THE DESIGN: 'ABUNDANCE THROUGH LABOUR'
The marble-topped pier table is designed in the George II 'Roman' fashion, and, with its frieze fretted in a Vitruvian wave-scroll and its truss-scrolled legs terminating in bacchic lion-paws, relates to a pattern issued in William Jones', The Gentleman or Builder's Companion, 1739 (pl. 27). In place of the latter's Venus-shell lambrequined cartouche appropriate for a sideboard-table, the present table celebrates the Roman concept of 'Abundance through Labour', and with its Herculean lion-pelt drapery relates to a sideboard pattern of the 1740s featured in the Drawing Book of the celebrated carver and pattern-book author Matthias Lock (P. Ward-Jackson, English Furniture Designs, London, 1958, pl. 48).
THE CLASSICAL ICONOGRAPHY
The marble topped sideboard-table is designed in the George II Romano British fashion promoted by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and his protegé the Rome-trained artist architect William Kent (d. 1748), whose related 1730s sideboard pattern featured in John Vardy's, Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones and Mr. William Kent, 1744 (pl. 41). Intended to harbour a wine-cistern underneath, it serves to evoke the harvest wine-deity Bacchus, and the festive Roman adage from Terence's poem The Eunuch: 'Sine Cerere et Baccho, friget Venus', or 'Love (Venus) grows cold without the presence of food (Ceres) and wine (Bacchus)'. Its Vitruvian frieze is fretted with a confronted and wave-scrolled ribbon-guilloche, and this ties the central lambrequin cartouche of a sacred veil that reveals a bacchic lion-head and is draped from the angles, which bear triumphal Venus shell badges. Appropriate for a sideboard, the lion, whose pelt festoons the drapery, also represents the triumph of the labouring hero Hercules. The latter, according to Ovid's Metamorphoses, or Loves of the Gods, was invited to attend the banquets of the Gods, where he was wedded to Jupiter's cup-bearer Hebe. Hercules also serves to recall the Georgian concept of 'Abundance through Labour'. Flowers embellish the Ionic wave-scrolled volutes of the trussed leg pilasters, which terminate in lion-monopodia and are festooned in triumphal palms issuing from Roman acanthus.
The collection formed by Percival D. Griffiths, F.S.A (d. 1938), under the wise counsel of R. W. Symonds is considered to be the greatest collection of English Furniture formed in the last century. Indeed, it was Griffiths' collection that provided the content for Symonds' seminal work English Furniture from Charles II to George II, 1929. The interiors at Sandridgebury are happily recalled in 'Sandridgebury: The Country Residence of Percival D. Griffiths', published by Symonds in Antiques, March 1931, pp. 193-196. Symonds later published 'Percival Griffiths, F.S.A.: A Memoir on a Great Collector of English Furniture', The Antique Collector, November-December 1943, pp. 163-169. His collection has come to be recognised as a benchmark of excellence, in the arena of collecting early to mid-18th century walnut and mahogany furniture and is discussed by E. Lennox-Boyd, 'Introduction: Collecting in the Symonds Tradition', Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, pp. 12-31.
Frederick Poke (d. 1974) was one of another slightly later group of distinguished collectors of English furniture advised by the furniture historian R. W. Symonds and his collection formed the basis of several articles by Symonds, published in The Connoisseur from 1939-1942 (C. Streeter & M. Barker, 'A Bibliography of Publications by Robert Wemyss Symonds', Furniture History, 1975, pp. 88-107). The dispersal of Griffiths' collection at Christie's in May 1939 provided the nucleus for at least six major collections, and Poke's was one of these. Items owned by Poke, like items owned by collectors within Symonds' 'circle', have continued to attract collectors: two of Poke's items were included in the private collection '50 Years of Collecting: The Decorative Arts of Georgian England', sold at Christie's, London, 14 May 2003 : lot 110 was a mahogany serpentine chest (£69,310) and lot 39 a mahogany serpentine Pembroke table (£128,450). A small group of twelve items of furniture and objects, was sold by a descendant of Poke's, Sotheby's, London, 13 June 2001, lots 69-81. The latter group included several items, like the present table, formerly in Griffiths' collection. A tripod table, owned by Griffiths and then Poke, was sold anonymously, Christie's, London, 14 June 2001, lot 39 (£82,950).
R. W. SYMONDS
The furniture historian, author and advisor, Robert Wemyss Symonds (1889-1958), dominated the field of collecting, just as he dominated writing about English furniture, in the middle of the twentieth century. Between 1921 and 1958 his five major books (The Present State of Old English Furniture, 1921; Old English Walnut and Lacquer Furniture, 1923; English Furniture from Charles II to George II ... from examples in the collection of Percival D. Griffiths, 1929; Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks, 1940; and Furniture Making in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century England: an outline for collectors, 1955) and countless articles formed and then reflected the taste of a generation. Among those he advised on their collections were Percival Griffiths (d. 1938) and J. S. Sykes, much of their furniture being used to illustrate his books. Another collector he advised was Samuel Messer, whose landmark sale took place at Christie's in December 1991. Frederick Poke was part of the group of collectors belonging to the second generation of those influenced by Symonds' ideas.
When finding furniture for his clients, Symonds laid particular emphasis on original patination, a well-balanced design and good quality carving and timber. Unlike many collectors today where provenance is paramount, Symonds' primary concern was that the piece stood on its own merits, with or without an illustrious background. These principals have endured and continue in collections that have been formed in more recent years, such as those created by Jon Gerstenfeld; and the late Simon Sainsbury, whose collection is to be offered for sale at Christie's, London on 18 June 2008.