Musée d'Orsay: Ernest William Gimson Cabinet

Ernest William Gimson

Ernest William Gimson (1864-1919)
Macassar ebony, inlaid with palm tree, orange tree and ebony; interior in cypress, sycamore and balsam
H. 139.7; W. 101; D. 453 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay)


Gimson began his career as an architect but, influenced by the ideas of William Morris, quickly developed a passion for furniture design. In 1893, he moved with the Barnsley Brothers to the Cotswolds, in the English countryside, setting up one of the many rural artists' colonies in the Arts and Crafts Movement. This self-sufficient craft community was guided by the utopian thinking sparked by Morris. Gimson's prolific production was far from limited to furniture: he designed pieces of gold work, patterns for embroidery and lace, book bindings and decorative plasterwork.

Even before he set off for the countryside, Gimson had joined the firm of Kenton and Company. It was for Kenton and Co. that he designed this cabinet, exhibited in the Art Workers' Guild, at Barnard Inn in London in 1891. Composed of simplified but powerfully geometrical forms, the cabinet stands on a light base made of two round trays. Gimson focused his attention on the delicate inlaid decoration of the cabinet doors, using different species of wood (palm tree, orange tree and ebony) in a stylised pattern similar to some of the textile designs later produced by the Wiener Werkstätte. True to the principle of honesty so dear to Ruskin, the inlaid pieces are not glued but fitted together. The inside of the cabinet made of sycamore and cypress, and the locks made of silver, balsam of Peru and white metal show the same subtlety. Despite its overall simplicity, the cabinet exhibits astounding delicacy.

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