s technique and marquetry designs can be traced to Adam’s influence. Moore would employ Adam’s style on a variety of woods including mahogany and soft fruit woods. Satinwood and costly veneers, typically used in the second half of the 18th century, would also be used to create the intricate designs and patterns on his furniture pieces.
Figure 3 is a prime example of a pair of a marquetry tables displaying the aforementioned techniques and design details. The radiating veneered tops are strewn with ribbon-tied trailing shamrocks and flowers. The shamrock was particularly appropriate as these tables were used by the Volunteers with the United Irishman, a group aimed at reforming the Irish Parliament. (2)
Although no original 18th century interiors in Dublin have survived in their entirety with original furnishings, plastered walls, and other ornamentation, there are a few surviving furniture pieces. These pieces belong to an array of private collections, museums, and are sometimes available for sale.
These pieces, offer a rare and spectacular glimpse into Ireland’s historical contribution to furniture design. Furniture pieces attributed to Moore have been fetching highly competitive prices at auction in the last decade. This is an indication of the desirability and rarity of a work by William Moore in today’s market. Due to Moore’s innovative style and technique, he is a must follow for the avid collector or furniture enthusiast.
Written by Kaitlin Rigney, MA, MLitt
Farhad Radfar, ISA, AM
- “The A-Z of Furniture”, Christies Magazine, No. 52, accessed November 28, 2016, http://www.christies.com/features/The-A-Z-of-furniture-A-glossary-7548-1.aspx#letter_M.
- Glin Knight of, and Peill, James, Irish Furniture: Woodwork and Carving in Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Act of Union, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2007.
- Morley, John, The History of Furniture: Twenty-Five Centuries of Style and Design in the Western Tradition, Little, Brown, and Company, 1999.