Kinross House, Kinross-shire was built by Sir William Bruce Bt. (1630-1710), arguably Scotland's greatest classical architect, between 1685-93, and was described in 1753 by Daniel Defoe as 'the most beautiful and regular piece of architecture (for a private Gentleman's Seat) in all Scotland'. Once completed it is likely that it was Bruce's son, John, 2nd Bt; who took up residence. However both father and son died in quick succession in 1710, and after the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion the fortunes of the family and the estate declined until it was sold in 1777.
The new owner was George Graham (1730-1801), a wealthy merchant in the East India Company, and then his half-brother Thomas (1752-1818), who had been a Bengal Civil Servant. Between them they probably acquired a good deal of the oriental ceramics and other artefacts at Kinross. The present cabinet would have been an appropriate one in which to display their collections. After Thomas died the estate passed to his daughter Helen, who was married to Sir James Montgomery, 2nd Bt. (1766-1839). At this point much of the contents of Kinross were sold, the remainder being moved to Stobo Castle, Peebleshire, seat of the Montgomerys. Family tradition relates that the present cabinet was among that group.
However it is much more likely that the cabinet was acquired by Montgomery's father Sir James William Montgomery (1721-1803), who had enjoyed a successful legal and political career in Scotland. He was appointed the first Sheriff of Peebleshire in 1748, rising to Solicitor-General in 1761 and Lord Advocate in 1766, acquiring Stobo Castle in 1767. It is highly probable that Sir James commisioned the cabinet for his Edinburgh home, Queensbery House, Canongate, subsequently removing it to one of his other properties. It is possibly the 'China Mahogany China Press', listed in an 1806 Inventary & Valuations of Household Furniture, China, Bed and Table Linen at Whim belonging to the Trustees of the deceased Sir James Montgomery of Stanhope Baronet...', at the National Archive of Scotland, Ms. GD293/2/30, indicating that it could barely have been at Kinross in 1819. Later still it was moved again to Kinross, by Sir Basil Montgomery (1852-1928), when he took the decision in 1902 to sell Stobo and move to Kinross, embarking on an ambitious project to redecorate and refurnish the house, deserted since 1819, and to recreate the formal gardens that survive to the present day.
THE DESIGN BY CHIPPENDALE
This cabinet-on-stand, intended for the display of Chinese porcelain, relates very closely to designs in Thomas Chippendale's landmark Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, first published in 1754. The general form follows that of a 'China Case' illustrated No.CVIII, though the uppermost pagoda cresting has been lost, and the cabinet incorporates elements drawn from a number of other illustrations in both the 1754 and 1755 editions. These include the 'pagoda' canopy pattern with a scalloped edge used in the basic cabinet design as above, the glazing pattern based upon a 'Desk & Bookcase' (No.LXXX), the rococo base to the glazing bars derived from a foot pattern for a large five bay 'China Case' (No.CX), the guttae feet featured in several plates (Nos XCIII, XCVIII, and CVIII), and other asymmetric mouldings such as on a 'Cloths Press' (No.XCIX). The fret carving or 'Chinese railing' throughout is somewhat simpler than Chippendale's illustrated designs but there are similarities with Nos.XCII, CXVIII and CLII. It may be noted here that the combination of rococo and Chinese ornament was not entirely new, since a pattern for a chimneypiece/overmantel published by Matthias Lock and Henry Copland in their A New Book of Ornaments (1752) illustrated a combination of these elements. A further interesting constructional feature is the manner in which the centre stiles of the doors are chamfered to overlap when closed, so that the division is barely evident, an ingenious design which was also illustrated in The Director, (No.CVIII).
Although closely following the designs of Chippendale, in the absence of documentary evidence the cabinet cannot be given to the St. Martin's Lane cabinet-maker. The early history of the cabinet itself is unclear, but it is most likely that it was supplied to Sir James William Montgomery (1721-1803). During the 1750s Montgomery's career was very much on the rise, and at the same time the Edinburgh cabinet trade was in rude health. The public press was filled with advertising, promoting the merits of one maker over others to gain the patronage of potential clients. It seems highly probable that the present cabinet, based upon Chippendale's design, was supplied by one of these excellent Edinburgh cabinet-makers. There is ample evidence for this supposition based upon the close connections between Chippendale, the Edinburgh wright Alexander Peter and their wealthy patron William, 5th Earl of Dumfries.
The subject was well covered in Francis Bamford, Dictionary of Edinburgh Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1983, pp.10-13, and in comprehensive fashion in essays by Andrew Mclean, 'Dumfries House: A History', Sebastian Pryke, 'Dumfries House - A Wider Scottish Perspective The 18th Century Furniture Trade in Scotland', and Rufus Bird, 'Who was the Dumfries House Cabinet-Maker', Christie's sale catalogue for Dumfries House, 12-13 July 2007.
In 1758 when the Earl of Dumfries embarked upon the decoration of his newly-built mansion, Alexander Peter was already well established in the cabinet trade. He had worked for Lord Dumfries as early as 1745 at his Edinburgh townhouse on Castlehill and was already engaged at Dumfries House in 1757. He was a highly talented craftsman who was apprenticed to James Brownhill in 1713, achieving journeyman status in less than five years, and apparently with a highly developed sense for the finer points of interior decoration. Peter took his own apprentice in 1733, one William Mathie who became a skilled carver; the two enjoyed a long and productive partnership in business, their skills complementing each other. In 1759-60 Peter supplied a large quantity of the plainer mahogany (and elm) furnishings for Dumfries House, and thus would have been fully exposed to the magnificent furniture being delivered at the same time by the celebrated London cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale. Not that Peter's furniture was inferior, it was of extremely high quality, and shared many common stylistic features with the work of the 'Master'. This is no surprise as Chippendale's The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director had been available in Edinburgh very soon after first publication in 1753 so the designs would have been very familiar to both craftsmen and patrons. Ironically there is no evidence that Chippendale ever visited Dumfries House itself or indeed any other projects in Scotland.
As a measure of how similar was the work of Alexander Peter and Thomas Chippendale, one has only to refer to the serving-table supplied by Peter in 1759 for the dining-room at Dumfries House. It follows closely Chippendale's pattern (plate 36) published in The Director, with identical blind fret frieze and quatrefoil panelled and blind fret legs. The sole difference between the designs was the addition in Peter's version of an additional panel at the base of the leg featuring a fret-carved cross or saltire, perhaps a reference to the St.Andrew's cross, badge of Scotland.
The same symbol appears in the lower part of the doors of the Kinross cabinet, and while this by no means confirms the hand of Peter in the present lot, it seems no mere coincidence. And it is also a possibility that his favoured journeyman carver, William Mathie was responsible for the carving of the doors, Mathie having successfully executed a far more complex and sophisticated combination of Chinese and rococo carving for giltwood mirrors for Dumfries House, as well as 'four dressing glasses 'in Mochogney frames''(Francis Bamford, op.cit, p.14).
Given the evidence above it must be a distinct possibility that the present lot was supplied by the Edinburgh workshop of Alexander Peter.