This previously unrecorded Indian rosewood and marquetry kneehole dressing-bureau is a superb example of Chippendale’s neo-classical marquetry furniture. It is virtually identical to one formerly in the collection of Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood (1713-95) at Harewood House, Yorkshire, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (1). The Harewood dressing-bureau was acquired by the museum in 1928 with the aid of the NACF (National Art Collections Fund) and the furniture dealer, Frank Partridge, acting as an intermediary for Henry Lascelles, 5th Earl of Harewood (1846-1929) (2). Although this comparable dressing-bureau is not listed in the surviving Chippendale accounts, which total £6,838 19s 1d, and date from 30 December 1772 to 7 June 1777, the bills are incomplete and only cover three principal rooms at the mansion (3). Tantalisingly, an earlier bill for £3,024 19s 3d, delivered on 30 December 1772, is referred to but no longer exists. Notwithstanding, Chippendale’s commission for Edwin Lascelles at Harewood House was arguably the most important and valuable of his career, and almost certainly exceeded £10,000 (4).
This dressing-bureau was owned by Lady Elizabeth Child-Villiers, née van Reede (1821-97), youngest daughter of Reynoud Diederik Jacob van Reede, 7th Earl of Athlone (1773-1823); she acquired it either when she married the Hon. Frederick Child-Villiers (1815-71), third son of George Child-Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey (1753-1859), of Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire and 38 Berkeley Square, London, and his wife, Lady Sarah Sophia Fane (1785-1867), granddaughter and heiress of Robert Child (1739-82) of Osterley Park, Middlesex or through her side of the family, the Earls of Athlone. As it seems most probable that she inherited it from her parents-in-law, it is likely to have been commissioned by Robert Child given the close parallels between Chippendale furniture at Osterley and Harewood: the present dressing-bureau and the one from Harewood; as well as a fall-front lacquer secretaire supplied by Chippendale to Robert Child for Osterley Park in circa 1775 and an almost identical one from the collection at Harewood, now on display at Temple Newsam House, Leeds (5).
In 1849, the Hon. Frederick Child-Villiers and Lady Elizabeth acquired Sulby Hall, Northamptonshire, where they retained a large household (6). Eight years later, they increased their Northamptonshire estate through the purchase of the remainder of the Sibbertoft estate. Elizabeth Villiers survived her husband by twenty-five years, continuing to live at Sulby Hall in some style. When she died without issue on 7 January 1897, she left her estates at Sulby, Sibbertoft and Welford and effects to the value of £128,220 3s 2d to her half-niece and god-daughter, Miss Elizabeth Henrietta Mansel (d. 1934) (7). Elizabeth, known as ‘Kitty’, lived at Sulby for about a decade until circa 1911 when the Northamptonshire estates were sold to Major Guy Paget (Sulby Hall, now demolished). Some of her furniture was moved from Sulby Hall to her London house at Hyde Park Gardens, and this may have included the present dressing-bureau (8).
THE DESIGN AND MARQUETRY
Designed with a dual function as a dressing-table and as a writing-desk or ‘Buroe Dressing Table’, it conforms to designs in Chippendale’s Director (1754); the door panels of this dressing-bureau open to reveal three drawers flanking a recessed cupboard – the exact configuration of the Director designs. In the preface, Chippendale describes the designs as follows: ‘Plate XLI is a Bureau Dressing-Table with its dimensions and mouldings at large, ornamented with fretwork, Etc. Plate XLII is for the same use; the dimensions are fixed to the design’.
The height given for each of Chippendale's design - 2 ft. 8 ins. - corresponds exactly with the measurement for this dressing-bureau, and the Harewood example. These dimensions also match those of a mahogany ‘buroe table’ supplied by Chippendale in 1774 to Ninian Home (1732-95), Paxton House, Berwickshire, almost certainly for the principal bedroom apartment (9). Like the Harewood example, the frieze drawer of this dressing-bureau is fitted out with compartments of various sizes, two of which contain small 18th century glass bottles intended for perfume oils or other toiletries. While the elegant feet of this dressing-bureau and the Harewood example seem to be unique to Chippendale’s executed furniture, a drawing for a commode attributed to Chippendale, and dated circa 1760, held in the Prints & Drawings department of the Victoria & Albert Museum, illustrates a related foot; such feet, although not identical, appear on a pair of commodes attributed to Chippendale, now at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight (10). This design was acquired by the museum together with other drawings by Matthias Lock (1710-65), cabinet-maker and designer. The presence of Chippendale’s designs in Lock’s papers reinforce the assumption that Lock and Chippendale collaborated professionally, though, it seems more likely that Lock provided piece-work carving for Chippendale's larger projects. This design is not featured in Chippendale’s Director.
The marquetry ornamentation of this dressing-bureau can be found on other furniture by Chippendale. The classical urns on the door panels relate to ornamentation found on a pair of commodes supplied by Chippendale to William Constable in 1774 for either his London house in Mansfield Street or his country seat, Burton Constable, Yorkshire (11). The occurrence of husk or drapery pendant swags sometimes combined with full or demi-lune paterae on frieze drawers, in addition to cross-grain moulding, appears to be a regular occurrence on Chippendale’s marquetry furniture; most notably the Diana & Minerva commode at Harewood, the ‘Renishaw commode’, originally supplied to Lord Melbourne for Melbourne House, Piccadilly, and a commode and pair of pier tables en suite made for the best dressing room at Denton Hall (12). In fact, the neo-classical rectilinear form and marquetry of both this dressing-bureau and the Harewood example compare to other marquetry furniture Chippendale made for Harewood. In addition to that already cited, see the quarter veneering and inlaid bellflower pendants of a satinwood secretaire, the urns on the highly ornate library table, and the prominent fan roundels on a dressing commode; all of this Harewood marquetry furniture was supplied in the early 1770s (13).
(1) W.55:1 to -1928.
(3) C. Gilbert, The Life & Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 195.
(5) Christie's, London, 3 July 1997, lot 80 (£309,500 inc. premium).
(6) H. Bird, ‘Sulby Hall and its Owners 1700-1950’, Northamptonshire Past & Present, no. 63, 2010, p. 66.
(7) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966.
(8) H. Bird, ‘Sulby Hall: Further Information’, Northamptonshire Past & Present, no. 66, 2013, p. 52.
(9) Christie’s, London, 14 May 2003, lot 140 (£77,675 inc. premium), and later, Sotheby’s, London, 10 November 2015, lot 123.
(10) D.734-1906; Gilbert, op. cit., vol. II, p. 128, fig. 229.
(11) D. Dodd, L. Wood, ‘The “Weeping Women” commode and other orphaned furniture at Stourhead by the Chippendales, Senior and Junior’, Furniture History, 2011, p. 58, fig. 5; sold Christie’s, New York, 26 October 1985, lot 152, and Christie’s, London, 9 July 1992, lot 55.
(12) Gilbert, op. cit., p. 131, figs. 235 and 236; p. 129, fig. 230.
(13) Ibid., p. 62, fig. 97; p. 242, fig. 442; p. 129, fig. 231.