A to Z: Penwork

Editorial Staff Art

A Regency penwork cabinet, England, 19th cetury. Courtesy of Mallet/1stdibs.com.

Penwork  A type of decoration applied to japanned furniture in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, mainly in England. Furniture to be treated in this way was first japanned black, then patterns were painted on in white japan and finally the details and shading were executed in black India ink with a fine quill pen. The effect is delicate and lacy, rather like an etching in reverse, with white motifs on a black ground (The Penguin Dictionary of the Decorative Arts edited by John Fleming and Hugh Honour)