Thursday - 27 November 2014

Australia’s finest sideboard takes over £300,000

22 November 2010Written by ATG Reporter

IT measures over 11ft (3.4m) wide and stands 11ft 6in (3.5m) high, was built in Melbourne and is carved over the entire surface with figure and details emblematic of the foundation and history of the state of Victoria.

This mammoth Victorian creation was pursued to an equally mammoth price when it went under the hammer last month at Sotheby's Australia on October 26.

The so-called Mclean sideboard is named after the cabinetmaker who spent "half a lifetime"creating it.

Peter Mclean was a Dumfries man who emigrated to Australia with his family during the gold rush. Arriving in Port Phillip in 1853, he quickly established himself as a cabinetmaker and is listed in trade directories at various Melbourne locations.

The sideboard or buffet is carved from cedar inset with specimen woods. The panels use native animals, aboriginal figures and scenes to describe the colony's history and progress. They include a chief of the Yarra Yarra tribe and a native woman with her child, plus lizards, snakes and birds, wombats and a kangaroo.

There are also scenes documenting the progress of mining, agriculture and horticultural interests, plus more emblematic figures representing Peace and Plenty. The lunette-shaped superstructure features a solar eclipse inlaid in a variety of woods.

While Mclean would have been responsible for the overall design and assembly, it is thought that the carved detailing may have been the work of a collaborating craftsman and, more recently, the hand of Felix Terlecki has been identified in some of the carvings.

The sideboard was shown at the Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia in Melbourne in 1866-7 when it won a medal for excellent workmanship and was described by the local newspaper as the finest piece of furniture ever manufactured in Australia. Subsequently redesigned and enlarged, it was then sent in its present form to the UK for display at the 1873 London International Exhibition where it was awarded a bronze medal.

The sideboard remained in the family until 1927 when Mclean sold it to James Wright Ferguson (the deputy lord mayor of Melbourne). Elias Baitz then purchased James Wright Ferguson's Parkville home some time in the early 1930s and the sideboard remained in the house until he sold it. Baitz couldn't sell the sideboard with the house, so instead he sold it to the vendor in 1944.

Hopes were pretty high for this rediscovered piece of furniture, which carried an unpublished estimate in the region of AUS$500,000, a guide almost matching the previous auction high for a piece of Australian furniture - the AUS$530,000 Strathallen Chest sold in the same rooms in 1989. But those punchy expectations were duly met when a private buyer gave AUS$500,000 (AUS$600,000 including premium), around £335,570, to secure it.

The piece will be staying in Australia.

By Anne Crane

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