This pier-commode-table, with triumphal-arched recess crowned by a bacchic lion head, is designed in the George II Romano British fashion associated with the 17th Century court architect Inigo Jones (d.1652) and popularised in particular by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington through his protégé Isaac Ware's architectural publications, which included chimneypiece patterns such as that featured in Designs of Inigo Jones and Others, 1731, pl.42. Its caryatic pilaster legs are richly sculpted with bacchic lion-headed trusses, whose scrolled and tapered herms are wreathed in Roman acanthus and terminate in paw monopodia.
This desk was undoubtedly executed in the same workshop as the parcel-gilt mahogany leather-topped 'writing-table' (perhaps originally a commode-dressing-table and incorporating an additional recessed commode), that is reputed to have been given by Robert Henry, 12th Earl of Pembroke of Wilton House, Salisbury in 1822 to Philip Pusey (sold by descent by Mrs Philip Bouverie-Pusey at Christie's 18th October 1951, lot 136). It subsequently entered the Gubbay Collection and is now at Clandon Park, Surrey (illustrated in situ in the Green Drawing Room at Clandon Park, Surrey, in J. Cornforth, The Inspiration of the Past, Country House taste in the Twentieth Century, Harmondsworth, 1985, pl. LXXVII). A further 'kneehole desk'- undoubtedly fom this workshop but with central recessed commode - was recently acquired for Chiswick House. Formerly in a New York collection, it is discussed in Partridge, Summer Exhibition, 1988 and in J. Bryant, English Heritage Collecting Review, 1997, p.45).
These three desks belong to a distinguished group of provenanced 'architectural' library tables - all of which display the same distinctive scrolled volutes headed by lion-masks and rings - which are associated with the Longacre cabinet-maker Benjamin Goodison (d.1767). A similar 'writing-table' at Boughton House, Northamptonshire, whose concave-sided rectangular leather top was conceivably added to a rectangular 'commode-dressing-table' in the later 18th Century, is fitted with a central commode, the façade frieze concealing a pair of drawers, its drawer-concealing doors also hinged within the recess like the Sainsbury desk. Wreathed by a different pattern of rectilinear ribbon-fret and flowered rather than a wave-scrolled ribbon-guilloche, the Boughton desk has been associated with payments made to Goodison in 1737 by John, 2nd Duke of Buccleuch, whose Thames-side mansion had been designed by Henry Flitcroft (d.1769) another of Burlington's protégés (O. Brackett, Thomas Chippendale, London, 1925, pl.9; and T. Murdoch ed., Boughton House, London, 1992 pp. 134, fig. 137). Payments to Goodison are listed from 1737-1742 - although Geoffrey Beard has also unearthed payments in the Montagu acccounts to John Boson in 1737 (Partridge Summer exhibition Catalogue, 1987).
Interesting parallels can be drawn between the restrained Sainsbury model and three further celebrated commissions. These include the magnificent suite of writing-desk and commodes en suite commissioned in the early 1740s by Sir Thomas Robinson for Rokeby Park, Yorkshire. Long attributed to Benjamin Goodison - the writing desk now in the Royal Collection but altered to form two commodes - this suite displays much of the same vocabulary of ornament - although it is embellished with carved foliate ovals more usually associated with William Vile. The Sainsbury desk - particularly in the treatment of the rosette-panelled bracket feet - is also stylistically close to the Ashburnham Place Library Table, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (P. MacQuoid and R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, rev. edn., 1954, p.240, fig 21. This in turn recalls the sumptuous and celebrated 'Savile' owl commodes from Chiswick now at Chatsworth; these were previously attributed to Goodison but are now known to have been supplied by John Boson to the Countess of Burlington in 1735 to the designs of William Kent. A final library table, commissioned by the 4th Duke of Beaufort, remains at Badminton House, Gloucestershire.