This fanciful cabinet, with its tiers of pagodas and fretwork, reflects Europe’s enduring passion for the Orient. It was intended for the display of Chinese porcelain and relates to designs for ‘China Cases’ and ‘China Shelves” seen in pattern books such as Thomas Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Director (1754) and John Mayhew and William Ince’s The Universal System of Household Furniture, (1762). Although this cabinet’s maker is currently unknown, they were undoubtedly au courant with these designs and certainly used them for inspiration. The Mayhew and Ince design for a China Table and Shelf (reproduced here) relates closely to this cabinet and can give a sense of how the piece may have originally been conceived.
Lionel, 4th Viscount Esher (1913-2003), was a noted Modernist architect and descendant of a political, cultural and literary dynasty. He inherited the title in 1963 along with Watlington Park, a Palladian Oxfordshire estate purchased in 1921 by his father, Lionel Brett, who subsequently enlarged and modernized the house, decorating it in a traditional style. This cabinet and the other late 17th and 18th century furniture sold in 1969 were presumably part of the interiors.