The tables, each with a Vitruvian frieze fretted with a confronted and wave-scrolled ribbon-guilloche, and with scrolled legs headed by masks, wrapped in acanthus and terminating in lion paw feet, relate to drawings issued by the architect and Surveyor to the East India Company, William Jones, in The Gentleman or Builder’s Companion, 1739, pl. 27 and 28, the Bacchic lion masks referring to the Roman wine and harvest deity. The abundant rockwork and prominent foliate cartouche correspond to designs popularized by Matthias Lock in Six Tables, 1746.
THE DUCHESS OF ROXBURGHE’S COLLECTION AT CARLTON HOUSE TERRACE
The tables were in the collection of the Duchess of Roxburghe, at Carlton House Terrace, London, from at least 1931, and passed by descent by the 9th Duke until sold in 1956.
Mary Goelet (d.1937) was the daughter of prominent New Yorkers Ogden Goelet and Mary Wilson, and, at the time of her marriage to the 8th Duke of Roxburghe in 1903, was reputedly the wealthiest heiress in America, with a dowry of twenty million dollars, exceeded only by Consuelo Vanderbilt. She brought to Floors Castle, the Roxburghe family seat near Kelso, a remarkable series of 17th century Gobelins tapestries that were hung in the Ballroom, and introduced modern paintings by Sickert and Matisse. Meanwhile at No 3 Carlton House Terrace, the couple employed the prominent London decorators Messrs. Lenygon and Morant. Here they mixed French furniture from the mid 18th century with English rococo furniture of exceptional quality, including pieces from important country house collections such as Glemham Hall, Temple Newsam, Cassiobury and Badminton. One of the tables offered here was illustrated in the second of two articles by the furniture historian Margaret Jourdain in Country Life in 1931 (op.cit.). In describing the overtly rococo influence in the collection, Jourdain wrote of the tables’ 'lion detail and Vitruvian scroll (are) oddly aligned with varied and irregular coquillage’.
THE TABLES - AN EARLY 19TH CENTURY REVIVAL?
Marble topped tables of this pattern were much in demand in the first half of the 18th century, they were prominent in drawing rooms and dining-rooms, often used for the display of valuable imported marble, scagliola or mosaic tops, and affording the carver ample opportunity to express his craft, the frames displaying an abundance of foliage, shells and rockwork, and all manner of animals and human forms. A comparable table was supplied to Brightling Park, Sussex, also featuring a Vitruvian scroll frieze, lion-headed and acanthus-wrapped scrolled legs and paw feet. The latter has been attributed to the Great Newport Street cabinet-maker William Hallett Snr (d.1781) on the basis of various payments made between 1746 – 1753, and by comparison with a table formerly at Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire, where Hallett worked at almost the same time, and to a very similar value. The Brightling table was sold from the property at Bonhams, London, 2 March 2011, lot 94 (£216,000 including premium).
However, the 18th and 19th century history of the tables offered here is unclear. In addition there are a number of constructional attributes that do not conform to known eighteenth century cabinet-making, such as the lamination of the legs, and suggest an early 19th century date of construction. Paint tests reveal a layer of white lead primer and then green, pigments which were used in the 18th century but continued in use in the 19th century.
Furthermore, one table bears the signature of Charles Dyke, a stone mason of Pluckley, Kent, who is listed in the 1841 census return, a father of three but with no surviving wife. One can only speculate as to Dyke’s involvement with the tables. It is reasonable to think the carver of such tables might sign his name, and a painter, gilder or restorer working at a later date might do likewise. If Dyke supplied the marble slabs then why sign the tables rather than the marble? It seems quite possible that Dyke, adept in carving stone, could just as well have fashioned the tables. The 1830s saw a revival of interest in Georgian rococo design, most evident in John Weale's publication of Chippendale's Designs for Sconces, Chimney and Looking-Glass Frames in the Old French Style, circa 1833, reissuing original mid-eighteenth century copper plates produced by Matthias Lock and Thomas Johnson (although none by Thomas Chippendale himself) (M. Heckscher, 'Lock and Copland: A catalogue of the Engraved Ornament', Furniture History, 1979, p.8). Two further editions after Chippendale were issued in 1834 and 1835, respectively (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 311). In the absence of any documentation for the present tables before 1840, it is reasonable to consider this a time when they may have been commissioned.