This metamorphic 'harlequin' reading and writing-table, inlaid with brass enrichments in the Louis Quatorze manner of André-Charles Boulle (d.1732), is designed in the 'picturesque' Franco-Romano fashion called 'Modern' in the 1730's. With its tripod base with pad feet and ratcheted adjustable top separating from the drawered frieze when elevated, it closely resembles a design on the trade-sheet issued in the 1730's and inscribed 'Potter London'. Now held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (no.E2320-1889), this trade sheet is almost certainly that of the cabinet-maker Thomas Potter (d.1782), recorded as working in High Holborn in 1737. That Potter was working in the vanguard of taste associated with John Channon is confirmed by the centrepiece of his trade sheet, a brass-filigreed collector's cabinet with the Cardinal Virtues supporting its pediment cartouche, which closely resembles that in the Victoria and Albert Museum (C. Gilbert and T. Murdoch, John Channon and brass inlaid furniture 1730-1760, London, 1993, fig. 11 and fig.113). Interestingly, Potter is known to have supplied furniture to Sir Richard Colt Hoare for Barn Elms House, London in 1738.
JOHN CHANNON AND HIS CIRCLE
This 'harlequin' reading-table belongs to a group of brass-enriched furniture conceived in the French fashion that the artist William Hogarth helped promote at his St. Martin's Lane Academy in the 1730s. The study of these masterpieces of Georgian cabinet-making has focused on Hogarth's St. Martin's Lane neighbour, the 'Cabinet-Maker and Frame-Maker', John Channon (d. 1779) (see Gilbert and Murdoch, op. cit., and The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, pp.155 and 156). Following London's rapid expansion westwards into Mayfair in the early 18th Century, John Channon took the opportunity to move from his family's cabinet-making business in Exeter and establish workshops in St. Martin's Lane, which was becoming the centre of England's cabinet-making industry. He was given encouragement by his Devon protégé, Sir William Courtenay, 7th Earl of Devon and 1st Viscount Courtenay (d. 1762) following his succeession to the Powderham Castle estates in Devon in 1736. 'J. Channon fecit 1740' is inscribed on brass tablets attached to a pair of arch-pedimented bookcases commissioned by the Earl for Powderham Castle. Celebrating 'Love's triumph', the latter are boulle-filigreed with ornament derived from the engraved 'Oeuvres' of Jean Bérain (d. 1711) and focused on the Venus 'dolphin' of Courtenay's ancient armorial crest.
The execution of such 'rich and curious [fine wrought] workmanship' no doubt necessitated the engraving and inlaying skills introduced by émigré craftsmen such as Abraham Roentgen (d. 1793) of Neuwied, and other members of the Moravian and Huguenot communities. Channon is likely to have employed journeymen for such work, as did the Clerkenwell 'Cabinet-maker and Chair Maker' Giles Grendey (d.1780), who was famed as a 'Great Dealer in the Cabinet way'. A related brass-enriched cabinet, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, has also been associated with the 'Curious [fine wrought] cabinet of casts, pastes and impressions' that belonged to Channon's St. Martin's Lane neighbour, Mr. William Hubert (d. 1740), a leading French dealer or marchand-mercier patronised in the 1730s by Frederick, Prince of Wales (d. 1751) (Gilbert and Murdoch, op. cit., p. 18 and T. Murdoch 'Hubert's Chandeliers', Country Life, 25 April 1996, p. 87). Further cabinet-makers working in this style include the previously unrecorded 'Antrobus', whose signature came to light during the 1993 exhibition on a bureau-cabinet dated '1730' and bearing a label with the inscription 'Antrobus Fecit' (see C. Gilbert, The Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture l700-l840, Leeds, 1996, figs. 23 and 24 and J. Cornforth, 'Top Brass Toppled', Country Life, 14 April 1994, pp. 56-59), as well as a 'Thomas Terner', probably the Long Acre cabinet-maker Thomas Turner or Turno(u)r who flourished from 1720-48, was responsible for the bureau cabinet at the Hermitage, illustrated in 'Historicism in Russia', Exhibition Catalogue, 1996.
A brass-inlaid jewel-chest of comparable character, made for Rebecca, Viscountess Harcourt circa 1735 and now at Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, is discussed by Tessa Murdoch in 'A brass-inlaid jewel chest on stand made for Rebecca, Viscountess Harcourt, c.1735', Furniture History, 1995, pp.104-7. Although stylistically it shares features in common with the brass-inlaid furniture of Frederick Hintz and John Graveley, no firm documentation could be found, although there are regular payments to 'Mr. Smith the Cabinet Maker' from the mid-1730s, totalling £217. 12s.