This beautiful early eighteenth century japanned bureau-cabinet would have been a significant commission by a patron entranced by the exotic art of the Orient. Appropriate for the furnishing of a bedroom apartment, it is exotically decorated in the Oriental manner with gold on a glossy red ground, painted or 'japanned' in imitation of lacquer. It is decorated overall with vignettes inspired by contemporary Chinese screens and chests in the Chinoiserie style, in the fashion promoted by Messrs. Stalker and Parker whose A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing, was published in 1688.
After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, trade with the Far East flourished and the supply of Chinese lacquer screens, cabinets and chests with Chinese ornament could not satisfy the high demand. Consequently, lacquer work was imitated by English and Continental cabinet-makers and amateur painters. This fashion reached its peak in the first decades of the eighteenth century, when this cabinet was produced. After this period, the craft declined as Oriental lacquer panels were once again incorporated into English cabinetwork. Examples of this later technique can be found in the work of the most prominent cabinet-makers including John Linnell at Badminton House and Thomas Chippendale at Nostell Priory and Harewood House.
John Stalker and George Parker's A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing provided instruction and designs for this craft. Using multiple coats of varnish (gum dissolved in wine spirits) mixed with pigments, and red glazes such as 'Dragon's blood', consecutive coats were applied, smoothed and polished to produce the varnished ground. The metals used for the ornamentation were a mixture of 'gold-dust' imported from Germany which 'enjoys a lively bright lustre', English silver dust and powdered golds and coppers. The ornament was painted on raised areas (a paste of whiting, pigment and gum) which was 'cut, scraped and carved' to the design used, or directly onto the varnished surface.
The present lot features the signatures 'DM' and 'Daniel Massey'. Although the identity of Daniel Massey is not certain, he was probably related to Abraham Massey, the known japanner and cabinet-maker who worked at 'The Two White Posts', Great Queen Street, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, and is listed in G.Beard and C.Gilbert, The Dictionary of London Furniture Makers, Leeds, 1986, p. 585. His obituary in the General Advertiser on 8 January 1746 read, 'A few days ago died, at his House in Great Queen Street, Mr. Abraham Massay, said to be the most eminent Japanner in England.'
A bureau-cabinet of similar form, except for a serpentine apron, is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (see Oliver Brackett, Catalogue Of English Furniture & Woodwork: Vol. 3, Late Stuart To Queen Anne, London, 1927, pl. 39). A second related bureau-cabinet belonging to Queen Mary and thence by descent was first sold by His Royal Highness The Duke of Windsor, K.G. at Christie's, London, 18 July 1957, lot 34 (£1,522) and again most recently Christie's, New York, 12 October 1996, lot 227 ($717,500 including premium).