The cabinetmaker George Brookshaw set up business on Curzon Street by 1777, and later moved to 48 Great Marlborough Street in 1782. He specialised in painted furniture and '....a great variety of new fashioned chimney-pieces, to correspond with his furniture, which are all made in a style peculiar to himself, in copper and marble painted and burnt-in...' He counted among his fashionable clients the Prince of Wales, Lord Delaval, the Duke of Beaufort, William Blathwayt, and almost certainly Colonel Sir Mark Wood. After 1794, he is no longer listed in the Directories, but it would seem that he set forth on a career path as a botanical illustrator and published A New Treatise on Flower Painting under the alias G. Brown. In 1816, a work of the same title and virtually the same content was published by George Brookshaw Esq. Brown is recorded only during the years that Brookshaw is 'absent', and for various reasons discovered by Lucy Wood, Curator of the Lady Lever Art Gallery, it would seem Brown and Brookshaw are the same person (L. Wood, 'George Brookshaw', parts I and II, Apollo, May and June 1991, pp. 383-397).
This pair of bookcases are not only amongst the very best items attributed to Brookshaw but also seem to have been part of his last and possibly most important commission. It was a chimney-piece said to be from Piercefield and now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art that first led Lucy Wood to connect the two faces of Brookshaw the furniture-maker and Brookshaw the flower-painter. These two cabinets have the same probable provenance as the chimney-piece which is inscribed 'Mr. Brookshaw/Cabinet Maker/Great Marlborough Street/London' on the reverse of a painted panel. Another three chimney-pieces (one possibly now in Home House, Portman Square) are thought to have been supplied for the house by Brookshaw, and it is probable that this pair of bookcases stood in arched recesses either side of one of the four chimneypieces (explaining the lack of decoration on the sides of the cabinets). The decoration of these cabinets suggest that they were provided for a lady's drawing room which slightly reinforces the impression that Brookshaw provided other items for the more public rooms of the house.
Piercefield is now a ruin but it was begun by Soane for George Smith in 1785 and completed by Bonomi after 1798 for Colonel Mark Wood who had acquired it from Smith in 1793. These cabinets probably date from the period immediately after Wood bought the house because Brookshaw drops from the Westminster rate books after 1794 and is assumed to have then stopped making furniture (see above). Contemporary descriptions of the house suggest that Brookshaw's painterly influence was strongly felt throughout.
The two architectural views on one cabinet depict Whitton Park, Middlesex, and Shardeloes, Buckinghamshire, taken from engravings in Harrison & Co.,Picturesque Views of the Principal Seats of the Nobility and Gentry in England and Wales, circa 1788. No connection with Piercefield has been established so it must be assumed that their inclusion was decorative. The two large panels are again taken from engravings after paintings by Angelica Kauffman, R.A. (d.1810) and depict Cupid disarmed by Euphrosyne and an adaptation of Cupid distressed by three nymphs (engravings by Thomas Burke 1784 and W.W. Ryland 1777 respectively; see: C.G. Boerner, Angelica Kauffman und ihre Zeit, Dusseldorf, 1979, nos. 28 and 142.)
The only really comparable pieces attributed to Brookshaw that have been identified are a bookcase cabinet probably made for the 3rd Lord Monson and still in that family's collection (illustrated in L. Wood, op. cit., pl. IV and M. Jourdain and F. Rose, English Furniture, The Georgian Period, 1750-1830, London, 1953, pp. 49-50 and figs. 12-13) and one probably made for Sir William Middleton at Shrubland Park (L. Wood, op. cit., pl. 2).