Most, if not all, of the cabinet makers we have focused on in previous posts have been male. Cabinetmaking was a field dominated by men, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t successful and prolific female artisans as well. Elizabeth Gumley is a perfect example. Gumley was part of a renowned family of cabinetmakers in the late 17th and early 18th century.
Elizabeth worked in partnership with her husband, Peter (1674-1702), and son, John (1691-1727). The firm offered tables, chests, writing tables, japanned cabinets, and had a particular specialism in looking glasses. Dudley Ryder, a law student, commented on Gumley’s impressive workshop in 1715 saying, ‘Went into the glass warehouse over the New Exchange. There is indeed a noble collection of looking glasses, the finest I believe in Europe.’ The shop was in the Strand at the corner of Norfolk Street known as the Exeter Exchange.
The Gumleys collaborated with the cabinetmaker James Moore for the Royal Household, including for a pair of gilt gesso side tables and candlestands for Hampton Court. There is some suggestion that James Moore worked as an apprentice to Elizabeth. In addition to their joint Royal patronage, Moore carried out commissions for a number of prominent patrons, including the Ducchess of Marlborough, Duchess of Buccleuch, the Duke of Montagu, and the Earl of Burlington, some of which invariably were done in partnership with the Gumleys.
When John died in 1727, Elizabeth took over his appointment as Royal cabinet-maker. She partnered with William Turing.
We are delighted to have an exceptional and very rare matched pair of George I gilt gesso tables, which are attributed to Elizabeth Gumley. One table is stamped E.G. to the underside: the stamp almost certainly refers to Gumley herself.
The tops with re-entrant corners and carved with an elaborate design of acanthus leaves and strapwork, standing above a shaped frieze further similarly decorated and centred by a shell, raised on cabriole legs with boldly scrolled acanthus leaves to the knees and particularly rare inverted scroll feet. Of identical size, one is a side table and one is a centre table, the side table having gilt gesso decoration on three sides of the frieze while the centre table is decorated on all four sides. The tops, following the same overall pattern, are different in their decorative carving, and the side table has carved beading to the legs.
It is incredibly rare to have a pair of gilt gesso tables, and having the stamp to make a strong attribution makes it truly special.