This elegant library table typifies the high quality work of the Little Newport Street and Upper Marylebone Street cabinet-makers John McLean and Son (active 1770-1815). Although unlabelled, it can be attributed to this firm on account of an almost identical table, labelled by McLean, at Saltram, Devon. The table's design displays the distinct fusion of Grecian and Egyptian motifs with early 19th century Parisian fashion. The firm advertised that it specialized in 'Elegant Parisian Furniture' and many elements of the table have a clear French influence combined with English restraint. The table is made in Grecian black-figured rosewood; the preferred wood of the firm for its rich qualities and dramatic contrast to the gilded wood and metal mounts. The most dominant feature of the table's decoration is the lavish use of metalwork in cast and shaped brass. The ribbed brass/metal border around the top and bottom edge of the table and the mounts of the legs reflect the golden tablets of the frieze and is enriched with 'Egyptian' striations. These tablets, previously popularized at the court of Louis XVI by the manufactures of the ébéniste David Roentgen, were a favoured ornament of the firm, and are also found on the legs of two sofa tables illustrated in S. Redburn, 'John MacLean and Son', Furniture History, 1978, pls. 41A and B, and on a sofa table attributed to John McLean and Son, sold anonymously, Christie's London, 24 April 2008, lot 416.
An almost identical rosewood library table is in the Library at Saltram, Devon (Redburn, op. cit. pl. 42B). It features the earlier label of John McLean where he is recorded at Pancrass Street and 58 Upper Marylebone Street from c. 1799-1805. A painting by Nicholas Condy, c. 1825, shows this table in situ with the Earl and Countess of Morley and their family surrounding. The painting highlights the brass-mounts of the table and its multi-functional use as a focal point within the room for reading and writing.
Furthermore, another table with very similar metalwork, was probably originally supplied to George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey (1773-1859) for Berkeley Square and, later moved to Middleton Park, Oxfordshire and subsequently sold Pescheteau-Badin, Godeau et Leroy/Ricqlès, Drouot-Richelieu, Paris, 14 December, 1998, lot 186 (FF850,000). A bill for work carried out by McLean and Son for Lord Jersey for his London residence in Berkeley Square dated 22 April 1807 lists 'A Rosewood round library writing table elegantly mounted with ormolu moulding, lined with leather cedar Drawers and varnished. £26.10 (ibid., p.37). The only visible difference between the latter table and the present table is the presence of mahogany-lined drawers on the present table.
Another table with ribbed tablet mounts on the frieze and legs and attributed to John McLean was with Norman Adams, Ltd., and subsequently sold by Mr. and Mrs. Herzog, Sotheby's New York, 12 and 13 April 1985, lot 205 ($35,750 including premium).
The table's altar-drum is wreathed by golden Arcadian 'Pan' reeds and its frieze is enriched with tablets, sunk in the French-fashion and framed by golden palm leaves around the drawers. Masks of the satyr Pan bear festive trophies of musical instruments including the rustic pipes, flutes and bacchante tambourines ribbon-tied with a stringed instrument and music-sheet. The accompanying golden bas-reliefs evoke Ovid's Metamorphoses, pastoral poetry and the history of Apollo's Mt. Parnassus triumph.
MCLEAN & SON
The first appearance of the name 'McLean' can be found on the south side of Little Newport Street, Leicester Square in June 1770, where a 'Jn. McLean' rented a 'Ho & workshops' until 1783. A trade card for the Newport Street Address advertises that he was a 'Cabinet, Chair Maker and Upholder' (ibid., p. 31). From 1790 until the firm's demise in 1825, they are recorded at 55/58 Upper Marylebone Street and from c. 1799-1805, also in Pancrass Street. McLean and Son also gained a notable mention in Thomas Sheraton's Cabinet Dictionary in 1803. One of the 'fashionable Pieces of Cabinet Furniture' included a 'Pouch Table', whose design was taken and 'executed by Mr. M'Lean in Mary-le-bone street, near Tottenham court road, who finishes these small articles in the neatest manner' (ibid., p. 31).