When sold at Christie's in 1975 this table came from Spye Park, Chippenham, a house built in 1863-8 in a 'gabled Tudor' style to designs of William Burn, for J.W.G. Spicer, who had bought the estate in 1863. Such a house seems an improbable origin for a table in a Palladian style. Furniture designed by Kent himself is surprisingly rare, given its influence, and pedestal pier-tables rarer still. Astonishingly there is an entirely plausible explanation for the table's presence at Spye Park. For sixty years before acquiring Spye Park (1805-1863), the Spicer family had owned Esher Place, Surrey, famed as a refuge of Cardinal Wolsey after his fall, and for its buildings designed by Kent. It seems almost certain that this table was brought to Spye Park in 1863 from Esher Place, for which it had been designed. The chances of it having been acquired by the Spicer family from another source seem remote.
Conceived as a George II 'Roman' sideboard-table in a style appropriate for a Palladian villa, the table's marble top is supported on a tripod frame of voluted trusses on altar-pedestals that are enriched with shells and dolphin-scales, evoking lyric poetry and the triumph of the nature deity Venus. Its Roman truss form, introduced in the 17th Century by the court architect Inigo Jones (d.1652) was popularised in the early 18th Century by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, and his promotion of Isaac Ware's Some Designs of Mr Inigo Jones and others, 1731. In particular it was Burlington's protégé, the artist architect William Kent (d.1748), Master Carpenter to the King's Board of Works, who featured a related table, supported by voluted trusses and wrapped by Roman acanthus, in his Designs of
Inigo Jones of 1727. Henry Pelham was a subscriber to Isaac Ware's 1738 translation of Palladio's Four Books of Architecture, which included an acanthus-scrolled headpiece by Kent. Burlington and Kent also invented related Roman marble-topped tables, comprised of plinth-supported trusses, for Burlington's villa at Chiswick. One of that pair is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, having been sold at Sotheby's London, 30 April 1971, lot 114. Its pair remains at Chatsworth and is illustrated in O. Brackett, English Furniture Illustrated, London, rev. ed., 1950, p. 152, pl. CXXIVb.
WILLIAM KENT AND HENRY PELHAM
Having married in 1726, Henry Pelham bought a small estate at Esher in 1729, close to his brother at Claremont. At Esher, he employed Kent to alter the house that they found there, comprising the surviving gatehouse of William of Waynflete's 15th century palace, with two three-storey 18th century wings. Nicholas Thompson has written that 'Esher aimed to impress not so much by its size as by the taste of its owner'. Kent converted these additions in his own style of Tudor Gothic into a house for Pelham, with interiors in a mixture of styles, with much Gothick. A design by Kent for the saloon survives, with a ceiling embellished with shell-spandrels and a cove enriched with paired trusses, eminently suitable for this table.
Although only a very little of Kent's work at Esher survives to this day, enough evidence exists from drawings and the comments of Horace Walpole to confirm that internal decorations were in a variety of styles, as well as Tudor Gothic. Vardy published one chimneypiece pattern for Esher, in his Designs of Inigo Jones and William Kent, 1744, which combines a restrained Gothick chimneypiece with a recognisably Palladian overmantel.