Style and craft: Five top designs from The Fine Art of Furniture

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 November 2015

A new exhibition charting the changing styles and designs of furniture over three centuries opened to the public in Belfast at the weekend. Here are five furniture highlights

A photo of a woman sitting in a dimly lit exhibition space
Kim Mawhinney, Head of Art at the Ulster Museum, takes a look at the new Crafted exhibition© Press Eye
Crafted: The Fine Art of Furniture explores the change of style, material and functionality of furniture from the 18th century to the present day.

"The Ulster Museum holds an important collection of furniture and works of art made from wood," explains curator Kim Mawhinney.

"This exhibition provides an insight into the changes in society – the move towards informality and experimentation. The pieces demonstrate the immense skill of the cabinet makers of the past and the furniture designers of today."

Side Table

A photo of an elaborate dark wooden carving of a lion at National museums northern ireland
Irish (circa 1745). Mahogany Edwin Henry Shaw Bequest© Press Eye
Irish-manufactured furniture displays some characteristics that are well represented in this magnificent side table.

The more formal style of English carving was embellished by the typical Irish feature of the grotesque mask. Here, a lion mask has been included on the front apron of the table and other masks carved on the knees of the cabriole legs.

Another distinguishing Irish feature present on the table is the carved square-paw feet.

William Southwell’s Piano

A photo of a large dark brown piano inside National museums northern ireland
Dublin, Ireland (circa 1790). Satinwood and veneers. Purchased 1934© Press Eye
Papier-mâché was very fashionable during the later Victorian period. This rectangular worktable, with its lyre-shaped pierced legs, has a top which lifts to reveal 20 separate compartments, used to hold sewing materials such as spools, needles and thimbles.

Work Table

A photo of a table with a flower design on it inside National museums northern ireland
English (circa 1870–1900). Papier-mâché inlaid with mother of pearl© Press Eye
William Southwell was one of the most important and influential pianoforte makers in Europe. He set up a workshop in Dublin in 1794, where he continued to make both demi-lune table pianos and square pianos until around 1840.

The internal mechanical action was made in Germany and the beautiful cabinet enclosing it is believed to be by William Moore of Capel Street, Dublin.

Joseph Walsh’s Enignum Low Table

A photo of a black and brown carved chair inside National museums northern ireland
Belfast (circa 1849). Carved bog oak. Purchased 1968© Press Eye
This work is on loan from the Joseph Walsh Studio, founded as a workshop in 1999 in County Cork.

Walsh is a self-taught designer maker, designing and making one-of-a-kind and limited edition pieces. This series is called Enignum – derived from the Latin words Enigma (mystery) and Lignum (wood).

Dawson Bell’s Bog Oak Chair

A photo of a wooden table design in a swirl inside National museums northern ireland
Ireland (2014). Olive ash and glass© Press Eye
This chair has been elaborately carved with female figures, scrollwork and Irish emblems – a harp, shamrocks, a greyhound and foliage.

This style of decoration was prevalent in the Irish contribution to the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

  • Crafted: The Fine Art of Furniture is at the Ulster Museum until June 4 2017.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places to admire design in

Gordon Russell Design Museum, Worcestershire
This stylish museum has a regularly changing exhibition programme covering a wide range of themes from product and graphic design, fashion design, furniture design, architecture and engineering.

Basildon Park, Reading
This beautiful Palladian mansion was built in 1776-83 by John Carr for Francis Sykes, who made his fortune in India. The interior is notable for its original delicate plasterwork and elegant staircase as well as the unusual Octagon Room.

Wedgwood Museum and World of Wedgwood, Stoke-on-Trent
Trace over 250 years of ground-breaking design and production and discover Josiah Wedgwood’s lasting influence on industry and society. This award-winning museum houses a UNESCO protected collection of huge historic and cultural significance.
Latest comment: >Make a comment
Further to Michael Cole's comment above, you may like to explore the materials and primary source evidence on my website dedicated to the life and work of William Southwell at
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