The form of this dressing-table with its rich acanthus scrolled frame relates to a pattern for a chest-of-drawers in the 'French' manner illustrated by Thomas Chippendale in his Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director, 1763, pl. LXV. The fruit garlands and cabochon carved legs with acanthus-wrapped scrolled feet appear on a settee attributed to Chippendale in the collections of the Earl of Pembroke at Wilton House, Wiltshire and illustrated in A. Coleridge, Chippendale Furniture, London, 1968, fig. 200.
The elaborate carving of this dressing-table and the slightly over-attenuated design relating to Chippendale patterns are characteristics associated with the work of Wright and Elwick, cabinet-makers from Wakefield, Yorkshire. Although relatively little is know about this partnership, Richard Wright and Edward Elwick have been attributed with supplying furniture to Charles, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham for Wentworth Woodhouse, much of which was dispersed in two sales held by Christie's in July 1948 and again fifty years later in July 1998. Payments made by Lord Rockingham to Wright and Elwick span from the first in 1748 to the last in 1784, indicating a long and lasting relationship between the two parties. The firm's interpretation of Chippendale designs is clearly demonstrated in the florid carving apparent on the fustic commode sold from Wentworth Woodhouse, Christie's, 8 July 1998, lot 65. Also of note is the use of exotic timber, evidently a characteristic trait in the Yorkshire cabinet-maker's work, the present dressing-table encorporates sabicu in the banding of the top. In 1773 Elwick requested permission to send William Constable at Burton Constable on approval: 'a very Curious Ladys Toylet of mix'd Woods, viz Violet, Citron and Sypress, & it is Extra Workmanship...I shall not have it in my power to make such an other, as I could not procure such a fine assortment of woods in the Kingdom' (C. Gilbert, 'Wright and Elwick of Wakefield, 1748-1824: A Study of Provincial Patronage', Furniture History, 1976, p.40).
This fine dressing table once formed part of the collection of the financier and diamond trader Solomon Barnato Joel (1865-1931). Joel made his fortune in diamonds, he was a director of Barnato Brothers as well as De Beers Consolidated Diamond Mines. However his passions extended to sport and society and were once described as 'the stage, horses and fine clothes'. Horses certainly played a major role and he had keen competition with his brother Jack on the turf, between them their horses won virtually every major race including the Oaks, the Two Thousand Guineas, the Derby, the St. Leger and the Ascot Gold Cup. He was famed for his hospitality, throwing lavish parties at his country estates and at his Great Stanhope Street residence which is said to have housed 'famous works of art as well as the rarest collection of Chippendale furniture under one roof' (M. Fraser, Oxford University Press, 2004-5). Interesting to note is a matched pair of writing tables, virtually identical to the current lot but later in date which were sold, the Property of the late H.J. Joel, 1 April 1993, lot 172 (listed with the incorrect provenance from the 1935 S.B. Joel sale).
At sometime following the Joel sale in 1935, the dressing table entered the collections of Colonial Williamsburg, most probably through the recommendation of the famed author and adviser R.W. Symonds who advised Williamsburg on their acquisitions. The original building, completed in 1724, had been destroyed by fire in 1781 and it was not until the early 1930s, when the land was owned by William and Mary College, that the original site was rediscovered and the building was re-built to the original specifications, finally completed in 1934.