THE MIDDLETON PARK LIBRARY TABLE
This elegant library table typifies the high quality work of the Little Newport Street and Upper Marylebone Street cabinet-makers John McLean and Son (active 1770-1815). Although unlabelled, it can be attributed to this firm, first on account of an almost identical table, labelled by McLean, at Saltram, Devon and second, by the almost certain association of this table with that described in McLean's invoice to George, 5th Earl of Jersey for Berkeley Square:
A Rosewood round library writing table elegantly mounted with ormolu moulding, lined with leather, cedar Drawers and varnished ... £26.10..
The invoice is dated 22 April 1806. Furthermore, McLean's invoices note crating and delivering items from Berkeley Square to Middleton, amongst which is included 'a Library Table pillar and top' (Redburn, loc. cit.). Whilst it is not yet possible to identify the buyer of the table from the Middleton Park 1934 house sale, that Cecil McWatters was moving into lodgings in Oxford around this time would suggest that he may have acquired it at the sale himself, or from an intermediary who had purchased it from the house sale.
The table's design displays the distinct fusion of Grecian and Egyptian motifs with early 19th century Parisian fashion. McLean advertised that it specialized in 'Elegant Parisian Furniture' and many elements of the table have a clear French influence combined with English restraint. The table is made in Grecian black-figured rosewood; the preferred wood of the firm for its rich qualities and dramatic contrast to the gilded wood and metal mounts. The most dominant feature of the table's decoration is the lavish use of metalwork in cast and shaped brass. The ribbed brass metal border around the top and bottom edge of the table and the mounts of the legs reflect the golden tablets of the frieze and is enriched with 'Egyptian' striations. These tablets, previously popularized at the court of Louis XVI by the manufactures of the ébéniste David Roentgen, were a favoured ornament of the firm, and are also found on the legs of two sofa tables (illustrated in Redburn, op. cit., pls. 41A and B), and on a sofa table attributed to John McLean and Son, sold anonymously, Christie's London, 24 April 2008, lot 416.
An almost identical rosewood library table is in the Library at Saltram, Devon (Redburn, op. cit. pl. 42B). It features the earlier label of John McLean where he is recorded at Pancrass Street and 58 Upper Marylebone Street from c. 1799-1805. A painting by Nicholas Condy, c. 1825, shows this table in situ with the Earl and Countess of Morley and their family surrounding. The painting highlights the brass-mounts of the table and its multi-functional use as a focal point within the room for reading and writing.
Furthermore, another table with very similar metalwork, was sold anonymously, Pescheteau-Badin, Godeau et Leroy/Ricqlès, Drouot-Richelieu, Paris, 14 December, 1998, lot 186 (FF850,000) and yet another, formerly with Devenish & Co., New York, was sold anonymously, Christie's, London, 18 June 2008, lot 2 (£109,250).
Another table with ribbed tablet mounts on the frieze and legs and attributed to John McLean was with Norman Adams, Ltd., and subsequently sold by Mr. and Mrs. Herzog, Sotheby's New York, 12 and 13 April 1985, lot 205 ($35,750 including premium). Another table but with mille raie panels on the legs and mahogany-lined drawers was sold anonymously, Christie's London, 18 June 2008, lot 2 (£109,250).
The table's altar-drum is wreathed by golden Arcadian 'Pan' reeds and its frieze is enriched with tablets, sunk in the French-fashion and framed by golden palm leaves around the drawers. Masks of the satyr Pan bear festive trophies of musical instruments including the rustic pipes, flutes and bacchante tambourines ribbon-tied with a stringed instrument and music-sheet. The accompanying golden bas-reliefs evoke Ovid's Metamorphoses, pastoral poetry and the history of Apollo's Mt. Parnassus triumph.
MCLEAN & SON
The first appearance of the name 'McLean' can be found on the south side of Little Newport Street, Leicester Square in June 1770, where a 'Jn. McLean' rented a 'Ho & workshops' until 1783. A trade card for the Newport Street Address advertises that he was a 'Cabinet, Chair Maker and Upholder' (ibid., p. 31). From 1790 until the firm's demise in 1825, they are recorded at 55/58 Upper Marylebone Street and from c. 1799-1805, also in Pancrass Street. McLean and Son also gained a notable mention in Thomas Sheraton's Cabinet Dictionary in 1803. One of the 'fashionable Pieces of Cabinet Furniture' included a 'Pouch Table', whose design was taken and 'executed by Mr. M'Lean in Mary-le-bone street, near Tottenham court road, who finishes these small articles in the neatest manner' (ibid., p. 31).