These carved gilt-gesso pier glasses bear a ducal crown above the cypher of James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, 1st Duke of Dover (1662-1711), encircled by the motto of the Order of the Garter, ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’. They were almost certainly part of a larger set of at least four mirrors; a pair of identical pier glasses but lacking the original foliate cresting was sold Sotheby’s, London, 19 November 1988 lot 92, and later, 17 November 1989, lot 27. Pier glasses of this date differ from earlier models in that the main plate was divided from the head by an engraved border or an applied gilt strip (A. Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture 1715-1740, Woodbridge, 2000, p. 287). In the examples offered here, the main plates are divided by cut-glass flowerheads that were originally silvered. The pier glasses were likely to have been commissioned after 1701 when the 2nd Duke was made a Knight of the Garter. They can possibly be identified with ‘looking glasses’ listed in an inventory for Queensberry House, on the South side of Edinburgh’s Canongate, compiled in August 1723 during the tenure of the 2nd Duke’s youngest son, Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke (1698-1778):
‘In my Lady Dutches’s [sic] Drawing Room’ ‘A fine looking glass in an indented frame with a glass top piece and gilded muller, A writing table of the same, the Glass frame covered with green velvet’
‘In My Lord Duke’s Drawing Room’ ‘A large looking glass with an indented frame and a top piece with a gilded muller, A writing table agreeable to the glass covered with green velvet’ (J. Lowrey, ‘The Furnishings of Queensberry House, 1700-25’, Regional History, vol. 14, 2000, Appendix, pp. 58-62).
These rooms were on the principal floor and were part of the suite of rooms in the closet towers of the Duke and Duchess, situated on the garden side of Queensberry House.
If the present mirrors are indeed the above, then they were en suite with glass-topped tables. The 17th century ensemble comprising a table with looking glass above and flanked by a pair of candlestands was highly fashionable in the latter part of the 17th century although from the 18th century, the ensemble evolved to be devoid of candlestands. Usually the arrangement was set up against the pier between two windows, and reflected the paintings in a room to advantage (C. Gilbert, P. Thornton, ‘The Furnishing and Decoration of Ham House’, Furniture History, 1980, p. 68).
The 1723 inventory also records: ‘In My Lord Duke’s Drawing Room’ ‘A large pier glass’ and ‘In my Lady Dutches’s [sic] closet’ ‘A large peer [sic] glass’. Although speculative, it is possible that these were two further pier glasses from the set of four. Unsurprisingly over time mirrors were moved around the mansion: a 1706 inventory refers to some looking glasses ‘Moved into his Grace’s Dressing Room, Bed Chamber and other rooms at different times’ (ibid., p. 49).
James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, inherited Queensberry House in 1695, and set about a substantial remodeling of the mansion. He engaged the architect, James Smith, who added a west wing, two closet towers on the garden front and a single storey entrance hall (Lowrey, op. cit., p. 44). The establishment of an Edinburgh residence became essential for the 2nd Duke, who had a number of important Scottish responsibilities; Lord High Treasurer of Scotland from 1693, Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland from 1695 to 1702, Lord High Commissioner to the Parliament of Scotland in 1700, 1702 and 1703, and in 1702, Secretary of State for Scotland. However, the period of the most intensive use of Queensberry House was undoubtedly in circa 1707 when the 2nd Duke representing Queen Anne successfully oversaw the passing of the Act of Union by the Parliament of Scotland. Shortly after the Act passed, the Queensberry family left Edinburgh because of its unpopularity and the subsequent vilification of the Duke. The house was thereafter sporadically let from 1712 until 1801 when it was sold to the distiller, William Aitcheson.
These pier glasses are related to a set of three early 18th century pier glasses with a ducal crown above a carved cartouche with the Duke of Argyll’s arms flanked by giltwood foliate scrolls, photographed in 1960 in ‘The Great Drawing Room’ at Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfriesshire, one of the Scottish seats of the present Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry (M. Girouard, ‘Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfriesshire – II’, Country Life, 1 September 1960, p. 435, fig. 4). Another pair of mirrors of a similar model likewise with the Duke of Argyll’s arms is at Bowhill, Selkirk, another Buccleuch seat (J. Cornforth, ‘Bowhill, Selkirk – II’, Country Life, 12 June 1975, p. 1562, fig. 10). Additionally, there are comparable mirrors at Castle Howard, Yorkshire: one in a carved and gilt frame, the crest carved with scrolls and eagles’ heads, circa 1715, and a pair with glass borders, the crest carved with foliate scrolls, circa 1710-15 (R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, vol. II, Woodbridge, 1954, p. 324, fig. 34; Bowett, op. cit., p. 287 plate 6:41).
While a maker for the pier glasses offered here cannot be firmly identified, another mirror with glass borders and carved giltwood crest with a giltwood table en suite by James Moore Snr. (1670-1726) was almost certainly supplied to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough in circa 1714, probably for the First State Room at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (D. Green, M. Jourdain, ‘Furniture at Blenheim’, Country Life, 20 April 1951, p. 1184, fig. 2). Moore, together with his business partner, John Gumley (fl. 1691-1727), a leading supplier of mirrors and pier glasses, worked for the court in the furnishing of the Royal Palaces during the reigns of Queen Anne and George I. Both Moore and Gumley are recorded as having worked for the Scottish aristocracy; in 1700-01 for the Duchess of Buccleuch at Dalkeith Palace, and in 1714, for the 1st Duke of Montrose at his Lodging in the Drygate, Glasgow.