Robert Blake was one of a small group of craftsmen in London who exploited the fashion for boulle, following in the footsteps of the émigré cabinet-maker Louis le Gaigneur who had premises in Queen Street. Others who specialised in this type of work included Edward Holmes Baldock and Thomas Parker. Relatively little is known about Blake and his firm, which continued under his four sons, George, Charles, James and Henry. Robert is listed in Robson's Commercial Directory of 1823 at 8 Stephen Street, Tottenham Court Road, as 'Buhl Cutter' and again in 1826 in the Post Office Directory, as 'Cabinet inlayer and Buhl manufacturer', and was certainly connected with the well-known John Webb, of Old Bond Street. The firm became known as R. Blake & Sons, in 1840 renaming itself Blake; Geo & Brothers in 1841; then George Blake & Co., cabinet-maker, 130 Mount Street, London, and also still in Stephen Street in 1844; George Blake in 1846-1850, 53 Mount Street; and 1851-1853(?) George Blake, 53 Mortimer Street. The Stephen Street premises was still used by family members, variously as 'Blake, J. & H', by 1853 'Blake, Chas. & H.,' listed until 1880. It is likely the address in Mount Street was established as a showroom rather than workshops (C. Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700 - 1840, Leeds, 1996, p.18).
Robert Blake is known principally for the ormolu-mounted, tortoiseshell and ebony 'Boulle' commodes he executed directly after the celebrated pair supplied by André-Charles Boulle in 1708-09 for the Chamber of Louis XIV at the Grand Trianon, of which one pair is in the Frick Collection, New York. His creations tended to follow the great pieces of French 18th century furniture that were being collected in the early years of the 19th century by such francophile collectors as George, Prince of Wales, later George IV, George Watson-Taylor, William Beckford and Francis Seymour-Conway, 3rd Marquess of Hertford. Apart from these commodes, very few signed pieces executed by the firm are recorded, though a commode with mounts stamped 'BLAKE' and numbered was sold Christie's, London, 27 May 2010, lot 76.
The French-fashioned writing-table offered here can be confidently attributed to the Blake firm by comparison with a marquetry tray featuring closely related marquetry designs and bearing a handwritten label for Robert Blake (ibid., p.112, fig. 131).