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Property of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

CIRCA 1760

CIRCA 1760
The octagonal top with pierced fretwork gallery above a shaped foliate-carved stem and downcurved acanthus-carved legs ending in scroll toes
31 ½ in. (80 cm.) high, 20 ¼ in. (51.5 cm.) wide
The late Fred Skull, Esq., Bassetbury Manor, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, sold Christie's London, 23 April 1952, lot 262 (to Rubin, presumably for Pelham Galleries, for £682 10s).
Judge Irwin Untermyer, New York, bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1964.
C. Hussey, 'Bassetbury – II. High Wycombe, Bucks., The Residence of Mr. F. Skull’, Country Life, 7 October 1933, p. 365, fig. 7 (the table shown in situ in the Garden Room at Bassetbury).
Y. Hackenbroch, English Furniture with some furniture of other countries in the Irwin Untermyer Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958, pl. 201, fig. 239.
F. L. Hinckley, Metropolitan Furniture of the Georgian Years, New York, 1988, plate 70, fig. 154.
F. L. Hinckley, A Directory of Queen Anne, Early Georgian and Chippendale Furniture, New York, 1971, pl. 155, fig. 357.
London, Grafton Galleries, Exhibition of Art Treasures, British Antique Dealer's Association, 30 April - 26 May 1928 (exhibited by Fred Skull).

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Lot Essay

With its 'Roman' acanthus-sheathed pillar above unusual inscrolled voluted legs, this tripod table relates to designs for 'Claw Tables’ published in Ince & Mayhew's pattern book, Universal System of Household Furniture of 1759-62, plate XIII. Such tables were often used for holding tea and coffee equipage, thus also often called Tea-Tables in late 17th and 18th Century terminology. By the mid-18th century with the proliferation of tea-drinking, tea gardens in London had been found to be gathering spots for the more unsavory elements of society, leading the well-heeled and fashionable ton of the day to retire to private tea-rooms appropriately furnished with such ornamental tables.

This unusual table belongs to an identifiable group whose maker has yet to be identified. The most direct comparison is from the same extraordinary Fred Skull collection and differs only in the thinner profile of its stem. This example was later sold from the J. Ivan Yates, Esq. collection, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 2 April 1971, lot 33. Another virtually identical table was sold from an Important Private Collection formed under the guidance of R. W. Symonds, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 27 May 1982, lot 98 (illustrated in G. B. Hughes, 'Mahogany Claw Tables', Country Life, 17 March 1955). Other notable examples from the same group include one illustrated in M. Jourdain and F. Rose, English Furniture: The Georgian Period (1750-1830), London, 1953, p. 107, fig. 75 (with photo credit to Phillips of Hitchin, Ltd.), and subsequently sold from the collection of Jerome C. Neuhoff, Sotheby's, New York, 25 January 1986, lot 190. A further tea table with closely related base but with a rectangular tray-top, is illustrated in R. Edwards and P. Macquoid, eds., The Dictionary of English Furniture, 1927, vol. III, p. 198, fig. 10. The same table is also illustrated in the 1953 edition of the Dictionary, vol. III, p. 198, fig. 10 (as with Frank Partridge and Sons).

Another of the same profile as the Skull / Untermyer table with imbricated carving was sold Christie's, London, 9 July 1992, lot 148. Further examples include: one formerly in the Arthur Leidesdorf collection, subsequently sold from a New England Collection, Christie’s, New York, 13 April 2000, lot 19 ($99,500), and a jardinière with similarly conceived base although more elaborately carved, sold Sotheby's New York, 11 October 1996, lot 344 ($123,500).

The Untermyer table shares the same unusual gallery delicately incised with opposing scrolls to each corner with a solid galleried example sold Christie’s, New York, 29-30 November 2012, lot 148.


The table formed part of the exceptional collection of Fred Skull, formed under the guidance of the great furniture historian R. W. Symonds in the early 20th century. In 1929, Skull purchased and restored Bassetbury Manor, a Jacobean country house in High Wycombe. The house and collection are discussed in a two-part article in Country Life, 30 September 1933, pp. 338-341 and 7 October 1933, pp. 362-366. A number of pieces from the Skull collection are illustrated in The Dictionary of English Furniture, including a kettle stand (1927, vol. III, p. 151, fig. 3) which shows in the same photograph of the Garden Room as the tripod table. The collection, including this table, was sold by Christie's on 23 April 1952 following Fred Skull's death.

R. W. Symonds was instrumental in building the most notable collections of the early 20th century including Percival Griffiths, whose furniture was used to illustrate his seminal book, English Furniture from Charles II to George II (1929). This publication brought the Griffiths collection to the forefront, extolling the virtues of deeply patinated timbers and quality workmanship which characterized their choices. Symonds' and Griffiths’s pursuit of exceptional objects has become a benchmark for collectors of English furniture today.


The spectacular collection of British decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is in large part due to the generosity of a single benefactor, Judge Irwin Untermyer. A significant number of the outstanding objects currently on view in the Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries bear his name. By the time of his death in 1973, Judge Untermyer had left the Museum over two thousand works of art from an impressive collection that was refined and augmented over the course of his life.

As a collector, Untermyer had broad interests. By his own account, he started buying artwork at the time of his marriage in 1912, when his parents presented him “with a few nice things” for his home so that he “began to think of adding to them.” But the finest part of his collection consisted of English furniture, silver, needlepoint and porcelain.

For some twenty years Judge Untermyer served on the Museum's Board of Trustees, and highlights of his collection were exhibited there in 1977. In his forward to Yvonne Hackenbroch's magnificent catalogue English Furniture . . . in the Irwin Untermyer Collection of 1958, he wrote: “there has never been any time during the past forty five years when I have not been interested in the acquisition of English furniture.” As seen clearly in photographs of his Fifth Avenue apartment, his passion was for oak, walnut and mahogany furniture leading up to the reign of George III.

With the planned renovation of the Aitken Galleries in mind The Metropolitan Museum of Art is carefully reviewing its holdings of English decorative arts. As a result, it has decided to sell pieces in categories that are particularly strongly represented, such as carved mahogany furniture. The sale of these objects will make possible the acquisition of pieces less well-represented in the collection, such as examples dating to the nineteenth century. In this way when the Galleries reopen in 2018 they will better demonstrate the stylistic development of British furniture from the 16th century up to around 1900.

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