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Please note this lot will be moved to Christie’s F… Read more A 'GLASS CASE' FOR QUEEN CHARLOTTE AT ST. JAMES'S PALACE


The broken arch pediment centering a foliate carved crest issuing vinery above a cornice with leaftips and dentils over a central glazed door with bead and reel borders and foliate clasps revealing shelves flanked by lower sections with pierced fretwork galleries terminating in a lush foliate scroll above an arched glazed door with foliate clasp cresting and paneled doors with beaded borders revealing mahogany shelves all backed with later velvet, the breakfronted base with a pagoda carved edge above a blind fretwork carved frieze fitted with three mahogany-lined drawers and an egg-and-dart border, the central door with a laurel wreath punctuated by foliate clasps flanked by two recessed doors with shaped oval egg-and-dart panels and in-curved foliate clasps opening to an adjustable shelf, all on a richly veneered flame mahogany ground, the plinth with egg and dart border, the back panels all in mahogany, with printed and inscribed Ann and Gordon Getty collection label
94 1/2 in. (240 cm.) high, 62 1/4 in. (158 cm.) wide, 17 3/4 in. (44.5 cm.) deep
Supplied by the cabinet-maker William Vile to Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) in 1761 for the Bow Closet in St. James's Palace.
By repute by descent to her daughter Princess Amelia (1783-1810); or the King's aunt Princess Amelia (1711-1786) (see catalogue note).
Margaret Fife, née Rutson, Nunnington Hall, Yorkshire, circa 1920.
With F. Mallett, 1924.
Geoffrey Blackwell, Esq. (1884-1943).
By descent to Captain Basil Blackwell in 1944.
Sir James Caird, Bt. (1864-1954).
By descent to Mrs. H. Scudamore.
Acquired from James Hepworth by Ann and Gordon Getty in 1994.
R.W. Symonds, Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks, London, 1940, pp. 50-52, figs. 33-35.
R. Edwards, ed. The Dictionary of English Furniture, London, 1954 rev. ed., Vol. I, p. 188, pl. 49.
The Private Collection of Sir James Caird Bart., privately printed, London, 1955, p. 18.
R. Edwards, and M. Jourdain, Georgian Cabinet Makers, London, 1955, fig. 59.
A. Coleridge, Chippendale Furniture, London, 1968, p.177, pl. 33.
Royal Academy of Arts, 'English Taste in the Eighteenth Century', 1955-1956, cat. 149.
London, The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1960s-1981 (loaned by Mrs. H. Scudamore).
Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire, 1980s.
Special notice
Please note this lot will be moved to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn) at 5pm on the last day of the sale. Lots may not be collected during the day of their move to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services. Please consult the Lot Collection Notice for collection information. This sheet is available from the Bidder Registration staff, Purchaser Payments or the Packing Desk and will be sent with your invoice.

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Elizabeth Seigel
Elizabeth Seigel Vice President, Specialist, Head of Private and Iconic Collections

Lot Essay

By Rufus Bird

‌This magnificent ‘Glasscase’ or china cabinet, a rare documented Royal commission from before 1800, exemplifies all the finest aspects of English 18th century cabinet-making: a sumptuous choice of mahogany, its richly figured panels giving the appearance of shimmering silk, combined with a breathtaking precision and finesse to the carved details throughout. A particular refinement of this cabinet is the unusual use of mahogany for the backboards, specifically described in the bill: mahogany was no doubt employed as a dramatic and rich backdrop to the display of porcelain.
This cabinet was almost certainly that supplied for 'the Queen's Apartments’ at St James's Palace, recorded in an account of payments to the cabinet-maker and upholsterer William Vile of 1761 (quarter to Michaelmas) as :
'Bow Closet
For an exceeding neat Mohogony [sic] Glasscase with Plate Glass Doors at Top & Wood Doors at bottom Carv'd exceeding Rich & neat & Exquisite fine wood, all the backs & Shelves of Mohogony [sic]. Very fine Locks & 3 keys two of them Pearc'd & Engraved in a very neat Manner. £100 ' (TNA LC9 / 306, no. 75)
The significance and importance of this superb piece of English 18th century furniture, is emphasized by two aspects. First, the cost: at £100 the cabinet cost just over a third less than the great jewel cabinet made for Queen Charlotte's use the following year. It cost only slightly less than the much larger, and more elaborate, bookcase made for Queen Charlotte's use at Buckingham House which was inherited by Victoria Mary of Teck, later Queen Mary, from her uncle George 2nd Duke of Cambridge and remains in the Royal Collection (RCIN 252; cost £107 4s. TNA LC9 / 308, no. 8). The most expensive piece of furniture supplied for the Queen was, unsurprisingly, the State Bed, which was set up in the Great Drawing Room at St. James's, made by the joiner Katherine Naish at a cost of £205 (excluding upholstery) (TNA LC9 / 307 / no. 82). Second, the carving on Queen Charlotte's bookcase - perhaps one of the greatest pieces of English cabinet-making of the 18th century - was executed to match the carving on the present 'Glasscase' made the year before. Although no documentary record of Queen Charlotte's views on the suitability of Vile's craftsmanship survives, it is surely a sign of distinction that the carving on the great bookcase which remains in 'The 18th Century Room' in Buckingham Palace was made to match the carving on the present 'Glasscase'. The carving may have been carried out by Sefferin Alken, who is known to have worked for Vile on other commissions.
St James's is the oldest surviving metropolitan royal palace, and was established in the reign of Henry VIII. The ancient royal palace of Westminster had suffered following a fire in 1514: thus Henry set his sights on nearby York Palace, which was renamed Whitehall Palace. With his new Queen, Anne Boleyn, the King was set on producing the longed-for male heir who could continue the Tudor line. The old leper hospital at St James's was pulled down and a new palace complex constructed to provide a secure central London residence for the heir to the throne. It was close enough to Whitehall and Westminster for the convenience of visiting, but sufficiently removed in case of riots or assassination. There was a high perimeter wall enclosing the palace and its grounds. The walls followed the site today of The Mall, Admiralty Arch, Horse Guards, Birdcage Walk, part of the grounds of Buckingham Palace, joining up with the stable-yard of St James's. For the next century and a half, St James's Palace played host to the heir to the throne. Here the young (and feeble) future Edward VI survived an attempt on his life from his uncle Thomas Seymour in 1549. Elizabeth I retreated behind its walls to plan the defense against the Spanish Armadas. During the brief life of Henry, Prince of Wales, it was a place of magnificent display; by 1611 it was filled with spectacular paintings sent to Henry through the Florentine and Venetian Ambassadors, and given to him by courtiers including Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury and the States General of the Dutch Republic. Charles I continued to use the palace to project magnificence: the set of twelve portraits of Roman Emperors by Titian (now lost) lined the walls of a gallery leading to the park - the end wall was entirely filled in and van Dyck's great equestrian portrait of Charles I and M. de St. Antoine was hung there. Thus Charles I appeared to a visitor as if astride a powerful grey horse riding into the palace from St James's Park. With these magnificent displays of art and splendor on its walls, the palace continued to function as the junior or nursery residence: the future Charles II and his siblings including James, Duke of York, later James II, were both born and raised there. During the reign of Charles II, James, Duke of York and his wife Anne Hyde occupied the Palace (although they also retained a magnificent apartment in Whitehall Palace) and commissioned and hung the famous set of portraits by Sir Peter Lely, today known as the 'Windsor Beauties'. With the accession of William III and Mary II, changes to royal palace geography developed: owing to the King's health, the King used central London palaces less and less favoring the suburban residence at Kensington he had bought from the 2nd Earl of Nottingham, later named Kensington Palace, and also Hampton Court Palace. However, the most significant change arrived at the very end of the 17th century, when the second, and most devastating fire almost entirely destroyed Whitehall Palace. Not all the buildings were destroyed; the 'Holbein' Gate, Inigo Jones's Banqueting House and the Cockpit survived, but the State and royal private apartments rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren only a decade earlier for James II, were destroyed. William III was content to continue to use Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace, with St James's as the only surviving metropolitan royal palace, used only when absolutely necessary. Queen Anne used St James's rather more than her predecessor, and made some architectural additions including the Ballroom, designed by Wren. The Palace came fully into public gaze with the accession of the new Hanoverian dynasty. For George I and his son, George Prince of Wales whose small but militarily significant dukedom had recently been elevated as electors of the Holy Roman Empire, father and son were surely rather underwhelmed by the sight of the rambling Tudor buildings of St James's Palace. Inevitably, questions would be asked about the buildings' condition and appearance. The Palace was just about manageable for a small court under George I, many of whom returned to Hanover each summer, but became completely unmanageable during the reign of George II, with his children's marriages and the King's mistresses. Why was the palace not simply knocked down and rebuilt? The answer probably lies in a combination of financial prudence and the value of dynastic continuity. George I inherited a large national debt, which through his son's management was eventually paid off. The new dynasty, although direct descendants of James I, had nonetheless travelled over from a small dukedom in north Germany. On the whole they were welcomed; the Catholic Stuart alternative was too much to stomach. The new King thus elected to emphasize visual continuity with the previous Stuart and Tudor dynasties: moving straight into St James's with only the bare necessity of change would symbolically smooth over and link the dynasties.
With the death of George II in 1760 and the accession of his grandson, George III, Britain was already well on the way to a new, confident era. The previous year was celebrated as the annus mirabilis or 'Year of Victories' and Britain's global military superiority would be confirmed in 1763 at the Treaty of Paris and the conclusion of the Seven Years' War. In 1761 George found a wife in Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz : they were married in the evening at the Chapel Royal in St James's on 8 September on the same day of her arrival in England. Two weeks later on 22 September they were crowned at Westminster Abbey. St James's was refurnished for the use of the King and Queen, with separate state apartments, following prevailing royal use. In St James's the King's and Queen's state apartments were located on the site of the previous reign's state apartments, more or less in the very heart of the palace. The private apartments, however, were located in the south eastern corner, overlooking The Mall and St James's Park (approximately the site of Marlborough Road today). In 1762 George III bought Buckingham House, a suburban villa built in the early 18th century by the duke of Buckingham and situated nearby at the western end of The Mall. The purchase was no doubt motivated by the now glaringly obvious inadequacy of St James's as a private residence for his wife and hoped-for future family.
It is difficult to reconstruct the exact layout of the principal rooms at St James's during the reign of George III. The palace had evolved greatly since Flitcroft's floor plan of c. 1729 (of the principal floor) with encroachment on the two inner courts, Pheasant Court and Paradise Court, almost to the point that they ceased to exist as open spaces. John Soane, working in the Office of Works provided a ground floor plan in 1792 which gives few clues as to the room arrangement on the principal floor. However, it is likely that although many of the lesser rooms were extensively altered and functions changed throughout the 18th century, the principal rooms were largely maintained and repaired and therefore continued in their original usage (of which contemporary accounts bear this out).
The positioning of the accounts of work carried out in the Queen's Bow Closet in the Great Wardrobe bills of William Vile and other craftsmen and women may go some way to explaining the room's status. The status of individual rooms in royal palaces was (and to some extent remains) of the greatest significance, and their furnishings reflected the room's importance within the palace hierarchy. Although there is no obvious formal hierarchy in the listing of specific rooms in the bills, it is often the case that the more significant rooms are listed first. The Bow Closet often appears immediately after the Queen's Bedchamber or Drawing Room, and before lesser rooms for courtiers. Entries for the Bow Closet are also often listed adjacent to the Dressing Room, and the 'Passage Room', suggesting that the Bow Closet was either positioned nearby in the palace, or was at least equal to either room in status.
Based on the many bills in the Great Wardrobe account books, it is possible at least partially to reconstruct Queen Charlotte's Bow Closet. The walls were hung with blue damask, made and put up by William Vile at a cost of £10 10s; there was a Wilton carpet on the floor, 61 yards at 8s per yard cost £24 8s; there were three windows, each with a festoon 'lustring' blind lined with 'blew tammy' (£4 11s), in additon Vile also upholstered two mahogany armchairs, two 'back stools' and two square stools, a 'Very Large Sopha frame ... with 3 Large Cushions against the back & bolster at each end' all covered in blue damask, these were all made by Katherine Naish, the stools and sofa were 'Carv'd and Gilt' (TNA LC9 / 306 no. 71 & no. 73). Vile and Cobb supplied to the same room 'an exceeding Fine 2 Flap'd table with a Writing Desk' (£22 10s), a 'Large Oval Chimney Glass in a Rich Carv'd & Burnishd Gold Frame...' (£58 10s), repairing and regilding a mahogany 'China Fish Cistern', altering four 'Large Gilt Ovals ... to hang Miniature Pictures' (£23 10s), thirteen carved frames for 'Miniature Pictures ... with Plate Glass doors', the insides lined with blue damask. The quantity of pictures to be hung in the Bow Closet is indicated by the supply of '123 new Spring Hooks to hang the Small Pictures'. Vile charged £7 10s for 'Men taking out many hundred miniature pictures' (TNA LC9 / 306 no. 75). In addition to the seat furniture and miniatures hung in cases on the walls, there were '2 Mahogany Stands part carv'd & Gilt to Set large Glass Basons of Gold Fish on the top lin'd with green cloth £6'. Vile also supplied 'a neat Mohogony handle to a Fish net 2s 6d' (TNA LC9/307 no. 56). The picture emerges of a sumptuous room, richly furnished with a mix of gilded and mahogany carved seat furniture, all covered in blue damask to match the walls and curtains, with scores of framed miniatures hung around the walls and a large giltwood oval overmantel mirror. It seems likely that the 'Glasscase' was the dominant piece of furniture in the room, perhaps later used to display choice pieces of the Queen's beloved Chelsea porcelain.
‌The furnishing commission given to William Vile in 1761 came at the suggestion of John, 3rd Earl of Bute, George III's tutor and guide from his youth, who was closely involved in all artistic and intellectual aspects of the King's life, including furnishing the palaces (F. Russell, John, 3rd Earl of Bute, Patron and Collector,2004). William Vile was almost certainly from Somerset and is likely to have worked in the workshop of William Hallett, who is recorded as Vile's 'Master'. Hallett was also of Somerset origin. Vile joined in partnership with John Cobb, probably in 1751 when they were established in the New Street ward of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The following year they were established at 72 St. Martin's Lane, on the corner with Long Acre. The partnership supplied furniture for the new houses of the nobility, including the Earl of Leicester at Holkham Hall, the Earl of Coventry at Croome Court, Lord Folkestone at Longford Castle, Sir Lawrence Dundas for Moor Park, 19 Arlington Street and Aske Hall (see G. Beard and C. Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986). It is also worth noting that Vile's name was included on a list of 'ebenistes' prepared by Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Northumberland, a lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte from 1761. If the Earl of Bute recommended Vile and Cobb to the King, most of his own furniture was made by John Bradburn (with the exception of much of the old altered library bookcases brought from St James's to Buckingham House), and was generally of a much plainer character than furniture made by Vile and Cobb. Perhaps the Duchess of Northumberland recommended Vile and Cobb to Queen Charlotte? Certainly Vile and Cobb supplied richer and more elaborate pieces to the Queen compared with the plainer furniture apparently favoured by the King. From 1761-1763 Vile and Cobb provided quantities of furniture, upholstery, jobbing repairs and alterations to rooms (including the old Japan Room at Buckingham House) and furniture, such as the old library bookcases from St James's. For example, from the Great Wardrobe accounts, out of a total payment of £22,976 13s 9d for the year 1761, Vile and Cobb were paid £3,518 19s 9d (TNA LC9 / 307 - account to end of 1761).
Although Queen Charlotte preferred the family home of the Queen's House to the official residence of St James's, no evidence of the 'Glasscase's' removal to the Queen's House has emerged. Other pieces of furniture were moved from St James's to the Queen's House, notably the great jewel cabinet (RCIN 35487) for which Vile made a marbled leather cover when it was moved to the Queen's bedchamber (TNA LC9 / 309, no. 54, quarter to Michaelmas 1763). After the Queen's death in 1818, some of her property was left to her daughters and the rest sold to benefit her unmarried daughters. The furniture historian and advisor R. W. Symonds, wrote in Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks, that this china cabinet was inherited by Princess Amelia, a claim made without evidence. Furthermore, Symonds may have been referring either to George III and Queen Charlotte's daughter Amelia (1783-1810) or the King's aunt, daughter of George II, Princess Amelia (1711-1786). In the case of the former, the younger Princess Amelia, the china cabinet may have been specially given to her by Queen Charlotte, perhaps around 1785 when a certain amount of building work and refreshment of the interiors at St James's took place. Princess Amelia was consumptive, and died in 1810 before she could marry Colonel Charles Fitzroy (1762-1831), one of the King's equerries. In the case of the latter, elder Princess Amelia, also unmarried, after her father's death in 1760 she moved out of St James's and lived in Cavendish Square and at Gunnersbury Park. There is no mention of this china cabinet in her post mortem sale at Christie's, 15 February 1787, although lot 31 was described as 'An excellent mahogany library bookcase, with solid doors underneath, ornamented with exquisite carving .... 14 ft. wide by 8 ft 6 in. high'. Lot 32 were described as a pair to correspond ... 3 ft. 2 in wide by 8 ft. 6 in high: clearly the measurements do not match the present, smaller piece. Nor is the china cabinet recorded in either of the later inventories of the Queen's House, before its transformation into Buckingham Palace: 'Furniture from Buckingham House' or 'An Inventory of the Household Furniture at Buckingham Palace, taken May 2nd 1825' (RA GEO DD / 19 / 4 / 1 and RA GEO ADD Mss 19 / 3).
‌The 'Glasscase' then disappears from sight and is next recorded in the early 20th Century with the Rutson family, Nunnington Hall, Yorkshire, before it was with the dealer F. Mallett in 1924; thereafter it entered a number of distinguished collections including that of Geoffrey Blackwell and Sir James Caird.
GEOFFREY BLACKWELL (1888-1943) AND R.W. SYMONDS (1889-1958)
Geoffrey Blackwell, O.B.E. was unusual amongst the leading collectors of English furniture of the first half of the twentieth century in combining modern British pictures and Georgian furniture, with which he furnished his Berkhamsted house. He was friendly with artists such as Henry Tonks and was an unofficial member of the New English Art Club. Quite possibly inspired by the seminal publication of Macquoid & Edwards' Dictionary of English Furniture in 1924, Blackwell entered the world of Georgian furniture collecting. In this, as with several other notable collectors of the day, he sought the wise counsel of the furniture historian, connoisseur and advisor R. W. Symonds and his collection was clearly deemed important enough to form the subject of two articles by Symonds in Apollo in 1936 (vol. XXIII). Symonds was behind the formation of several other prominent early twentieth century collections such as those formed by Percival Griffiths, J. S. Sykes, James Thursby Pelham, E. B. Moller, Frederick Poke and Samuel Messer, whose landmark sale took place at Christie's in December 1991. Between 1921 and 1958 Symonds' five major books and countless articles formed and then reflected the taste of a generation. Symonds often acted as intermediary between collectors when they decided to 'refine' their collections. One Blackwell family story goes that one of Blackwell's sons was out fox-hunting with the Whaddon when Griffiths was killed. Returning home, he informed his father who was taking a bath. He immediately leapt out of the bath and telephoned Symonds to see which pieces would be available.
When finding furniture for his clients, Symonds laid particular emphasis on original patination, a well-balanced design and good quality carving and timber. Unlike many collectors today where the provenance is paramount, Symonds' primary concern was that the piece stood on its own merits, with or without an illustrious background. In writing about this bookcase in his seminal work ‘Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks’ of 1940, when it remained in Blackwell’s collection, he remarked ‘The wood carvers employed by Vile must have been the most highly skilled in the trade of their time; the present writer has not seen any carving in mahogany that surpasses that of the cabinet under review.’
Following Geoffrey Blackwell’s death in 1943 the cabinet passed to his relation Captain Basil Blackwell, and subsequently it was with the equally distinguished collection of Sir James Caird, Bt (1864-1954), whose collection was posthumously published in a private printed catalogue in 1955. It then passed to his relation Mrs. H Scudamore, who sent it on loan to the Victoria & Albert Museum until 1981 and it then returned to Nunnington Hall, by then a National Trust house, where it was on loan in the 1980s. It was bought by Ann and Gordon Getty in 1994.
‌Rufus Bird LVO FSA, furniture and decorative arts historian, formerly Surveyor of the Queen's Works of Art and one of three authors (with Simon Thurley and Michael Turner) of the forthcoming book St James's Palace: From Leper Hospital to Royal Court (2022).

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