This pair of ormolu-mounted satinwood and marquetry corner cabinets (encoignures) was almost certainly commissioned by William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster (1749-1804) for the Gallery at Leinster House, Dublin, a mansion at the forefront of political and polite society. Although bills for the refurbishment of Leinster House, which began in circa October 1775, are no longer extant, extensive correspondence between the 2nd Duke and his mother, Emily, Duchess of Leinster, and maternal aunts, Lady Caroline Holland, and Louisa Conolly, née Lennox, illustrate the extent of his involvement in the decoration of his houses (ed. B. Fitzgerald, Correspondence of Emily, Duchess of Leinster (1731-1814), Dublin, 1957, vol. III, p. 155; National Library of Ireland, Ms. 611-14, 615, 618-19, 632-34).
The corner cabinets were probably acquired to complement the new first-floor Gallery at Leinster House, designed by one of the leading neo-classical architects, James Wyatt (1746-1813), in 1775-76. They were possibly made prior to the completion of the Gallery in early 1777 but also to a Wyatt design. In September 1776, the 2nd Duke wrote: ‘Mr Wyatt has sent delightful plans for the alteration of the Long Gallery… and I hope to do next spring as [I] have the furniture for it… Mr Wyatt (morning til night) seems laid out to please me, that is a comfort’, and, in October 1776: ‘Leinster House is new painted and cleaned.. I have got a beautiful plan from Mr Wyatt for the Gallery but cannot begin it until the spring’ (National Library of Ireland, Ms. 615, 29 September 1776, 19 October 1776). The marquetry of the cabinet doors depicting winged griffins flanking an athénienne with ram’s head masks and a classical urn is related to Wyatt’s vaulted plaster-work ceiling and frieze in the Gallery, and ornamentation on the overdoors, doors and doorcases (D.J. Griffin, C. Pegum, Leinster House: 1744-2000 An Architectural History, Dublin, 2000, pp. 50-51). A design for the end wall of the Gallery from Wyatt’s office, in the Penrose album, circa 1775, has survived – one of sixty architectural drawings related to the property, now in the National Library of Ireland – although the corner cabinets do not feature (ibid., p. 49, plate 86). Thomas Penrose was Wyatt’s agent and ‘executant architect’ in Ireland from 1772 until at least 1787, working at Leinster House, and also Harcourt Street, Dublin, for William Burton Conyngham [Cunningham]. Leinster House, including the Gallery, was later described in James Malton’s A Picturesque and Descriptive View of the City of Dublin, issued between 1792 and 1799 (cited in H.F. Berry, A History of the Royal Dublin Society, London, 1915, pp. 98-104).
The cabinets are probably inspired by French models. The 2nd Duke was well acquainted with French fashion, and was not averse to spending profusely for the finest artworks; in June 1775, he was in Paris on a buying spree where he visited the Sèvres porcelain manufactory and in a letter to his mother complained: 'I have ruin'd myself with a sett of Seve [sic.] China – it is beautiful' (C. Lucey, ‘Keeping up appearances: redecorating the domestic interior in late eighteenth-century Dublin’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 2011, p. 171). Furthermore, he was almost certainly influenced by his aunts, who were equally at the vanguard of fashionable taste; in 1763, Lady Caroline Holland, purchased a pair of Rococo parquetry encoignures by RVLC (Lacroix) from Paris for her sister, Louisa Conolly for Castletown, Co. Kildare, which in 2014 were described as ‘among the earliest pieces of French furniture documented as having been imported into England or Ireland’ (W. Laffan, ‘A gift between sisters’, Irish Arts Review, Winter 2014, p. 152).
While it’s not yet been possible to establish a firm attribution for these cabinets, their sophisticated design and technical proficiency could only have been executed by a small number of workshops and it seems likely that they were supplied by a London maker. By tradition, the Dukes of Leinster frequented Irish craftsmen and the family has always attributed these corner cabinets to William Moore (d. 1814). Moore’s work displays a characteristic repertoire of motifs but the marquetry decoration of these cabinets does not seem to conform and indeed there are no direct parallels with anything in Moore’s known (or attributed) oeuvre (R. Luddy, ‘Every article in the inlaid way’; The Furniture of William Moore’, Irish Arts Review Yearbook, 2002, pp. 44-54).
Before establishing his business in Dublin around 1782, Moore trained in the London workshops of Messrs. Mayhew and Ince, who were among an elite group of cabinet-makers supplying superb quality neo-classical marquetry furniture, often with brilliant metal embellishment. They counted among their clients a number of Anglo-Irish aristocrats with residences in London and Ireland, such as James Alexander, 1st Earl of Caledon, Francis Thomas-FitzMaurice, 3rd Earl of Kerry and George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton (although Lord Kerry did not reside at his Irish seat) (Roberts, op. cit.; C. Cator, ‘The Earl of Kerry and Mayhew & Ince’, Furniture History, 1990, pp. 27-33). Furthermore, related marquetry designs featured on a commode attributed to Ince & Mayhew, formerly in the collection of Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth (1820-94) at Guisachan House, Inverness, Scotland, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession no. 64.101.1145). Connections may also be drawn between the Duke of Leinster and Mayhew and Ince through James Wyatt and also William Chambers, who was proposed as architect for Leinster House by William FitzGerald’s father the 1st Duke.
However, until more information comes to light the identity of the maker of these remarkable cabinets remains unknown.
A detailed metallurgical analysis of the mounts, commissioned by Apter-Fredericks from Dr Peter Northover of Metallurgy and Archaeology, shows that the mounts examined have compositions typical of the second half of the 18th century, particularly the period 1750-80, after which compositions changed. The full report is available on request.