Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Painting with wood, by Joan Kellstrom, Columbus, Ohio, 1984. From my own collection, the cut pieces are mounted on felt-covered wood. so this is something of a modern application of marquetry aimed at reducing labor and thus the cost of the work.
Otherwise I could never have afforded to buy it.

Caracol marquetry, Zoltán Argay
As a painter, I've always been fascinated by those artists who choose to "paint with wood" (above). For those unfamiliar with my terminology, this art form is traditionally called "marquetry." There's also parquetry and inlaid wood, each of which differ slightly, but are in essence the creation of images and designs by the careful cutting, gluing, and lacquering of differing colors and grains of wood. Marquetry and Parquetry entail very thin layers of wood cut using a pattern and scroll saw or knife. The major difference is that Parquetry starts with a frame. Marquetry ends with a frame. Parquetry is the customary term for such work used in creating floor designs (the outside edge of the room being the frame). Marquetry is more akin to painting in that the frame comes last. Inlaid wood is more often associated with furniture decoration and entails a thicker layer of wood, usually a quarter inch or more. As one might guess, the related art forms have a tendency to overlap and distinctions to become blurred.

The Cosmati style as seen in the floor of the Cathedral at Terracina (just south of Rome).
A parquetry table similar to the many
such items we encountered in Sorrento.
Although marquetry evolved from the arts and crafts of furniture making during the Renaissance in Italy, particularly Florence and Naples this art form had its roots back at least another three hundred years. Around 1200 (though possibly much earlier) several generations of the Cosmati Family in Rome, were largely responsible for its birth and evolution. However, the Cosmati worked not in wood but inlaid marble, not on furniture but on floors. Before that, the mosaic floors of ancient Rome come to mind, though the stones were "fitted" more than "cut." In any case, wood is much easier to work than marble, and the thin wood (veneer) much easier than either one. It's not quite "paper" thin, but at least "cardboard" thin. We saw some of the most intricate examples of both parquetry and marquetry in Sorrento (just down the coast from Naples). We saw some pretty "intricate" prices for such work there too.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Created by the Workshop of Teracea, Granada, a Spanish-Moorish design.
The marquetry here also utilizes bone and tortoise shell components.

A marquetry portraits, Rob Milan
During our brief stop in Granada, Spain, this spring, in visiting Alhambra, I found a Spanish-Moorish example of marquetry (the work was Spanish, the design harkening back to Moorish influences). This intricately designed box (above) I thought was exceptional in that it involved a square design inside a hexagonal shape. The center design is octagonal. The plain geometry boggles the mind. Closer to home, as a portrait artist, I was similarly impressed with the marquetry portraits of Bob Milan (left). The French have also shown a fondness and aptitude in the art of marquetry and parquetry as seen in the 18th century floor to be found in LA's Getty Center (below).

Copyright, Jim Lane
Imagine an entire floor in a room the size of a three-car garage done in this manner.
Not just marquetry but heavily carved. The
thing must literally weigh a TON.
However, if you think an entire parquetry floor consisting of such exquisite intricacy would be almost sacrilegious to walk upon, notice the work of the Dutch artist, Gerrit Jenson, and his floral tabletop design dating from 1672-83 (below). My wife would want to cover it with a tablecloth before eating upon it. Often, natural wood hues are jettisoned in favor of stained woods as seen in Jensen's flowers. Even more mindboggling is an entire grand piano (right) finished with marquetry details. In trying to locate more information on this magnificent musical instrument, I discovered such massive pieces were more the norm than the exception during the 18th-century, especially in France, Italy, and Germany. There were hundreds of them.

Floral marquetry, attributed to Gerrit Jensen, ca. 1672-83

A century later, French tastes in marquetry had moderated somewhat as seen in the Paris street scene (below). And if the Parisians loved their picturesque sidewalk cafe's and late night bistros, they are also quite fond of erotic art and, yes, such content finds its way into marquetry as well (bottom).

French Marquetry, 19th-century

French erotic marquetry,



  1. hi how valuable or desirable are Joan Kellstrom marquetry art pieces?

  2. Rob--

    Joan Kellstrom appears to have died in 2009 at the age of sixty-nine. You can find her obituary through BING. As an amateur, I rather doubt her work has appreciated much in the years since her death. Hope this helps.