"No-one of this century or any other I know of ever possessed that artistic rule over the kingdom of nature in any measure at all ..The real joy he had in his work, the almost childlike delight he felt in designing artefacts and watching (them) carved out, no-one could ever appreciate who had not witnessed it".. (The Art Journal, 1886). "(He)..was accustomed to follow the bent of his genius rather eccentrically, and always without regard to the decorative or architectural fashions of the the hour...His house in Melbury-road is well known to artists, to whom it will probably long continue to be an object of interest....It was upon this house that he lavished his fortune, drawing hints from all styles, yet doing nothing in a fragmentary or piecemeal way, and infusing into the whole an intensely mediaeval spirit." (British Architect, 1881). So wrote E.W. Godwin after the death of his close friend William Burges in 1881.
Although Tower House in Melbury Road, Kensington was described by Mrs. Haweis as "...an Aladdin's Palace.. a specimen of what genius can do now..(when)..treated with fine poetic feeling and fun.." (Beautiful Homes, 1882), the greater part of the furniture and furnishings had in fact been created for Burges's earlier residence - a six-room apartment on the second floor of 15 Buckingham Street, in the Strand, overlooking the Thames. It was for his bedroom in this densely furnished suite of rooms that Burges created the present 'stand for cabinets' to display some of his many oriental treasures. The furniture and furnishings of the Buckingham Street interiors, later re-created and transformed at Tower House, show clearly the development of Burges' style from the robustness of the painted pieces of the 1860s to the lightness and delicacy of the present piece from the early 1870s. As Godwin wrote: " There was in his designs for metalwork ..a distinct development towards lighter handling. This tendency is still more marked in the sequence of his furniture designs. Indeed it is almost impossible to find a stronger contrast than that presented by him in the shafted gilded cabinet (possibly the present piece) he designed shortly before his death and the massive painted structure he devised more than twenty years before". (The Art Journal, 1886). Yet for all the apparent contrast in styles, the interiors combined to create a harmonious ensemble with certain features and motifs recurring and developing over time.
Burges' original scheme for the present piece (reproduced above) appears on a sheet of fifteen coloured drawings for furniture entitled 'Furniture Own Room', (British Architectural Library, RIBA, Ref. Burg. 107, and a preliminary sketch dated 1873 appears in one of Burges's own notebooks (RIBA archive). Another of Burges' notebooks contains a sketch of a detail of the chapel ceiling in the Palazzo Ricardi, Florence, which is possibly the source of inspiration for the exquisite design of the gilded underside of the upper shelf, incorporating thick panels of bevelled glass and finely carved fluted domes designed to subtly illuminate the objects on the shelf below. Bevelled glass was also employed by Burges in the dressing table created for his bedroom and this same piece also has carved finials which are remarkably similar to those on the present stand. The light cathedral-like effect of the present piece may be compared with the similar, though less playful, Gothic overmantel, also from Burges's bedroom; the arched castellations on the 'Narcissus' washstand which stood below the overmantel are echoed in the present stand from the same room.
After Burges' death in 1881, there was a sale of his effects. This sale must have included very little of his furniture as the complete interior of Tower House is described, room by room, in The House of William Burges, (R.P. Pullan, ed.,) in 1885. The stand, listed as a "Stand for Cabinets" is recorded here as item No. 33, located in "Mr. Burges' Own Bedroom". It would appear that the stand left Tower House before 1900: an inventory of the contents of the house of 1900 makes no mention of the piece, nor was it included in the sale of contents of Tower House in October 1933, when several important pieces, including Burges' bed, were offered for sale. Until recently, The stand and the earlier painted chest of drawers on which it once stood, were believed lost, known only from the surviving contemporary photographs taken in Burges' apartments in Buckingham Street in the 1870s. In the early 1970s however, the owners discovered the stand in an antique shop in London and purchased it for their private collection. In 1983, the marble shelf which forms the base was offered for sale at Messrs. Phillips, Son and Neale, London, (7 July 1983, lot 298A), where it was purchased by the present owners, who were thus able to re-unite the two elements. The painted chest of drawers of circa 1868 also re-appeared in 1983 and is now in the Manchester City Museum and Art Gallery.