Originally one of a pair, the cabinet retains all the original brass mounts. A cornice, originally fitted, has been removed a long time ago.
Although the research has not been conclusive, this cabinet is known to have an extremely interesting history, and it seems almost certain that it is the work of Chippendale. It was owned at one stage by James Christie, a direct descendant of the founder of Christie’s auction house, before being sold in 1959 to another collector who found and acquired the matching cabinet, and then sold them together as a pair. After being briefly reunited, the pair were separated again, and the companion is now in a private collection in the USA.
The crucial link with Chippendale lies in the cabinet’s distinctive brass mounts, which are unique to him, and are in all key respects virtually identical to those on a documented commode supplied to Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, England, in 1770. The construction of the cabinet also relates to the construction of the well-documented cabinets from Panshanger, Hertfordshire, England, originally commissioned from Chippendale by Lord Melbourne for his London residence, Melbourne House. Chippendale used solid black rosewood as the main material for their door frames, a very unusual and extravagant use of this exotic wood. Our cabinet similarly features doors made of black rosewood, which were then veneered with fustic. Interestingly the back boards of this cabinet are also made of the same rosewood, suggesting that it was intended not as a bookcase but to display items, with a beautiful timber background to enhance their appearance.
It is not certain which commission the pair of cabinets belong to, but research suggests that they were made around 1775 by the Chippendale firm for No 5 Mansfield Street, the London home of William Constable, and were subsequently transferred to Burton Constable, his house in Yorkshire. On Constable’s death in 1791, it is possible that this cabinet was sold to Burwood Park, Surrey, England, where documentation records an alteration to a strikingly similar item, although it may have stayed at Burton Constable for some time longer.
THE BRASS MOUNTS
A marquetry commode veneered in fustic with virtually identical brass mounts was supplied by Chippendale to Nostell Priory for Lady Winn’s bedchamber on 22 December 1770.
A further commode, also veneered in fustic and virtually identical to the Nostell commode, is now in a private collection in New York. This commode differs from the Nostell model only in not having complete corner mounts to the back legs, using sabot mounts instead. It is likely that this second commode was also part of the Nostell commission, but this cannot be established with certainty.
With time, fustic acquires a rather less attractive grey-brown colour. Thomas Sheraton wrote in 1790 that fustic ‘was found to turn by air and the heat of the sun to a dead brownish hue’. The wood had been favoured by the Chippendale firm from the 1760s, but it was subsequently phased out for aesthetic reasons, and satinwood was then preferred. Satinwood retains its colour and appearance and withstands the test of time.
Another commode, supplied to Sir Richard Hoare and veneered in rosewood and pollard oak, was also fitted with near identical mounts, and a second commode from the same collection was fitted with identical sabot mounts.
The mounts for Lady Winn’s commode would have been designed specifically for it by the Chippendale firm. The mounts would have been carved in wood first and then given to the foundry to be cast in brass. The castings would then have been worked on and refined, chased and lacquered by the Chippendale workshop. The wooden originals would have been retained by the Chippendale firm for future use. A Chippendale bill in the papers at Harewood House in Yorkshire, for example, states that moulds for a brass lantern were carved, and then castings from this mould were chased and lacquered by the firm.
The mounts on this cabinet have an additional section of husk trails inserted to make up the extra length needed: the commode mounts are shorter. The sabot pieces, ending in curling acanthus leaf, merge beautifully with the leaf corner mounts on the commode. On the cabinet this transition from sabot to husks where the additional section was inserted is slightly clumsy and less harmonious. This suggests that the mounts were created for the commode first and then used again later on the cabinet, but with extensions.
This group of commodes and cabinets with virtually identical brass corner mounts fits stylistically into a period of transition from rococo design with its organic, asymmetric shapes towards the neoclassical style with a more linear symmetry of shapes. Circles, ovals and rectangles are typical new devices for this period, and all of these can be seen on the cabinet.
The light coloured fustic veneers on the secrétaire cabinet provide a perfect contrast to the richly coloured dark kingwood and black rosewood. The latter is used in the solid on the doorframes and back panels of the upper section. The internal sides and base of the upper section of the cabinet were originally painted to simulate rosewood.
A very unusual and perhaps even unique feature of this cabinet is the brass framed oval centre of the door, which is hinged to allow access to the centre of the cabinet while the door itself remains closed. This extra feature was without doubt specially requested. One possible explanation for it may be that the cabinet originally had a clock on display in the centre, which needed to be wound.
The astragal glazing bars are aligned in a symmetrical pattern of circles and ovals within an oblong with square corners. This feature is found in the Chippendale workshop’s later output. The top of the cabinet once featured a cornice, which has been removed at some stage in the past. The tenon holes to secure the former cornice have been neatly filled in.
Pairs of brass mounted and inlaid secrétaire cabinets with glazed tops by the Chippendale firm are rare. The Chippendale invoices published by Christopher Gilbert have revealed two commissions that are possible original provenances, one for a pair, and one for a single cabinet: neither is conclusive, but both are of considerable interest.
BURTON CONSTABLE / MANSFIELD STREET
A pair of fustic bookcase cabinets is mentioned in the Chippendale accounts of 1774 for Burton Constable in Yorkshire:
To 2 very neat Bookcases made of fustic cross Banded with Allegozant with neat shaped doors Glazd with the Best Crown Glass and Slideing Shelves, the Bottom parts made deeper with Slideing Shelves and folding doors Cross Banded & Inlaid. £44 - - .
There is no mention of brass mounts in the bill, which is unusual as Chippendale would usually have mentioned these extra costs. Lady Winn’s commode with brass mounts at Nostell was invoiced at £40 on 22 December 1770. The inlay on the commode would have taken a considerable time to produce, and the brass mounts would have been made specifically for it. Casting metal mounts often produced faulty casts with poor definition or even holes in the casting. It is very likely that the mounts for the Winn commode were cast several times before Chippendale was happy with the results.
William Constable acquired the lease of No. 5 Mansfield Street in London in 1774. He employed Robert Adam to design the interior of the house. Drawings for Mansfield Street are preserved in the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. The ceiling designs for the drawing rooms incorporate circles of husks which are joined at the quarter with small circular loops, and long oblong fields centred by circles. Both these unusual features are repeated in the design of the cabinets. It was common practice for Chippendale to incorporate a room’s architectural details in his designs for its furniture.
Constable gave up his house in Mansfield Street in 1784 due to ill health. Some of the furniture was moved to Burton Constable in Yorkshire, and the other furnishings were sold at auction. He died seven years later, in 1791. The inventory of Burton Constable drawn up in that year is so rudimentary that identifying specific pieces of furniture is nearly impossible:
Gallery and Closet
–one other cabinet
–one large cabinet
The Dressing Room, North Wing
A century later, the 1894 inventory describes the pieces in each room in slightly more detail:
Lady Constable’s Bed Room
2 Very handsome satin wood Cabinets with circular door and shaped ends with very fine rich Marquetrie of curious colours.
The next inventory of Burton Constable, taken in 1910, does not list the cabinet. Presumably when each successive generation took over the vast property, some furniture would have been changed, with the items no longer required being sold or simply removed from the house.
Today the only links with Burton Constable are Chippendale’s bill (although, as noted, this does not mention the metal mounts), the similarity to Adam’s ceiling designs at Mansfield Street, and the mention in the 1894 inventory, which leave the research inconclusive.
A satinwood secrétaire bookcase that features brass mounts is mentioned in Chippendale’s accounts for Burwood Park, Surrey, England: fustic can be mistaken for satinwood when it has not yet oxidised with age. This bill also mentions an alteration of a cabinet by taking away the cornice. On 12 June 1792 the Chippendale firm billed Sir John Frederick, Bart. of Burwood Park for: ‘Repairing thoroughly new working & polishing a Sattinwood Lady’s Secretary and Bookcase altering by taking away the Pediment lacquering the Brass Work and new Lining the Writing Part with fine Green Cloth. £2 d12’. The fact that an alteration is mentioned, as well as brass mounts, is compelling.
The Burwood Chippendale accounts that have survived unfortunately cover only the years 1790–1796. The cabinet would have been supplied around 1770–1775. The accounts do however show an entry for furnishing Sir John’s London house on Hanover Square:
April 2nd, 1773
By Charles Ewans’s Account for Repairing & fitting up my House in Hanover Square, with all & Every of the Tradesmens bills employed for work done in and about the said House in full paid & settled this day by Lough Carleton £1977, 10, 7½.
The entry clearly states that Ewans was employed as the agent to oversee the furnishing of the house. Charles Ewans shared workshop premises with W. Mills on St. Martin’s Lane, London, opposite Old Slaughter’s Coffee House. It is likely that Ewans engaged nearby workshops including Chippendale’s to supply furniture for the house. The date of 1773 or slightly earlier corresponds well with the supply date for Lady Winn’s commode, which had to precede the supply of the cabinets, as the brass mounts were made especially for the commode and then extended for the cabinets. It is also possible that the brass mounted fustic cabinet was bought secondhand, perhaps from Burton Constable. Chippendale was known for buying back furniture that he had made, and selling it on.
THE FREDERICK FAMILY OF BURWOOD PARK
Sir John Frederick, 4th Baronet, (1708–1783) inherited the estate of Burwood Park in 1770 from his cousin who had bought it in 1739. John Frederick was Lord Mayor of London and a wealthy City merchant. His connections with the East India Company added to his considerable fortune. He owned large areas of London including the Manor of Paddington: the annual rental income from Paddington alone amounted to a five-figure sum. As well as Burwood, the family had a house in Bath, Somerset, and another in Hanover Square in London. Sir John’s personal letters to his relation Henry Vansittart, the director of the East India Company, are preserved in the collection of the Surrey History Centre in Woking.
His son, also called John Frederick (1749–1825), inherited the title and all the estates on his father’s death in 1783. He divided his time between Burwood and Savile Row in London, where he served as a member of Parliament.
It is very possible that Sir John junior was a patron of Thomas Chippendale prior to 1790, and perhaps his father was also. However, no records of commissions have come to light. The surviving records relating to Chippendale & Haig dating from 1790 to 1796 mention repairs without charge by the firm, suggesting that the pieces were originally supplied by Chippendale. The repair of the ‘Sattinwood Lady’s Secretary’ cabinet was however charged for.
The last member of the Frederick family to live at Burwood was Sir Richard, the 6th Baronet. Following his death in 1873, Burwood was sold to developers. Today the estate has been developed into private residential properties, and the house is now a school.
Arthur Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, vol. II, pp. 94–101.
Christie, Manson & Woods, ‘Important English Furniture’, sale catalogue, 12 March 1959, pp. 17–20, lot 85.
Christopher Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, 1978, vol. II, p. 125, fig. 221.
Judith Goodison, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale Junior, 2017, pp. 264–72.
James Christie, The Manor House, Framingham Pigot, Norwich, England, a direct descendant of the founder of Christie’s auction house, until 1959.
Patrick C. Hall, Longford Hall, Shropshire, England, until 1966.
Hyde Park Antiques Inc., New York, USA.
Private collection, USA.
Hyde Park Antiques Inc., New York, USA.
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