This magnificent pair of Boulle marquetry cabinets is en suite with a pair of similarly decorated cabinets in the Royal Collection, now at Windsor Castle (RCIN 21631). This ensemble is undoubtedly the production of a marchand-mercier, in all probability a member of the Julliot dynasty. Constructed in the 1780s using early 18th century elements attributed to André-Charles Boulle, they epitomize the fashionable revival of Boulle furniture of the late 1770s and 1780s, and were recorded in the celebrated collection of Dutch amateur baron van Hoorn van Vlooswyck (1743-1809).
FROM BOULLE TO JULLIOT
Their tripartite composition, as well as the use of large scale bronze casts from Boulle's workshop (in this case, allegories of the Seasons), combined with neoclassical elements such as the egg-and-dart cornice and toupie feet, are typical of the Boulle revival production developed by the marchand Claude-François Julliot (1727-94) from the 1760s-1780s . During that period, Boulle furniture was being avidly sought after by collectors to be used and displayed in studies, libraries and art galleries, where it was associated with Dutch paintings and sculpture collections. This new taste was illustrated in the interiors of the fashionable financiers Blondel de Gagny, Radix de Sainte-Foix, and Grimod de la Reynière, among others.
Julliot draw inspiration from early 18th century tripartite cabinets by André-Charles Boulle as described in Boulle’s inventory of the 6th October 1715 for his ‘Act de Delaissement’ when he retired and handed the business over to his four sons. Two pairs are described with three doors in marquetry with bronze mounts intended to be gilded is described as fallow:
‘une armoire de six pieds de long en marqueterie et de bronze a trois portes faite a la reserve de quelques bronzes et preste a dorer; commandee, valant 1000l'
Une parielle armoire qui est la contre-partie de celle mentionee cy-dessus etant egalement commandée, valant 850l’
The panels and mounts visible on the present pair may therefore have been re-used from these tripartite cabinets recorded in the inventory or from a similar pair from Boulle’s workshop. A Louis XIV cabinet of this type, attributed to André-Charles Boulle, was also recorded in the van Hoorn sale and was sold from the Wildenstein collection, Christie’s, London, 14-15 December 2005, lot 5.
It is also possible, however, that the panels used for the cabinet doors could have originally been part of large-scale bibliothèques, which were amongst Boulle’s most ambitious projects. Identical ormolu-framed marquetry panels and ormolu masks, scrolled volutes and rosettes are indeed seen in a drawing after Boulle (illustrated, formerly Kunstgewerbemuseum / Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten, Berlin). These panels relate in form to those described in the important book-cabinet supplied by Lazare Duvaux to Ange-Laurent La Live de Jully (1725-1779) and made up of several book-cabinets linked by similar upright panels, which sold in 1770; a drawing of the panels survives in the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa. The cabinet’s design also relates to similar large-scale cabinets made by Etienne Levasseur (1721 - 1798), a pupil of one of Boulle’s sons and known to have supplied furniture to Julliot in the 1770s-80s. Almost identical ormolu-framed marquetry panels with masks, scrolled volutes and rosettes are seen on the Wallace Collection’s ‘Londonderry Cabinet’, attributed to Levasseur (F390), and illustrated in P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Furniture Vol. II London 1996 pp.546-50).
Other contemporary cabinet makers worked in the Boulle-revival style such as Weisweiler, Montigny, Joseph Baumhauer and further cabinets with identical allegorical figures of the four seasons and similarly inlaid plinth include a pair of meubles d’appui attributed to Adam Weisweiler, formerly in the collection of Baron Salomon de Rothschild sold from Schloss Schillersdorf at Christies New York on the 27th May 1999 lot 250 (illustrated) and another pair attributed to Adam Weisweiler, sold from the Widenstein collection, Christie’s, London, 14-15 December 2005, lot 25; a single one from the collection of the late Marquess of Lincolnshire and formerly at Carrington House; and a commode à vanteaux attributed to Philippe-Claude Montigny now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. c.1785-90, (inv. 72.DA.71). Although attributed to different cabinet makers, this whole group was certainly masterminded and supplied by the marchand Claude-François Julliot who would have collaborated with different ébénistes for various commissions.
BARON VAN HOORN VAN VLOOSWYCK
This superb pair of cabinets is first recorded in the 1809 sale of the Collection of Baron van Hoorn van Vlooswyck (1743-1809). A Dutchman, known as le baron de Hoorn spent a large part of his youth in Italy. He assembled one of the most important collections of engraved stones (which was sold to Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland), lapis lazuli objects and antiquities. The Rothschild cabinets were described as lot 580 of the de Hoorn sale in Paris on 22 November 1809, lot 578, and were en suite with the pair now at Windsor Castle (lot 577):
'577. Un meuble ouvrant à trois battans, à dessin de rinceaux d'ornement, tant en marqueterie première partie qu'en bronze, enrichi de quatre équerres, d'enroulemens d'ornement & mascarons, avec moulure et corniche à rinceaux, iquerres & filets en bronze; morceau vraiment pur et capital. Haut. 56 po. [151.2 cm. high]; Larg. 43 [116 cm. wide]; prof. 16 [43.2 cm.].
578- Deux cabinets pouvant faire suite aux précédens, attendu la ressemblance des panneaux du milieu, qui sont enrichis chacun d’une des figures des quatre saisons; les bases et corniches de même, couvertes chacune d’un marbre blanc. Haut.58 po. [157.8 cm.], prof. 16. [43.5 cm.]’
Baron van Hoorn had a vast collection of Boulle furniture which included no less than eleven bas d'armoires with three doors. Most of these pieces were conceived in the second half of the 18th century. As the 1809 catalogue has avoided the usual florid epithets of 18th century sale cataloguing, it is important to note the phrase ‘morceau vraiment pur et capital’, which suggests a work by Boulle himself.
Baron van Hoorn lived in a Paris hôtel particulier, the hôtel Vendome in the rue d'Enfer. He died at the age of 65 and in his will he stipulated that his 'cabinet universel soit vendu à Paris dans ma maison sans y ajouter ou retrancher d'autres choses qui ne m'ont appartenu!' Amongst the numerous masterpieces in ‘Boulle marquetry’ in the 1809 sale there was another cabinet (lot 579), mentioned above, sold from the Widenstein collection, Christie’s, London, 14-15 December 2005, lot 5, a table almost certainly supplied by Julliot, lot 588, almost certainly formerly in the collection of Aranc de Presle and also sold from the Widenstein collection, Christie’s, London, 14-15 December 2005, lot 190, a pair of cabinets on stand stamped by Jacques Dubois and also probably supplied by Julliot for Aranc de Presle, sold at Christie’s, Paris, 16 December 2008, lot 2; a pair of torchères, lot 593 in the 1809 sale, now at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. 87.DA.5).
THE WINDSOR CABINETS
Recent examination and comparison of the Rothschild pair and Windsor pair proves both pairs were conceived together as an ensemble. Although of different width, the central panels on both pairs are of the same design, either en première-partie (on the Windsor pair) or en contre-partie (on the Rothschild pair), and each with a figure of the Four Seasons. The mounts used on both pairs are a fascinating mixture of Louis XIV circa 1715 and Louis XVI circa 1785 mounts, some of the same model indicating that Julliot used some early 18th century elements by Boulle, which he supplemented by matching later Louis XVI mounts, now scattered between the two pairs and within each pair.
The Windsor cabinets (illustrated in H. Roberts, For The King's Pleasure The Furnishing and Decoration of George IV's Apartments at Windsor Castle, London, 2001, p.264), may have been purchased by George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) from the dealer Robert Fogg in 1813 at a cost of £840 (PRO LC 11/14 2 February 1813). They were formerly placed in the Pediment Stores, Carlton House and were sent to Morel and Seddon on 2 and 8 December 1828. Interestingly, the Windsor pair was listed in 1813 together with another pair described as '2 less do. [ditto]’ suggesting the Rothschild pair might have been part of the Royal Collection and subsequently sold from George IV’s Collection, together with other French furniture pieces such as the Levasseur’s bibliothèque now at the Wallace Collection (F390) – although these cabinets do not feature in the 1836 Buckingham Palace sale (Phillips, Neale & Sons, 11-13 August 1836) nor in any other Royal sales held by Christie’s.
ASHRIDGE PARK, HERTFORDSHIRE
These cabinets can be first identified at Ashridge Park in Hertfordshire in circa 1864, where a single cabinet appears in a photograph of Lady Marian Alford, Viscountess Alford (1817-1888) in the Drawing Room. The photograph, which is in a private collection, shows this room prior to the addition of marble columns, part of a later refurbishment, and thus allows for the image to be roughly dated. Lady Alford was an artist, art patron and author, married to John Hume Cust, Viscount Alford (1813-51), the eldest son of John Cust, 1st Earl Brownlow (1779-1853). Lord Alford inherited the magnificent Bridgewater estates in 1849. The immensely wealthy Frances Egerton, 3rd and last Duke of Bridgewater (1736-1803) had acquired a remarkable collection of paintings including the Trumbull collection and part of the spectacular Orléans collection, housed after his death in a specially commissioned ‘New Gallery’ at Bridgewater House, London (formerly Cleveland House). A large portion of the 3rd Duke’s estate including Ashridge Park was bequeathed to his cousin, John William Egerton (1753-1823), who succeeded as 7th Earl of Bridgewater in 1803.
The cabinets probably entered the Brownlow collection as part of the Bridgewater inheritance in 1849. Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater (1756-1829), who died unmarried and without issue, was a prolific collector of Boulle furniture at the hôtel d’Egerton in Paris. After February 1829, the valuable contents of the hôtel in Paris were shipped from Paris to Ashridge Park by the Earl’s French steward/secretary Monsieur Barbier, and within this consignment ‘les articles de Boule’ were mentioned although not itemized (Herts RO_Ashridge 2575). However, these cabinets do not appear in the 1830 inventory of hôtel d’Egerton compiled after Lord Bridgewater’s death (Archives Nationale, MC/RE/LXVIII/12). Lord Bridgewater also referred to a bequest of Boulle furniture in his will ‘works of art called commonly Boulle consisting of tables… commodes etc. etc.’ to ‘the proprietor or proprietress’ of Ashridge Park (PROB 11/1754/3, p. 4) although unfortunately inventories for Ashridge Park have not survived. The uncertainty regarding who was to inherit was undoubtedly due to the Bridgewater succession resting with the Court of Chancery.
Alternatively, the cabinets may have come into the possession of Lord Alford through his mother Sophia, youngest daughter of Sir Abraham Hume (1749-1838), an important art patron and collector of Boulle furniture in his own right, who was married to Amelia, sister of the 7th and 8th Earl Bridgewater. Sir Abraham resided at Wormleybury, Hertfordshire, and upon his death much of his superb art collection went to his grandson, Lord Alford, at Ashridge Park, and thence to his great-grandson, 3rd Earl Brownlow.
MARY (MAY), DUCHESS OF ROXBURGHE
After the sale in 1923, the cabinets subsequently formed part of the important collection of English and French furniture of Mary (May), Duchess of Roxburghe (1878-1937), a New York heiress ( née Goelet) who married in 1903 Henry John Innes-Ker, 8th Duke of Roxburghe (1876-1932); one of the cabinets was discussed and illustrated by Country Life in 1931. During this period, the pair was placed in the staircase hall of her magnificent residence at 2 Carlton House Terrace, London. The cabinets at this time still retained the additional gilt-bronze female masks to each flanking panel, which are likely to be of English 19th century manufacture, and that appear in 1921 photographs of the cabinets at Ashridge Park. However, these masks were evidently removed prior to their sale held by Christie’s in 1956, as recorded in a Christie's photograph of the cabinets taken before the sale.
Duchess May was passionately interested in art and collecting and embarked upon an extensive remodelling of Floors Castle, the spectacular Scottish Roxburghe seat, to accommodate her collection. May decorated Floors with her own collection of art including a priceless series of 17th century Gobelins tapestries, ‘The Triumph of the Gods’, depicting Neptune, Ceres, Venus, Cupid and Juno as the Elements accompanied by the Seasons. Indeed, the ballroom was a specially altered in the 1930s to fit these exquisitely embroidered fabrics alongside the Duchess’s expanding collection of important French furniture and Chinese porcelain as well as Old Masters, Impressionist and Modern British Art.
We would like to thank Rufus Bird Esq., Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art, Royal Collection Trust, for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.