This superb secretaire-chest, with its marquetry of Roman foliate scrolls, classical urns and gout grec borders by Chippendale is for a bedroom apartment window-pier, and relates to the antique Etruscan style promoted by the Rome-trained architect Robert Adam (1728-92). It forms part of a group of marquetry furniture considered the cabinet-maker’s finest in terms of quality, skill and value, which includes, most notably, the ‘Diana and Minerva’ commode (1773), supplied to Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood (1713-95) at Harewood House, Yorkshire, the ‘Renishaw’ commode (circa 1775), now at Renishaw Hall, Yorkshire, but originally commissioned for Sir Peniston Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne (1745-1828), for Melbourne House, Piccadilly, and the ‘Panshanger’ cabinets (circa 1773), now at Firle Place, East Sussex but likewise supplied to Lord Melbourne for Melbourne House.
The urn-inlaid oval panels to the doors of this secretaire-chest are virtually identical to those on a commode supplied by Chippendale for Lady Winn’s bedchamber at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, in 1770 (1). Chippendale’s work at Nostell Priory for Sir Rowland Winn is well-documented and extensive accounts exist from 1766 until 1785. The design of the urn, placed within a finely figured oval ground, with its palmette spray finial, Greek key handles and foliate-wrapped ribbed body are all but indistinguishable from the Nostell commode. Of note, a further pair of commodes supplied by Chippendale to William Constable, for the Drawing-Room of his house in Mansfield Street, London features similar urn-inlaid panels and interior drawer arrangement (2).
The geometric strapwork border of this cabinet is a continuation of the cut-corner panel rendered in carved mahogany. It relates to marquetry found on the dressing-bureau (lot 5 in this sale), and also appears on a similar secretaire (3) and a pair of pedestals, part of the Dining room sideboard suite, supplied by Chippendale to Harewood House in circa 1771 (4).
By further comparison, the motif of a palmette and foliate scroll issuing from a bellflower that appears on the uprights of this secretaire-cabinet also features on the Panshanger cabinets, and on the top of the Nostell commode. The Roman foliate scroll frieze terminating in florets on the upper section of this cabinet is also found on the top of the ‘Diana and Minerva’ commode; this frieze was possibly inspired by the designs of Michelangelo Pergolesi, who was specifically called from Rome to London by Adam to collaborate on the publication he was preparing, Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro [sic] in Dalmatia (1764) (5). Other inlay is also probably derived from Pergolesi, including the marquetry on the uprights of the lower section, and the guilloche border encircling the oval panels (6). Pergolesi subsequently compiled his series of prints, which have been described as ‘Rococo ornament in classical disguise’, into Designs for various ornaments, etc., published over a long period from 1777 to 1801 (7). Interestingly, while Chippendale dedicated the first two editions of the Director to Hugh Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland (from 1766, 1st Duke) (1714-86), a notable patron of the arts, Pergolesi too included an In-Memoriam plate ‘To the Memory of the Late Most High and Puissant Prince Hugh Percy Duke of Northumberland’ in a posthumous edition of Designs (8).
The secretaire-chest displays distinctive Grecian-scrolled feet inlaid with bellflower chains and Greek key as adapted from a Louis XIV pattern for a sarcophagus-commode issued by Jean Berain (1638-1711) (9). Similarly, patterned feet with the same details rendered in ormolu appear on a pair of Chippendale commodes reputedly supplied for the 1st Duke of Wellington, one of which is in the public collections at the Lady Lever Gallery, Port Sunlight and the other sold Christie's London, 6 July 1995, lot 152 and again, 4 July 1996, lot 398 (10). These feet also feature on the remarkable commode supplied to Sir Rowland Winn for 11 St. James’s Square (lot 10 in this sale) (11). Both the Wellington commodes and Sir Rowland Winn’s commode are derived from a Chippendale design of circa 1762 in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and both also display the same geometric strapwork-bordered doors that appear on this piece (12). Furthermore, the feet on this cabinet have been supported by laminated blocks, glued together and then glued behind the brackets to give the foot great strength and resilience; a workshop practice much favoured by Chippendale.
(1) C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, figs. 221-222.
(2) Sold Christie's, London, 9 July 1992, lot 55.
(3) Sold Christie's, London, 24 November 2005, lot 131.
(4) Gilbert, op. cit., vol. II, figs. 350, 352, plate 7.
(5) Classical Ornament of the Eighteenth Century: Designed and engraved by Michelangelo Pergolesi, New York, 1970, plates 14, 25.
(6) Ibid., plates 33, 58.
(7) Ibid., p. VI.
(8) Ibid., plate 56b.
(9) L’Oeuvre Complet de Jean Bérain, Paris, n.d., plate 88.
(10) Illustrated in L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp. 184-185, fig. 168.
(11) Sold Christie's, London, 5 December 1991, lot 130.