This masterpiece of early Georgian cabinet-making is conceived in the Franco/Romano fashion and bears the label of Giles Grendey, the Clerkenwell cabinet-maker, chair-maker and timber merchant who was celebrated during George II's reign as 'a great Dealer in the Cabinet Way'.
In particular, its beautiful figured mahogany, embellished with fine carving and brass enrichments, relates to the quality of 'rich and curious [fine wrought] workmanship' for which he was already noted by 1731. He is recorded as manufacturing large quantities of furniture for export; and amongst his labelled furniture recorded in Europe is a collection of bureau-cabinets and seat furniture that he sent to Spain (C. Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700 - 1840, Leeds, 1996, fig. 447).
Throughout George II's reign he played a leading role in the London Joiner's Company, and was elected its Master in 1766, at a time that his son-in-law, John Cobb, held the court apointment as cabinet-maker to George III.
A particular feature of Grendey's cabinet-work is framed panels, elegantly serpentined in the French manner, and these appear on one of his 1740s pedimented clothes-presses, which also bears the same patterned label as this bureau-cabinet (ibid., fig. 443).
THE ARCHITECTURE AND ORNAMENT
The book-cabinet's magnificent architecture, triumphally pillared and crowned by an arched pediment, reflects that of the Rome-trained architect James Gibbs (d. 1754). Gibbs, who is celebrated as the Tory architect par excellence, was the author of A Book of Architecture, 1728, whose reissue in parts in 1739 was around the time that this cabinet is likely to have been manufactured.
Its 'triumphal-arch' faade is of 'Venetian window' form with a mirrored recess framed by paired pilasters, and the latter with their rounded freize entablature are repeated at the sides. They are of the Composite Order, combining that of the Ionic and Corinthian, and this was then generally known as the 'Roman' order. Their pattern is provided in a 1739 engraving issued in Batty Langley, The City and Country Builder's and Workman's Treasury of Designs, 1740 (pl. XIV).
The bureau-cabinet is brass-enriched after the French-fashion including 'boulle' inlays of golden Roman foliage and beribboned mosaic compartments; while the bureau and its commode have cut-corners picturesquely festooned with flowered and antique-fretted Roman foliage. The commode's gracefully bowed front and sides is serpentine panelled like the mirror frame.
THE SYMBOLISM AND ITS SOURCES
Being intended to decorate a bedroom apartment, after the stately French fashion, its ornament alludes to Venus, nature deity and goddess of love. Her triumphal dolphin-drawn chariot is recalled by reed-enriched acanthus cartouches, that conceal the castors and display the deity's embowed dolphins, with bifurcated-tails. Golden acanthus cartouches, forming the handles, are likewise inhabited by shell-crowned bacchic lions and festive feather-dressed nymphs. Even the commode doors, with their acanthus-flowered and ribbon-fret 'lozenge' compartments, allude to the embellishment of Rome's Temple of Venus.
Likewise, the bureau interior is similarly decorated and the 'commode' door of its central tabernacle is inlaid with a lozenged ribbon compartment. This is incorporated in a rusticated triumphal-screen of composite pilasters flanked by wall-niches and drawer-nests. Its architecture, in particular, recalls that of Gibbs' St. Mary-le-Stand as illustrated in his Book of Architecture (pl. 21).
The style of the richly-wrought handles as well as the rocaille carvings, with their embossed pearl cartouches, are indebted to the 1730s inventions of Jacques de Lajoue (d. 1761), Louis XV's Peintre ordinaire. His Livres de cartouches and Tableaux d'ornamens et rocailles, were published in London by Gabriel Huquier (d. 1772), while others featured in Edward Hoppus's The Gentleman and Builder's Repository, 1737. Indeed the bureau-cabinet's mixture of Roman architecture after Inigo Jones (d. 1652) combined with 18th Century Franco/Roman ornament reflects the 'modern' style of 1739 promoted by Batty Langley's furniture pattern book noted above.
THE GRENDEY BUREAU-CABINET AND RELATED FURNITURE
The discovery of this cabinet is an important addition to the group of brass-inlaid furniture, that was formerly attributed to the firm of John Channon (d. 1779). Channon opened a St. Martin's Lane establishment in 1737, and three years later labelled a pair of bookcases that were supplied for Powderham Castle, Devon (C. Gilbert and T. Murdock, John Channon and brass-inlaid furniture 1730-1760, London, 1993, pp. 106-113). Amongst those working in this manner in London during the 1730s was the celebrated Neuwied cabinet-maker Abraham Roentgen, who was involved in the production of 'mechanical devices' as well as the 'engraving' of furniture.
Among the related bureau-cabinets, which are of interest, is one dated 1732 and bearing the maker's signature of J. Antrobus. Its galleried cornice is likewise surmounted by a tabernacle arch, while pilasters, similarly antique-fluted and reed-enriched, frame its mirror (see J. Cornforth, 'Top Brass Toppled', Country Life, 14 April 1994, figs. 1 and 2).
Similar brass capitals feature on a carved and brass-inlaid medal-cabinet (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum), that is illustrated on the trade-sheet published by Thomas Potter, following the 1737 establishment of his Holborn workshops. 1737 was also the year that another related bureau-cabinet (now identified with one in the Victoria and Albert Museum) was advertised by another Holborn cabinet-maker, John Renshaw, as:-
'.. a very curious desk and Book-Case, which is allow'd by the Best and most impartial Judges, to far excell any Thing of the Kind that has ever been made, for its Beauty, Figure and Structure, which are very extraordinary. It chiefly consists of fine mahogany, embellished with Tortoiseshell, fine Brass Mouldings and Ornaments, with Palasters [sic] curiously wrought after the corinthian Order..' (Gilbert, op. cit, pp. 18, 19 and 61).
The spectacular Grendey bureau-cabinet clearly surpasses Renshaw's 'very curious desk and book-case', and is likely to have been executed soon afterwards.