This magnificent cabinet-on-stand, intended for the display of Chinese porcelain, a masterpiece of rococo design and cabinet-making, almost certainly emanated from the St Martin's Lane workshop of the greatest of British cabinet-makers, Thomas Chippendale. Crafted in the fashionable mid-18th century French or 'Modern' style adopted by Chippendale in his furniture patterns published in his Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director (1754), it is closely comparable in many details to another of Chippendale's masterpieces conceived around the same time: the Dumfries House bookcase.
The cabinet formed part of the celebrated collection's at Kenure Park, a majestic Georgian mansion overlooking the sea in the small town of Rush, north east of Dublin. The house was originally built in 1703 and greatly enlarged when it suffered damage from a fire in 1827. It was owned by the Dukes of Ormonde and then Sir Henry Echlin, Bt. who lost the estate through gaming debts. It was owned by the Palmer family from the 18th cenutury until 1964 at which time Colonel R.H. Fenwick-Palmer auctioned off the contents and sold the estate to the Irish Land Commission. The house was demolished in 1978.
THE PALMERS OF KENURE
This beautiful cabinet is most likely to have been commissioned by Sir Roger Palmer, 1st Bt., of Castlelackan, co. Mayo and MP for Jamestown and later Portarlington, who came into ownership of Kenure Park upon his first cousin, Roger Palmer's death in 1811. In 1751, Sir Roger had married Eleanor, daughter of Michael Ambrose of Ambrose Hall, co. Dublin, a Catholic who amassed a large fortune as a brewer. Eleanor was considered one of the most influential beauties of her time - witty, fashionable and a fervent patriot. Despite her Catholicism, she became an integral part of Dublin society and most notably, a close friend of The Earl of Chesterfield, the Viceroy.
The less likely alternative is that the cabinet was commissioned by the first Palmer to own Kenure, Francis Palmer of Castle Lacken, Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, who married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Robert Echlin, 2nd Bt. (d. 1757). It was the Palmers who changed the property name to Kenure Park. The name 'Kenure' is an anglicized version of 'Ceann Iubhair' meaning a headland of yew trees. The property descended to their son, Robert Palmer who died in 1811.
THE EARL OF CHESTERFIELD AND THE IRISH BEAUTY
Chesterfield himself was an arbiter of fashion, not least as a leading proponent of the rococo or 'modern' fashion and may have possibly influenced Eleanor's taste - Chesterfield House at the middle of the eighteenth century reflected the most sophisticated of interiors, in Lord Chesterfield's own words, 'entièrement à la Française'. It is tempting to suggest that Lord Chesterfield's passion for rococo furnishings and interiors may have influenced the Palmer's choice of the ne plus ultra of rococo cabinet-maker'S, Thomas Chippendale, whose recently published Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director would have provided a perfect source of newly fashionable furnishings.
Chesterfield was besotted by Eleanor, recounting to King George II that he found 'only one dangerous papist [in Ireland], the brightness of whose eyes and charms, and whose conversation were indeed dangerous'. He is also thought to have written the famous lines:
'Tell me Ambrose where's the jest
Of wearing orange on thy breast
When underneath that bosom shows
The whiteness of a rebel rose'
In spite of his wife's support for the Irish cause and her co-religionists, it was thought to have been by Chesterfield's good graces that Roger Palmer was appointed baronet in 1777. Eleanor died in 1818 at the age of 98.
Kenure was the ancient property of the Dukes of Ormonde, until it was confiscated from him at the beginning of the 18th century in the 'Williamite Confiscation of Ireland'. Known up to the 18th century as Rush House, it was owned by Elizabeth Palmer's (née Echlin) first cousin, Sir Henry Echlin, 3rd Bt. The Echlins came into ownership in 1714 when the 2nd Duke of Ormonde fled to France for his support of the Jacobite claim to the throne. Sir Henry Echlin lost the estate due to gaming debts and Elizabeth, disinherited by her father for her unsuitable marriage, was all too happy to purchase the property with her husband Roger Palmer in 1780. Kenure Park had celebrated rococo interiors, including both decorative plasterwork (see illustration) and carved woodwork. The collection was impressive and included several notable pieces such as an impressive ormolu-mounted lacquer commode by emigrant cabinet-maker Pierre Langlois. This self-consciously French-style commode was also among the objects chosen for the Rococo Exhibition (no. L54, p. 179). A pair of chairs attributed to William and Richard Gomm, and included as lot 334 in the Kenure Park house sale in 1964, was sold anonymously, Christie's, New York, 27 October 2006, lot 100 ($408,000). The house was later further aggrandised following a fire in 1827, when the house was modified by George Papworth (d. 1855).
THE ATTRIBUTION TO CHIPPENDALE
The cabinet is based on numerous elements found in several of Chippendale's patterns published in his Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1st edition 1754 and also in the 2nd edition of 1755 which incorporated only minor revisions. These include a canopy pattern with imbricated roof, seen in the lower right corner of plate 139; a similar canopy with scrolled corners was published as part of a bed canopy on plate 32; the stand's pierced columns and rockwork base is identified in plate 38; the glazed door's carved ornament of rockwork and foliage relates to that on a 'Gothick Cabinet' in plate 95; while one of the closest patterns to The Kenure Cabinet is for a 'Chinese Cabinet', featuring closely related glazing-bar pattern and also a pattern for an imbricated canopy (here incorporated as part of a door embellishment) - these designs were published as plate 93. Another closely-related pattern, in particular to the upper part of The Kenure Cabinet, is plate 119: which depicts a 'China Shelf' with central pagoda-canopied stage flanked by Chinese figures and slightly lower side canopies. The side doors also feature related glazing-bar patterns. Finally, another 'China Shelf' pattern featuring a central, taller pagoda-canopied stage flanked by lower side stages, also with canopies, was published as plate 118. Interestingly, the two latter patterns also featured plans for the profile of the cabinets: with central breakfront section, identical to The Kenure Cabinet. In fact almost every pattern published in the 'China Shelf' and 'China Case' section of the Director (plates 105-119) incorporates some design element seen in The Kenure Cabinet. The pattern of the door-mouldings cogently conforms to established rococo patterns and this is seen most closely on the doors of a 'Desk & Bookcase' on plate 80. A chimneypiece overmantel pattern published by Matthias Lock and Henry Copland in their A New Book of Ornaments (1752), amply displays the happy co-existence of wild rococo patterns surmounted by a Chinese pagoda canopy.
Whilst the inclusion of such elements do not constitute grounds for an attribution to Chippendale, physical examination of the cabinet, and its similarities with the related secretaire-bookcase that he supplied to William, 5th Earl of Dumfries in 1759 confirm the attribution (see C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II., figs. 64, 264 & colour plate 2; Christie's London, Dumfries House sale catalogue, vol. I, 12 July 2007, lot 40). The similarities here include the exceptionally rich use of padouk which is then partly oil-gilded, an almost identical treatment of the carved cornice, the same beaded moulding on the glazing-bars, the use of the six-screw hinges, and, as at Dumfries, some of these screw-holes are not drilled (the Dumfries cabinet used both four and six-screw hinges); and a reliance on Director patterns for the design of its elements. The Kenure cabinet never lacks for quality: this is perhaps most clearly evident on the ends of the doors where even the tenons, demonstrating the door's construction, are veneered.
The original gilding on the cabinet was oil gilding. There was no gesso applied, and the yellow oil size was applied directly to the wood. The original oil gilding was found in the three samples taken from the cabinet [door, pagoda canopy, and waterleaf molding around top of cabinet], but not in the two samples taken from the stand. The most recent gilding, which is used on the cabinet and on the stand, is a water gilding, applied over a white gesso ground. It is impossible to be certain about the date of the clays, but the pinkish-brown clay used here looks twentieth-century in date.