A George III mahogany Breakfront Library Bookcase in the manner of Thomas Chippendale

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Lot 45
A George III mahogany Breakfront Library Bookcase
in the manner of Thomas Chippendale

Sold for £ 84,000 (US$ 100,993) inc. premium
A George III mahogany Breakfront Library Bookcase
in the manner of Thomas Chippendale
in two parts, the pierced lozenge swan-neck pediment above a dentil moulded cornice and a pair of astragal glazed doors enclosing four adjustable shelves flanked by single astragal glazed doors, each enclosing four adjustable shelves, the lower part with a central baize lined slide above four long graduated drawers flanked by panelled doors to each side, each enclosing an adjustable shelf, on a plinth base, 232cm wide, 48cm deep, 252cm high (91in wide, 18.5in deep, 99in high).


  • The Berrington Bookcase

    Almost certainly acquired by Sir Frederick Cawley, 1st Baron Cawley of Prestwich (1850-1937) for Berrington Hall, Herefordshire;
    Sir Robert Hugh Cawley, 2nd Baron Cawley of Prestwich (1877 - 1954);
    thence by descent to the present owner.

    Christopher Hussey. Berrington Hall, Herefordshire – II, Country Life, 9 December 1954, p.2104, fig. 6 (illustrated in situ)
    T.W.Pritchard, The Wynns at Wynnstay, 1982
    The Times, 31 March 1937
    The Times, 27 September 1954

    This bookcase, with its rich patina and sophisticated ormolu handles, has provenance from Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, home of the Cawley family throughout the first half of the twentieth century. It was recorded in the Drawing Room at Berrington in a Country Life photograph of 1954, but was removed shortly afterwards when the house and some of its contents were given to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. The bookcase was retained by the family, with whom it has remained until the present day.

    The early history of the bookcase is not yet clear, although a number of interesting discoveries relating to it have been made in the course of its research. Firstly it appears to have been one of a pair – the other one emerged unprovenanced as the property of the American public relations magnate Benjamin Sonnenburg, whose famous art collection came up for auction at Sotheby Parke Bernet in a five day sale 5-9 June 1979. The bookcase was catalogued as lot 1699 and sold for $10,000. The same bookcase was reoffered at Sotheby’s New York 26 October 2002, lot 1917 where the cataloguer noted that the internal drawers behind the cupboard doors had ‘s’ shaped escutcheons of a type often used on furniture made by Thomas Chippendale (see C.Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, 1978, vol.1, p.253). Although there are no internal drawers in the present example, both the quality and the restrained delicacy of the design suggest it was made by a prominent London cabinet maker.

    When Sir Frederick Cawley was furnishing Berrington, he reputedly made purchases from nearby Wynnstay, home of the famous art collector and Adam patron Sir Watkin Williams Wynn (1749-1789). Nonetheless the bookcases could not have been made for Wynnstay because the original house and its contents were almost completely destroyed by fire in 1858. Wynnstay was rebuilt soon afterwards and furnished with objects from Sir Watkin’s London home 20 St James Square, including the famous Williams Wynn chamber organ, sold in situ by Phillips 21 April 1995 to the National Museum Wales.

    It is conceivable then that the present bookcase (and its pair) were bought to furnish 20 St James’s Square. Sir Watkin employed the neo-classical architect Robert Adam to build his house between 1772-5 a date that seems slightly later than that of the present bookcase. However, the finely chased ormolu handles, look to be in keeping with the house, and more in the manner of Matthew Boulton who is recorded as supplying metalwork to Sir Watkin on other occasions, (see E.Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, His Interiors, 2001,plate 410, p.274). Careful examination of the drawers shows that these handles appear to have replaced earlier, simpler swan neck handles. If Adam did indeed use the bookcases to furnish St James’s Square, the handles would have ensured they fitted in with the decorative scheme of the house.

    So far there is no documentary evidence to substantiate this suggestion. Although there are numerous papers and documents relating to Wynnstay and Sir Watkin, there do not appear to be any relevant inventories which could shed more light on the subject. Many of the published books and catalogues refer to a three day sale of the contents of Wynnstay in June 1947 (see Pritchard, 1982, op.cit. p.131) but it does not appear to survive in any public archive. Then again the Cawley family papers which might have recorded a purchase do not appear to have survived following the death of Sir Robert Cawley in 1954.

    Berrington Hall and the Cawleys

    The Neo-Classical mansion of Berrington Hall was built for the Rt. Hon Thomas Harley (1730-1804) to designs by Henry Holland between 1775 and 1778, and set in parkland designed by 'Capability' Brown. The restrained external appearance hides an interior with beautifully decorated ceilings and a spectacular staircase hall and was Holland’s last completed commission before he remodelled Carlton House for George IV in 1783. In 1781 Harley’s daughter Anne, married George Rodney whose father Admiral Lord Rodney (1719-92) was one of the greatest naval commanders of the 18th century. With Anne, Berrington Hall came into the Rodney family as Harley did not have a male heir. The Rodneys lived at Berrington for 95 years, until George, 7th Lord Rodney, gambled away the family wealth, including some portraits by Gainsborough. He was eventually forced to sell Berrington Hall in 1901 having had the house on and off the market since 1887.

    The new owner, Frederick Cawley, was a wealthy Lancashire cotton finisher, who became an important figure in the industrial life of Lancashire and was at one point Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He became the Liberal M.P for the Prestwich division of Lancaster in 1895 and was created a baronet in 1906. He and his wife had four sons and one daughter but they lost three of their sons in the First World War. Cawley decorated the house in a sympathetic manner, leaving Holland's original design intact. Upon his death in 1937 he was succeeded by his son Sir Robert Cawley who carried on his father’s business and was for many years president of the North Herefordshire Liberal Association. During the Second World War the house was used as a convalescent hospital and run by Lady Cawley who was active in the Red Cross. Three years after the 2nd Baronet’s death in 1954, Berrington Hall was handed over to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. The last member of the Cawley family who lived in Berrington Hall was Vivienne, Lady Cawley, who died aged 100 in 1978.
A George III mahogany Breakfront Library Bookcase in the manner of Thomas Chippendale
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