This magnificent Carlton House Boulle-inlaid table pattern, or 'loo' games-table, appears to have been invented for George, Prince of Wales, later King George IV, around 1813. Two pairs of closely related Boulle (or 'buhl') circular drum tables were supplied to the Prince of Wales by Parker: the first pair was invoiced on 5 April 1814 at the considerable cost of £315 (PRO/LC9/367) and the second pair invoiced in 1817 at the only slightly less substantial cost of £210 ['two round buhl tables with Boys chased heads Mouldings with drawer' (V&A archives)]. The first pair (in première and contre partie Boulle marquetry) is presently in the Green Drawing Room, Windsor Castle; the whereabouts of the second pair is not known, and it is possible that the present table is one half of the second pair of tables delivered by Parker, as suggested by Christopher Gilbert in 1996 (Gilbert, op. cit., p. 43).
Alternatively, it may correspond to the round table invoiced by Thomas Parker in 1817 to the Hon. Mrs Leigh who made purchases from Parker between 1817-1830 totalling £160 10s including a circular inlaid table and a pair of black ebony cabinets, both ornamented with ormolu. The signature on the drawer of George Wall Parker (see below), was almost certainly a kinsman of Thomas Parker and probably a cabinet-maker in the latter's employ before he set up on his own in Piccadilly in 1818 (Gilbert, loc. cit.; and G. Beard and C. Gilbert (ed.), Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p. 675).
CARLTON HOUSE TASTE
The table reflects the antique style introduced for the Prince at Carlton House, his palatial Piccadilly mansion, by the architect Henry Holland (d.1806) with assistance from Charles Heathcote Tatham (d.1842), the Rome-trained architect and author of Etchings Representing the Best Examples of Ancient Ornamental Architecture, London, 1799 (see Queen's Gallery exhibition catalogue, Carlton House: The Past Glories of George IV's Palace, 1991, no. 62). The Prince, whose taste for rich French court furniture was encouraged by Paris-trained marchand-merciers or dealer/decorators, introduced two of these circular tables, executed in the 'Louis Quatorze' French fashion as practised by André-Charles Boulle, in première partie and matched contre-partie, to Carlton House's Golden Drawing Room in 1814 (see W.H. Pyne, Royal Residences, 1817-1820, vol. 3, p. 60). They were probably commissioned in 1813 via the Prince's celebrated 'Furniture Man' Benjamin Vulliamy (d. 1821), and were executed by Thomas Parker, while trading as 'Cabinet & Buhl Manufacturer to the Prince Regent and Royal Family' from premises established in Air Street in 1808. By the time of Wild's watercolour views published in Pyne's Royal Residences in 1818, one table is seen in the Golden Drawing Room and another, possibly slightly different, is in The Blue Velvet Closet, suggesting that both pairs were at Carlton House in 1818. One pair was then restored in the 1820s for use at Windsor Castle by Nicholas Morel (d. 1830): both tables remain in the Green Drawing Room (see H. Roberts, For the King's Pleasure: The Furnishing and Decoration of George IV's Apartments at Windsor Castle, London, 2001, pp. 98, 102 & 115; account nos. 115 & 116).
GREAT REGENCY COLLECTORS
The early 19th century taste for French furniture and objects in England is best demonstrated in the person of the Prince Regent: his furnishing of Carlton House, Buckingham Palace and the renovation of apartments at Windsor show the ambition and scale of his collecting, especially that of the French decorative arts. Where the Prince led, others followed, and it was in collecting masterpieces by Boulle that English collectors sought to emulate the collections formed by the Prince Regent. It may have been in this fashion of collecting that George Byng sought to burnish his family's already distinguished collections at Wrotham by his acquisition of the pair of caskets and cabinet-on-stand by André-Charles Boulle, lots 100-101 in this sale.
The present table matches the Royal table veneered in première-partie, and has its frieze wreathed in golden bas-relief heads of festive oak-wreathed satyrs issuing between tortoiseshell-ground golden tablets that are shell-inlaid with seventeenth-century courtly figures and flowers vases wreathed by ribbon-tied foliage in the Roman manner popularised by the engraved Oeuvres of Jean Bérain (d. 1711). The present table differs from the pair of tables now at Windsor in that the design on the drawers of the latter pair is repeated on all the drawer fronts, whereas the present table features two alternating patterns of inlay; the veneered walnut angles of the tripod support, are ebony-veneered in the examples at Windsor; and the shell at the end of the ormolu foot is of a slightly different design; there is also a ¾ in.-1 in. variation in the size.
THE PARKER DYNASTY
Thomas Parker was established at 19 Air Street, Piccadilly from 1808-17 and then at 22 Warwick Street, Golden Square from 1817-27 and finally at 32 Warwick Street until 1830 after which date the firm closed. The Prince Regent favoured the firm as Parker supplied the prince with a pair of caskets-on-stands for Carlton House in January 1813 (the companion pair at Woburn Abbey: see P. van Duin, 'Two Pairs of Boulle caskets on stands by Thomas Parker, Furniture History, 1989, pp. 214-217); the pair of drum tables in April 1814 at a cost of £315 (Carlton House: The Past Glories of George IV's Palace, 1991, p. 108) and a second pair of drum tables in 1817 costing £210. George Wall Parker is recorded in Piccadilly in 1818 and was clearly related to Thomas Parker (Gilbert, op. cit, p. 43). Both men were Freemen of Canterbury and other cabinet-making Parkers are recorded in Kent, including John Parker, established in Deal from 1800-1829, and a Thomas Parker recorded in Canterbury in 1796.
If the present table is one half of the 1817 Carlton House pair, it is not recorded at Windsor and may have left the Royal collection before the destruction of Carlton House in 1827. Presumably George IV chose one of the two similar pairs of tables to furnish his new apartments at Windsor, leaving the other pair to an unknown fate.
On the other hand, if the present table is assumed to be the Leigh table delivered in 1817, the same year as the second pair for Carlton House, it was supplied to the Hon. Julia Twisleton, daughter of Thomas 7th Baron Saye and Sele, who married James Henry Leigh (d.1823) of Adlestrop, Gloucestershire in 1786. Leigh later inherited Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire on the death of his cousin Mary Leigh in 1806. Their London house is recorded as Grove House, Knightsbridge (no longer extant) (The Stoneleigh Papers, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-on-Avon, DR/18/5; see also the introduction to Christie's sale catalogue of selected contents of Stoneleigh Abbey, Christie's, London, 15-16 October 1981). Grove House was situated at the northern end of the Spring Gardens, now Lowndes Square (J. Greenacombe, ed., Survey of London: Knightsbridge, vol. XLV, 2000, p. 31 & plate 5c).