The still vivid japanning in remarkably untouched condition on this bureau-cabinet reflects Europe's enduring fasicination with Chinoiserie. The rage for Asian lacquer began in the 1660s with the restoration of Charles II and his Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza, to the English throne. Trade with the Far East was flourishing and lacquerwork was a rare and highly prized commodity. English and Continental cabinet-makers sought to capitalize on this commercial opportunity and developed japanning in imitation of true Asian lacquer. European artists found inspiration in contemporary images of Asia such as those engraved and published by the Dutch East Indies Company. These alluring travelogues provided abundant, if not entirely accurate, documentation for European artists. One such illustrated account was published by a Dutchman, Johan Nieuhof, in 1669, following an ambassadorial visit to the 'Great Tartar Chan', in 1665. John Stalker and George Parker's A Treatise on Japanning and Varnishing (1688) was highly influential and provided instruction and a range of enticing images of the East for English and European craftsmen as well as for amateur practitioners of this craft.
The cabinet is designed in the George I 'Roman' fashion such as B. Langley later popularized with his City and Country Builder's and Workman's Treasury of Designs, 1740 (pl. CX111). This distinct pediment pattern was also featured in a bureau drawing by a Russian cabinet-maker, Feodor Martynov, for the Empress Anna Ionnovna in 1738. He was one of the craftsmen ordered by Peter the Great from 1717-1724 to serve as an apprentice to a London cabinet-maker, and Martynov's drawings are identical to bureau-cabinets produced in London in the 1720s. (A. Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture 1715-1740, Suffolk, 2009, p. 42, pl. 1:31).
Though many comparable examples in walnut exist, this form with japanning is considerably rarer. A closely related scarlet bureau-cabinet with the same distinctive form and compartmented interior from the Margorie Wiggin Prescott collection was sold at Christie's, New York, 31 January 1981, lot 358 (illustrated in G. Beard and J. Goodison, English Furniture 1500-1840, Oxford, 1987, p.50).