Established 1964

Ebony and Ivory


 The combination of Ebony and Ivory immediately suggests a sense of refinement and luxury, and as such was much in evidence in furniture of only the highest quality, made during the nineteenth century.


Creamy white, fine grained ivory, turned or engraved with extraordinary delicacy, has been used consistently as a prestigious decorative addition to important furniture and other objects from pre-historic times. Known for its use in the solid, it can also be used as a veneer, often inset with other precious materials. From the time that Ebony was introduced by the Portuguese into Europe in the sixteenth century, black became one of the smartest and most fashionable colours for furniture. Ebony is an exotic hardwood, with a lustrous surface, fine texture and generally straight grain. It does not grow very large, and is brittle and difficult to work, making it most useful as a veneer. Depending on the species it is either jet black, or run through with paler stripes. The use of ebony for prestige furniture spread rapidly across Europe. In France the growing sophistication of furniture making coincided with the introduction of Ebony, leading to the adoption of the name ébénistes for makers of the highest quality furniture, which survives to this day. Such was the fashion for ebony that imitations, usually in the form of stained or ebonised pearwood, began to appear almost immediately from about 1625.


The growing demand by aristocrats and an increasingly rich merchant class, at this time, for sophisticated furniture of high quality, led to the production of highly decorative pieces intended purely for display. Ebony and Ivory were to appear consistently as favoured materials. The ivory was engraved with either designs taken from contemporary sources, or from the growing vocabulary of ‘grotesque’ ornament derived from discoveries in excavations of Classical sites.


This fashion for black furniture saw a dramatic revival in the nineteenth century, encouraged by improved techniques for staining wild pearwood, which was hard, had a good straight grain, and was not attractive to worm. The introduction of the bandsaw also allowed decorative materials to be cut with the utmost precision and delicacy, and this stimulated a revival of ebony, or ebonised wood, inlaid with intricately cut ivory. The most popular subjects were direct reference to the artistic glories of the ages of the Renaissance and Baroque. This retrospective was largely a result of political uncertainties caused by wars and revolutions, which stimulated a need to reconfirm national stylistic identities, as well as a genuine admiration for the work of predecessors. Ebony and Ivory was very much in evidence at the great exhibitions of the nineteenth century, which were seen as important showcases of what was fashionable and in good taste.