A pair of George III painted and parcel-gilt corner cupboards on stands
Lot 158
A pair of George III painted and parcel-gilt corner cabinets on stands attributed to Henry Clay
Sold for £37,250 (US$ 63,295) inc. premium
Lot Details
A pair of George III painted and parcel-gilt corner cabinets on stands
attributed to Henry Clay
The tops with anthemion, flower and leaf borders surrounding urns and roundels, each door with a medallion depicting a portrait of a lady with a dove and a woman as a vestal virgin making an offering after Angelica Kauffman, within fluted and paterae-carved surrounds, the removable stands with leaf carved, turned feet, some restoration to decoration, 66cm wide, 37cm deep, 86cm high (25.5" wide, 14.5" deep, 33.5" high).

Footnotes

  • Provenance: presumably commissioned by William Brummell for Donnington Grove between 1783-1794, sold following Brummell's death to

    John Bebb of the East India Company and then bequeathed to:

    Head Pottinger Best (1808-1887) in 1850 and thence by descent to his son:

    Marmaduke Head Best (1847-1912) who married Mary Leigh Bennett (b. 1850).
    removed from Donnington Grove by Mary Leigh Bennett in 1936 and thence by descent.

    attributed to Henry Clay, in the manner of Robert Adam
    Henry Clay
    Henry Clay of Birmingham patented 'new improved paper-ware' in 1772. His patent specification which lasted until 1802 was:
    "Making, in Paper, High Varnished Pannels [sic) or Roofs for Coaches, and all Sorts of Wheel Carriages, and Sedan Chairs, Pannels [sic) for Rooms, Doors, and Cabbins [sic] of Ships, Cabinets, Bookcases, Screens, Chimney Pieces, Tables, Teatrays, and Waiters." This process involved "pasting several papers upon boards... [which are] put in a stove sufficiently hot to deprive them of their flexibility, and at the same time are rubbed over or dipped in oil or varnish, which so immediately drenches into them as to secure them from damps... they are capable of being sawed into different forms, and planed as wood.... then coated with colour and oils sufficient to make the surface even, and then japanned and high varnished."

    Clay produced items ranging from small caddies, trays, knife boxes and dressing cases to small pieces of japanned furniture. Clay moved from London to Birmingham establishing workshops at 18 King Street in Covent Garden, where his array of clients included the Royal Family, becoming 'Japanner in Ordinary to His Majesty and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales'. His other clients included numerous members of fashionable society notably Robert Child of Osterley, the Dukes of Bedford, Horace Walpole and Baron
    Scarsdale of Kedleston. A few of Clay's pieces of furniture, like the small decorative pieces, bear his impressed stamp including some of those with a wooden carcass, see a late Henry Clay side cabinet decorated in chinoiseries, sold Christie's London, 21 April 1994, lot 137. Clay died a wealthy man in 1812 and the business continued to trade as W Clay & Co until 1860 with a showroom in Fenchurch Street, London, see C.Gilbert, Marked London Furniture 1700-1840, Leeds 1996, p.22.
    A corner cupboard of very similar construction and technique of decoration was sold Sotheby's, Shrubland Park, 19-21 September 2006 Lot 54, now in the collection of The V&A Museum. The Shrubland's corner cupboard, originated at Livermere Hall, Suffolk and was transferred to Shrublands by 5th Baron de Saumarez in the 1920s. The cabinet is decorated in the fashionable estruscan style and was attributed to Henry Clay on account of the techniques used in decoration. There are a number of elements of the Shrublands cabinet which closely relate to the Donnington Grove cabinets, including a very similar anthemion decorated banding, the use of rosettes to the corners to the doors and a similar pattern of lotus leaf decorated legs. Constructionally the cabinets are closely related both being on a mahogany carcass with the stand having a square section back leg. The Shrublands and Donnington cabinets both share the use of stove-japanned panels of papier maché to the top, the door panels and the top and bottom friezes.
    Robert Adam
    Clay is known to have adopted the Etruscan-style decoration seen on Shrublands cabinet and indeed a visitor to his workshop in Covent Garden in 1775 reported that he made boxes, tea-caddies, panels for coaches and sedan-chairs, coffee trays, and '... all kinds of other vessels, black with orange figures in the style of Etruscan vases' (see Georg Christoph Lichtenberg's 'Visits to England as described in his Letters and Diaries', transl. and annot. by M. L. Mare and W. H. Quarrell, 1938).The most celebrated 'Etruscan' room is the State Bedroom at Osterley Park, designed by the architect Robert Adam A table by Clay was among the contents of the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley listed in an inventory of 1782, described as 'A pembroke table richly Japanned by Clay' (see Maurice Tomlin 'Catalogue of Adam period Furniture', 1982, p. 84, cat.no.J/5, illus.) . The full extent of the working relationship between Adam and Clay remains unclear but he certainly supplied papier-mache panels decroated with grotesque ornaments for the doors at Kedleston in 1776-7, the design for which, now in the collection of the Soane Museum, (SM 49:51) is inscribed 'A fair copy sent to Mr Clay at Birmingham'
    The decoration of the panels in the Donnington Grove Cabinets owes a clear debt to Robert Adam. The decoration surrounding the medallions in the door panels is based on designs for the doors of the Third Drawing Room at Derby House (1774) published in 1779 in The Works in architecture of Robert and James Adam, Vol II, pt.1, pl.VIII. The panels are made up of elements of the two large and smaller panels and the central roundel of one of the Donnington Grove cabinets depicts a kneeling woman holding a dove and directly corresponds with that roundel at the centre of the small upper panel in Adam's design for the Derby House door. The panels of the Donnington Grove cabinets are set within characteristic Adam surrounds of fluted borders with paterae decorated corners. This form of panel surround can be found on the Derby House doors but are a feature of other Adam interior doors including mahogany and painted examples at many of his best known commissions including, Kedleston, Osterley Park, Newby Hall, Saltram, Luton Hoo and Audley End, see E.Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, His Interiors, Yale 2001, p.45, 244, 260,340, 368, 486. The same framing also appears on four pier glasses designed by Robert Adam in 1769 for the drawing room at Saltram, Devon; see E.Harris, ibid., pl.352.
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