TWO REGENCY COLLECTIONS: THE COWPER COLLECTION AT PANSHANGER AND THE DE GREY COLLECTION AT WREST PARK
This bureau plat was almost certainly acquired by either Peter, 5th Earl Cowper (d. 1836) for Panshanger, Hertfordshire or by Thomas, 2nd Earl de Grey for Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. The latter's collection of French furniture and objects was partially inherited at Panshanger. Panshanger was built from 1807-20 by the architect William Atkinson (d. 1839), Thomas Hope's architect at Deepdene, Surrey. He rebuilt Repton's house at Panshanger in the prevalent antiquarian taste.
A plausible alternative source for this bureau plat in the Panshanger collection is Thomas Philip Weddell, 5th Baron Lucas, 3rd Lord Grantham and later 2nd Earl de Grey (1741-1859) of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. A celebrated Francophile and amateur architect, while 'at Paris some years before' de Grey 'had paid a good deal of attention to small pavilions or buildings in Gardens with a view to Lodges or Park Gates at Wrest' and as early as 1826 he had designed new entrance lodges on the estate in the French manner. On inheriting Wrest from his aunt in 1833, however, de Grey embarked upon a comprehensive rebuilding programme. Acting as architect himself, with the assistance of James Clephane, he razed Giacomo Leoni's earlier house to the ground, although retaining the celebrated garden pavilion designed by Thomas Archer. Armed with the inspirational architectural treatises of J. Courtonne, Le Blond, Le Roux, Blondel and L'Assurance he proceeded to design an early Louis XV house in the English countryside, completed in 1839 at a cost of £92,832 35 8d.
As the letter to his son so tellingly reveals (Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, vol. 59, no. 1980, pp. 65-85), the mansion was a comprehensive essay in francophile taste. The tapestry room, for instance, was originally to be hung with the Gobelins suite from his house at Newby, acquired by his cousin William Weddell in Paris circa 1765-6, before protracted negotiations for Lord Dundas's similar Gobelins tapestries at Arlington Street were pursued. These ultimately came to nothing, and in the end de Grey commissioned a suite of hangings from the Beauvais factory, after his own designs, which were ordered through Monsieur Salandrouze. The boudoir was painted with medallions 'of Watteau-like figures, as like a Sèvres cup as we could make them', while the doors for the saloon re-used some 'French wainscotting bought for George IV for Windsor Castle by Mr Walsh Porter'
De Grey's goût was very much in the vanguard of the revival of interest in French furniture and taste promoted by George, Prince of Wales, later George IV. It is, therefore, interesting that de Grey refers to the marchand-mercier Edward Holmes Baldock (d. 1854) in a letter. This purveyor of decorative art to William IV (1832-7) and Queen Victoria (1838-45) was responsible for the formation of many of the greatest early 19th Century collections of French furniture including, other than that of George IV, those of the Dukes of Buccleuch and Northumberland, William Beckford and George Byng. The predominance of French furniture in the de Grey collections at both Wrest and Newby Hall, Yorkshire, may well point to the assistance of Baldock, and his expertise in acquiring the finest French furniture for his English clients may also suggest his involvement in the acquisition of this bureau plat.