A fine and imposing George IV double breakfront mahogany library bookcase in the Gothic style attributed to Gillows
Lot 639W
A fine and imposing George IV double breakfront mahogany library bookcase in the Gothic style
attributed to Gillows
Sold for AU$ 192,000 (US$ 144,617) inc. premium

The Owston Collection

25 Jun 2010, 10:30 EST


Lot Details
A fine and imposing George IV double breakfront mahogany library bookcase in the Gothic style attributed to Gillows A fine and imposing George IV double breakfront mahogany library bookcase in the Gothic style attributed to Gillows A fine and imposing George IV double breakfront mahogany library bookcase in the Gothic style attributed to Gillows
A fine and imposing George IV double breakfront mahogany library bookcase in the Gothic style
attributed to Gillows
the pediments with fine Gothic tracery and rose windows with spire finials to the corners, the lower pediments with castellated galleries above carved corbels and a blind fret carved frieze, the Gothic arched open fret carved astragal glazed doors enclosing adjustable shelves flanked by cluster columns with acanthus leaf capitals, the central section with secretaire drawer enclosing a pull out writing slide and a rosewood fitted interior of lidded compartments, each with brass engraved alphabetic tablets, the secretaire drawer above a pair of cupboard doors flanked by six further cupboard doors all with quatrefoil panels enclosing adjustable shelves on a plinth base, locks stamped GR, 566cm wide x 74cm deep x 355cm high, (222.5in wide x 29in deep x 139.5in high)


  • Provenance: purchased from Ronald Lee, London.

    Writing in March 1827, Rudolph Ackermann, publisher of the Regency's leading style and fashion magazine The Repository, waxes lyrical about a Gothic library bookcase designed by Pugin the Younger. 'No style,' he says, 'can be better adapted for its decoration than that of the middle ages, which possesses a sedate and grave character, that invites the mind to study and reflection. The rays passing through its variegated casements cast a religious light upon the valuable tomes on either side.'

    Ackermann's eulogy to the Gothic library had been prompted by Pugin and Sir Jeffry Wyatville's lavish Gothic remodelling of King George IV's state apartments at Windsor, begun in 1824. The medievalising of Windsor was the climax of seventy years of Georgian interest in Gothic interiors. During the Regency period, Gothic had superseded classicism as the dominant style for country house design. It was regarded as the best vehicle to express Picturesque and Romantic ideas, and as an 'English' style it catered to the patriotic sentiment engendered by the wars with Napoleon. Perhaps most importantly the fashion for Gothic in the 1820s was a reaction to the failure of architects and furniture designers to develop new and pleasing forms of classical ornament, as they had in previous generations. But as a style rich in meaning and association, Gothic was difficult to accommodate in most rooms of a big house. It was generally agreed that the library was best suited to such a powerful pictorial language. Thus, as Edward Joy has noted, 'the library became the locus classicus of Gothic furniture, which could readily conjure up the quiet and studious atmosphere of the monastic scriptorium'. (English Furniture 1800-51, London, 1977, p. 129.)

    The pattern book sources for the present bookcase are likely to be eclectic. Apart from the twenty-seven Gothic designs by Pugin published from 1825-1828 by Ackermann, the designer of the offered bookcase must surely have been familiar with mid-Georgian furniture pattern books like Chippendale's Director, judging from its Rococo-Gothic Strawberry Hill character. Equally, as a late-Regency designer he would have owned a copy of George Smith's best-selling Household Furniture, published in 1808, the only substantially Gothic furniture pattern book of the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. The present design is probably an amalgam of details from all three publications. Thus the cluster-column uprights and large quatrefoil-panelled lower doors, absent from Smith, probably derive from a 1761 Chippendale bookcase design (illustrated in Elizabeth White, Pictorial Dictionary of British 18th Century Furniture Design, London, 1990, p.239, plate C). Equally, the four-centred 'Tudor' arches formed by the twinned pairs of lancets in each bay are absent from Chippendale and his contemporaries but are a key part of Smith and Pugin's Gothic (see for instance Smith, pls. 57 and 101). If the designer of the present bookcase raided the Rococo-Gothic of Chippendale it should come as no surprise, because by the mid 1820s makers of furniture and silver were already beginning to look back to the mid-eighteenth century. Indeed, demand for Chippendale designs led the publisher John Weale to reprint a mid-eighteenth-century book of rococo ornament in 1833.

    However, no single pattern book design is as close to the present model's as any one of four library bookcases made by Gillows of Lancaster between 1795-1811. The drawing for the last of these, produced for Edward Hobson in November 1811, is illustrated by Susan Stuart as pl. 440 on p. 373 of Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730-1840, London, 2008, vol. I (see also the firm's Estimate Sketch Books, p. 1911.) Like the present bookcase, it features similar elongated quatrefoil panels in the cupboard doors of the bottom section. These are articulated by cluster-column uprights rising to a cornice with three pagoda-style crocketed pediments divided by pierced battlements and pinnacles. Susan Stuart also illustrates a very similar bookcase sold at Sothebys (ibid., pl. 441) which she attributes to Gillows on this basis.

    Another bookcase of much the same form was produced by Gillows for Daniel Leo of Lannerk Park, Wales in July 1795 (illustrated in the Estimate Sketch Books, p. 1185; also illustrated in Lindsay Boynton, Gillow Furniture Designs 1760-1800, London, 1995, fig. 170). In this case the quatrefoil panels on the cupboard doors were enclosed within ovals, as on the present example. The glazing bars are not drawn, which suggests they were not of Gillows' standard Gothic design, as used in the Hobson or Sotheby's bookcase above.

    Gillows produced a further model of this form for Francis Duckinfield Astley in August 1805. Again the cornice is of the same pierced embattled type, with three crocketed and pinnacled concave-sided triangular pediments, the largest to the centre. A fourth Gothic library bookcase of similar pattern, for Joseph Hanson, is illustrated in December 1799 as a rough sketch only (little detail to the cornice, glazing bars or cupboards, but with lancets in the glazed doors and three concave-sided Chinese-Gothic triangular pediments).

    The unity of design for these library bookcases suggests a Gothic house style over a long period, consistent with the design of the present example. Other factors support a Gillows attribution, such as the alphabetical labelling of the secretaire interior drawers (a Gillows' habit since the 1780s) and the characteristically excellent quality of the mahogany used. By the late 1820s Gillows were quite consciously reviving elements of the old Rococo-Gothic style themselves, occasionally making exact copies of the Chippendale-influenced armchairs, silver tables and pedestal desks they had made in the 1760s and 1770s. If the present piece is by Gillows, it is likely to have been ordered by the London branch of the Lancaster firm, who were better placed to win patronage from aristocratic clients. Unfortunately only a tiny number of drawings and invoices from Gillows London have survived.
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