Bearing a 19th century inventory brand for a Palace or Government building, this moveable étagère, or 'whatnot' bookcase, has a china-railed top for the display of small ornaments (formerly called 'whatnots'). It belongs to the type of small and useful furniture introduced around 1800 to comfortable living-room parlours, and is designed in the antique fashion illustrated in pattern books issued by Thomas Sheraton. Its Egyptian lion-headed bronze bas-reliefs are framed in tablets of golden veneer that embellish its 'commode' chest of drawers. The bands of Grecian-black ribbon frets are echoed by the inlay of the shelves, and that of tablets incorporated in the reed-banded Pompeian pillars. These animal heads, derived from celebrated basalt antiquities of the Vatican Museum, were popularised by an engraving issued by the Rome-trained architect Charles Heathcote Tatham (d. 1842) in, Etchings of Ancient Ornamental Architecture, 1799. Tatham served as architect to George IV, when Prince of Wales, and also to the connoisseur Thomas Hope, who embellished two Egyptian couches at his Duchess Street mansion with bronze lion finials that are likely to have been executed by the Regent Street bronze and ormolu manufacturer Alexis Decaix (d. 1811) (see T. Hope, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1807 (pl. 17). Decaix has been credited with the manufacture of the same patterned lion-head, that features in company with an Egyptian bronze vestal figure on a French-fashioned inskstand (M. Levy, 'Taking up the Pen', Country Life, 23 April 1992, p.61 fig. 4)
In 1811 the Prince Regent had instructed John Nash to alter Cumberland Lodge for his personal use, work which was abandoned in 1814. The house was still usable by the Prince's guests and there is an invoice for £2,000 for furniture from Tatham, Bailey and Saunders in 1815. It is possible that this étagère could conceivably have formed part of this commission and remained in the house throughout its 1823-73 changes of occupation (J. Roberts, Royal Landscape: The Gardens and Parks of Windsor, New Haven, 1997, pp. 343-4 and p. 576, n. 77). However, whilst it is stylistically close to the work of Tatham, Bailey and Saunders, complementary furnishings en suite with this whatnot are not recorded in the Royal Collection and without more comprehensive inventory brands, it is impossible to trace its origin more succinctly.
We are extremely grateful to Jonathan Marsden, Esq. CVO, Deputy Surveyor of the Royal Collection, for his assistance.