A George II mahogany, ebonised and brass inlaid Bureau Cabinet
Lot 104
A George II mahogany, ebonised and brass inlaid Bureau Cabinet
Sold for £171,650 (US$ 284,637) inc. premium
Lot Details
A George II mahogany, ebonised and brass inlaid Bureau Cabinet

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    ‘The Property of a Lady’, Christie’s, London 8 July 1999, lot 140 (£375,500 inc.premium)

    The present bureau-cabinet bears the trade label of the celebrated eighteenth century cabinet maker and timber merchant, Giles Grendey (1693-1780). Grendey established his workshop at St. Paul's, Covent Garden by 1720, and moved to premises at Aylesbury House, St. John's Square, Clerkenwell just over two years later, where he was described as a ‘Cabinet-Maker and Chair-Maker’. Unusually, he appears to have developed a thriving export trade, for when fire struck his premises on the morning of 3 August 1731, over one thousand pounds worth of furniture `pack'd for Exportation against the next morning' was destroyed. Indeed, his most famous commission came from a Spanish client, the Duke of Infantado, for whose castle at Lazcano in northern Spain, Grendey supplied a seventy-two piece suite of scarlet-japanned seat and cabinet furniture between 1735-40, parts of which are now preserved in the museum collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Temple Newsam House, Leeds.

    Few pieces of furniture bearing Grendey’s trade label survive and the present example matches the style and layout of a label found under the seat rail of one of the scarlet japanned armchairs from the Infantado suite now at Temple Newsam House, Leeds (see Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, 1986, pl. 31). The label also matches that on a pedimented clothes press with framed panels illustrated in Christopher Gilbert’s, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840, 1996, fig. 443.

    Although the early provenance of this bureau-cabinet has not yet come to light, its elaborate shape and decoration suggest that it was a special commission made for a particular client. Whilst the majority of documented pieces by Grendey are well-made but modest items of furniture in walnut and mahogany, he did make a small number of more elaborate pieces characterized, as in the present example, by the use of expensive timbers and rich decoration. Another such special commission was the ‘easy chair’ destroyed in the fire of 1731 and reported in the newspapers as having been, ‘of such rich and curious Workmanship that he had refus’d 5000 Guineas for it, it being intended, ‘tis said, to be purchas’d by a Person of Quality who design’d it as a Present to a German Prince’. The only other distinguished clients of Grendey’s so far recorded are Sir Jacob de Bouverie of Longford Castle, Wilts, for whom he supplied a table and Henry Hoare of Stourhead, Wilts, for whom he supplied some chairs. In his role as timber merchant he also supplied mahogany planks to Lord Scarsdale of Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire in 1762 (cf. Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert, op.cit., p.372).

    When the bureau-cabinet appeared on the market in 2002, it was suggested that the brass inlay was of comparable quality to that on the celebrated Murray Cabinet, a writing-cabinet attributed to the maker John Channon (d.1779), formerly from Ochtertyre, Scotland, and now at Temple Newsam House, Leeds. Parallels have also been made with the work of the German cabinet maker, Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793) who was known to have been in London c.1733-1738, and who is believed to have worked for a time with William Gomm whose premises was opposite Grendey’s, in St.John’s Square, Clerkenwell. According to a family record, Roentgen specialized in ‘engraving, making mosaics in wood and producing mechanical devices and was sought after by the most expert masters.’ The ‘mosaic in wood’ may well be a reference to brass inlay, a development of ‘boulle’ inlay which Roentgen continued to use when he had returned to Germany. Certainly the cross-fertilisation of ideas is very likely within such a small community of craftsmen and designers. Moreover when an important piece such as this is made, it is likely to have been the product of more than one specialist craftsman, since it employs so many different and highly specialized techniques in its creation (brass inlay, casting and chasing mounts, cabinet-work etc.)

    The form and decoration of the cabinet is inspired by both Classical and French prototypes: the use of paired pilasters with Composite heads together with arches and pediments creating an entablature, is very architectural in character and recalls the work of Roman trained architects such as James Gibbs (d.1754), whereas the carved foliage and ‘boulle’ type brass inlay shows an awareness of French fashion. It has been suggested that the rocaille carvings are based on designs which appeared in Jacques de Lajoue’s Livres de cartouches and Tableaux d’ornaments et rocailles which were published in London by Gabriel Huquier in the the 1730’s.

    The present cabinet was sold with an altered cornice and extending pediment in 1999, however the form and angle of the original pediment was discovered when it was cleaned and it has since been restored.
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