This impressive bureau-cabinet would have been a significant commission by a patron entranced by the exotic art of the East. It can be confidently attributed to the workshop of Giles Grendey (1693-1780), the celebrated and prolific cabinet-maker of St. John's Square, Clerkenwell as it shares distinctive ornamentation and designs with labeled and documented examples from his workshop.
Grendey ran a substantial business from 1726 when he took on his first apprentices until at least the late 1760s; in 1766 he was appointed Master of the Joiners' Company. Described at his wife's death as a 'great Dealer in the Cabinet way', in 1755 at the time of his daughter's marriage to the Royal cabinet-maker, John Cobb (d. 1778), he was referred to as an 'eminent Timber Merchant'. While few payments to him have been traced in country house archives, he supplied a good number of walnut and mahogany furniture to aristocratic houses including Longford Castle, Stourhead and Barn Elms.
Grendey was also deeply involved in the timber and export business which may have led to his production of japanned furniture for the export trade, notably for the Iberian peninsula where such work was much in demand. His most celebrated commission was the extensive suite of more than seventy-seven scarlet-japanned items including seat furniture en suite with 'pier-set' card-tables, mirrors and secretaire-cabinets, supplied around 1740 for the Duke of Infantado's Spanish castle at Lazcano in northern Spain. This ranks among the most celebrated suites of eighteenth century English furniture with many of the pieces from this suite now in public collections.
Stylistically, this bureau cabinet may be one of the earliest examples attributed to this renowned cabinet-maker. The upper case has solid, not mirrored doors with large scale raised decoration while their interior panels are intentionally less elaborately decorated. The decoration also exhibits details that would become particular leitmotifs of Grendey’s work such as the shells at the corners, the border on the cornice and the large scale designs on the doors. The specific arrangement of drawers set within double molded borders in the lower section as well as signs of original bun feet suggest a date of 1725-30. The information that it was one of a pair when it was acquired from Partridge in February/ March 1957 would seem to be confirmed by what appears to be its counterpart in a bureau cabinet exhibited by Mallett at Grosvenor House in 1957 (Connoisseur, June 1957, front cover and advertisement) which appears to have almost identical decoration. This would indicate that they were very likely made for export, as with the Lazcano suite and other commissions Grendey supplied to foreign clients, bureau cabinets were frequently in pairs.
In addition to the Mallett example, only one other bureau cabinet with solid doors attributed to Grendey’s workshop is currently known. Also scarlet lacquered and with later paw feet, it was sold from the collection of David Astor Christie’s, London 25 June 1981, lot 126 and is now in the collection of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (1991.80,a-b). Its doors also feature large scale japanning and the lower portion has an identical arrangement of drawers. A closely related example with mirrored doors donated by Neville and John Bryan is at the Art Institute of Chicago (2011.799) and another mirrored example with brown japanning was sold anonymously at Christie’s, London, 27 June 1985, lot 177.