This magnificent bookcase was supplied in 1764 to Sir Lawrence Dundas (1712-1781) by Thomas Chippendale for the Libary at 19 Arlington Street. It is considered to be a masterpiece of English 18th century cabinet-making, prompting Christopher Gilbert, the author of the authoritative work on Chippendale, to describe it, and its pair, which was dispatched to Aske in Yorkshire as 'a spectacular pair of bookcases' (Gilbert, op. cit., p. 155). The use of exceptional quality mahogany combined with virtuoso carving on the doors was typical of the firm's output and for which Chippendale is justly renowned. Chippendale's bill for Sir Lawrence begins on 21 July 1763, however the items listed are of lesser value and interest, comprising 'a mahogany tent Frame £1 4s'; 'A large Mah: Cloaths press ... £10'; '2 large Mahogany Terms of fine wood with Crystal Globes ... £15 15s' and on 18 November that year, the last entry for 1763, he invoiced 'a Neat Mahogany Linen airer 12s'. Dundas seems to have been satisfied with the quality of the above pieces, as the very next piece listed on Dundas's invoice is the present bookcase. It was invoiced on 20 January 1764 as
'To a very large Mahogany Bookcase of fine wood with a Scrol pediment top & Rich folding doors glaz'd with plate Glass in the upper part & Cupboards with folding doors of very fine wood in the under part £80 - -'
At £80 it was by far the most expensive piece he had commissioned from Chippendale and was to be accompanied by its pair, invoiced later the same year on 16 August as follows:
'A large mahogany Bookcase same sort as before the upper doors Glaz'd with Crown Glass £73 - -'
The invoice is then appended with additional costs for 'Deal Nails screws & packing 15s' and '212 feet packing case £2 4s 2d' and 'Wharfeage and Sufferance 7s 3d' indicating that the latter bookcase was intended for Aske while the bookcase with the more expensive (£7 more expensive) plate glass was intended for Dundas's sumptuous London house, 19 Arlington Street.
At Arlington Street, it was recorded in an inventory taken in 1768 in The Library, with an alabaster vase perched on its central platform, between the scrolled pediment that is richly carved on its underside with fish-scales, or imbrication (A. Coleridge, op.cit, p. 200). Its form corresponds broadly to elements found in several patterns for bookcases included in Chippendale's The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1st and 3rd eds. 1754 & 1762. From plate 69 (1st ed.) and plate 93 (3rd ed.), a 'Library Bookcase', elements on the Dundas Bookcase comprise the dentilled cornice, scrolled corbel brackets and a version of the glazing-bar pattern where the canted corners of the pattern are replaced with concave-angles. The scrolled pediment and rich flowerhead carving on the uprights is seen on a vividly rococo pattern for a 'Desk & Bookcase', also included in Chippendale's 1st and 3rd editions as plate 78 (1st ed.) and plate 108 (3rd ed.). The majority of the elements, however, are seen in a pattern that was included in the later edition alone, in an engraving dated 1760 which featured a scrolled and dentilled pediment and richly-carved uprights, as seen on The Dundas Bookcase.
SIR LAWRENCE DUNDAS
Scion of the Dundases of Fingask, an ancient Perthshire family dispossessed of their lands in the 17th Century, Sir Lawrence Dundas's meteoric rise to power and fortune was uneclipsed in the 18th Century. Thankfully, his legacy of unerring connoisseurship and patronage remains to this day.
Following in his father's footsteps, Lawrence joined the family drapery business in Edinburgh in the 1730s. Swift to seize the opportunities laid open by the '45 rebellion, his pivotal role as 'Commissary of Forage' and supplier to 'The Royal Train of Artillery' proved supremely rewarding. It was his appointment as Commissary-General of the Army in Flanders during the Seven Years' War, however, that transformed his fortunes and earned him the accolade 'Nabob of the North'. As the account books for his trip to Germany in 1759 testify, with sums totalling close to £2 million, Dundas was the outstanding merchant contractor of the 18th Century.
Dundas's financial success was mirrored by his political ambition. Elected MP for Linlithgow Burghs in 1747, his political star was unfortunately short-lived, and he was forced to stand down amidst allegations of corruption the following year. Determined, therefore, to control his political destiny, he embarked on a large-scale programme of land purchase - from Kerse in 1749, to Cleveland, Marske, Loftus and Aske, with its convenient pocket borough in 1762, as well as Moor Park in 1763. His main activities, however, were at first directed towards building up political interests North of the Border - in Stirlingshire, Clackmannan, Fife and Orkney - under the direction of his political advisor, James Masterton.
In this, as in all things, Dundas flourished; in this, as in all things, he inspired bitter jealousy, which found its voice in the libelous 'Varro', declaring in the Morning Post that Dundas 'has already filled the House of Commons with five of his name (ie pocket boroughs) and three or four more who owe their seats to his wealth or influence. He has made a great show of his wealth, having purchased five or six capital estates in England, Scotland and Ireland and matched his children into some of the greatest families - such sudden fortunes gained out of the public purse, are among the heaviest weight of war'. His detractor's words, however, fell on deaf ears; for in 1762 he was raised to the Baronetcy and, under Lord Shelburne's sponsorship, was elected MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, whom he served from 1762-68, before his move to Edinburgh from 1768-81.
Political power and architectural patronage have always been inextricably linked, and it was inevitable that Dundas's mind should now turn to the latter. Elected a member of the Society of Dilettanti in 1750, Dundas was perfectly complemented in all things aesthetic by his 'dear life' Margaret Bruce of Kennet (1715-1802), whom he had married in 1738. That Sir Lawrence depended heavily on his wife's taste is profoundly clear from their correspondence. Thus, in discussing Aske, which they had acquired furnished from Lord Holderness, he wrote: 'some of the furniture is old and should be changed.. but everything of this sort I leave to your taste which is the best I have ever met with', while elsewhere he laments the 'difference one finds in coming from Moor Park where you have everything in such order'. The Dundases' remarkable architectural and artistic patronage was very much the product of their union.
The 1760s witnessed an uprecedented burst of building activity by the Dundases. Unusually, however, save for Dundas House in Edinburgh, for which Sir William Chambers supplied the designs in 1771, all of the Dundas houses were modifications and improvements of earlier existing houses. As might be expected, it was to John Carr of York that they turned for 'new additions to the house' at Aske in 1763, the new Dining Room being 'the best for that purpose that I ever saw' by 1766, as well as for the quadrant wings at Kerse in 1766. However, whilst it was Capability Brown who was contracted to lay out the Park at Aske, it was to Robert Adam that the Dundases looked to 'ornament the Garden, farm and park' at Moor Park in 1766. The latter, a princely mansion designed by Giacomo Leoni in 1720 for Benjamin Styles, had been acquired in what was, arguably, the 'annus mirabilis' of Sir Lawrence's political and architectural ambitions. For 1763 saw not only the end of the Seven Years' War, with its ensuing optimism and prosperity, but also the acquisition of Moor Park and a new London house, 19 Arlington Street.
19 ARLINGTON STREET
As Horace Walpole noted, 'From my earliest recollection, Arlington Street has been the Ministerial street', and it was to serve this political end that Sir Lawrence engaged Robert Adam to draw up plans for improvements to his new London mansion. Built for Lord Carteret between 1732-8, and set back from the road behind a pedimented porter's lodge, Adam's first proposal 'for adding a Great Room towards Green park', with a handsome park facade, was soon abandoned in favour of a simplified modification, the only exterior alterations being the tripartite thermal windows to the principal rooms overlooking the Park. Characteristic of all the Dundas houses, it was upon the interiors, the furnishings and pictures, that Sir Lawrence and Lady Dundas lavished their attention, and it is for this that they are rightfully recognised as among the greatest connoisseurs of the 18th Century.
Perhaps nowhere reveals this more clearly than the interiors of Arlington Street. Unlike at Moor Park, Adam enjoyed a free hand, supplying designs for everything from 'Termes for the salon' as well as the 'vase candlesticks' that stood upon them, to painting in of all the parts of the carpet at large for Mr. Moor' of Moorfields, quite apart from the 'design of Sofa chairs for the Salon £5'. Although the 'few large and capital pictures' cannot be precisely identified, Sir Lawrence Dundas possessed one of the most discerning eyes of his generation. His taste was sufficiently broad for him to acquire not only first class Dutch pictures, including the remarkable holding of works by Teniers acquired through his agent Greenwood from the Marquis de Gravelle, as well as several Cuyps and that masterpiece by van de Capelle - in Greenwood's own words, 'ye Capelle is one of ye most capital pieces that is known of him' - but also Poussin's 'Crucifixion', and Murillo's enigmatic 'self-portrait'. He was by no means frightened to commission living artists as well, and the Boudoir at Arlington Street was hung with 'three large views of Moor Park', for which Richard Wilson was paid 80 guineas, as well as that quintessential portrait of an English connoisseur - Zoffany's portrait of Sir Lawrence and his Grandson in the Pillar Room at Arlington Street, for which he was paid £105 on 26 June 1770. The calibre of Dundas's 'cabinet' was quickly recognised by his contemporaries, Lady Mary Coke remarking that his picture collection was 'very fine' as early as 1769.
The furnishings of Dundas' houses was of equal calibre. Indeed, Sir Lawrence remains arguably the most important patron of later 18th Century cabinet-makers, and has the distinction, perhaps uniquely, of employing virtually all of the greatest exponents of this art during George III's reign. As his account books so remarkably testify, Dundas employed no less than Samuel Norman, Fell and Turton, Chippendale and Rannie, Vile and Cobb, France and Bradburn, Mayhew and Ince, James Lawson and Pierre Langlois in the 1760s alone.
Those things which could not be found in England, moreover, were sent for from abroad. Thus the rock crystal and ormolu 'lustres' for the Gallery at Moor Park were smuggled from Paris in the diplomatic train of the Prussian Ambassador in 1767, while the Neilson tapestries were shipped from the Gobelins manufactory in June 1769. With these latter purchases, Dundas can clearly be placed in the vanguard of Francophile taste.
Similarly, the acquisitions of the 'chimneypiece of statuary and yellow of Siena marble' in Florence from the sculptor Francis Harwood, through the intervention of his son Thomas, which was dispatched to Aske in 1767, as well as the remarkable lapis lazuli chimneypiece reputedly from the Borghese Palace, which stood in the Tapestry Room at Moor Park, the 'Carlo Maratti' recommended to him by Greenwood, the Zoffoli bronzes and the mythological canvases by Cipriani which dominated the Hall at Arlington Street, could equally place him at the forefront of Italophiles.
A brilliant businessman, a shrewd political animal, a true dilettante and an enlightened patron of the liberal arts and architecture, Sir Lawrence Dundas was an uomo universale. With his 'dear life' Margaret, he has the unique distinction of not only patronising virtually all of the greatest cabinet-makers of King George III's reign, but also the most celebrated architects. It is a formidable legacy.