Thomas, 3rd Viscount Weymouth, later 1st Marquess of Bath gained his majority in 1754, when he came into Longleat. In the late 1750s he employed the firm of cabinet-makers, upholsterers and 'tapissiers' established by Paul Saunders, who in partnership with George Smith Bradshaw (d. 1812) was then involved in completing the furnishing of Holkham Hall, Norfolk. This table was almost certainly supplied en suite with the suite of eight chairs and two sofas (see lot 338), and like that suite can be attributed to Paul Saunders. The Viscount's account at Drummonds shows two payments to Paul Saunders, one of £556 15s in November 1757 and another of £300 in November 1759.
The library writing-table is conceived as a 'French' bureau-plat and combines French picturesque ornament with elements alluding to the Antique or Roman style of the 1750s. Its hollowed sides and rounded columnar corners are in the Roman 'altar' fashion, while the 'Roman-truss' legs are antiqued with flutes like a Roman pilaster or tripod. Reeds band the façade's Roman tablets and the table's legs, whose feet conceal castors in their bubble-embossed whorls. Reeded and hollow-bubbled embossments are incorporated in the foliated cartouches on the legs and relate to those on Thomas Chippendale's 'new pattern' parlour chairs published in his 1754 Director (pl. XII).
The table is equipped with an elaborately fitted drawer, in the manner of contemporary architect's or artist's tables. However, in place of a single leather-lined 'slider' concealing the interior fitments, it contains a central compartment with hinged and leather-lined top, and two flanking compartments fitted with leather-lined 'sliders'. The table's trompe l'oeil lopers hide the fact that two levels of 'ink-stand' drawers are concealed in its right-hand side. These are spring-released to reveal silver ink-pot trays, that are fitted with silvered lifting handles.
The drawer is fitted with 'picturesque' handles, whose plates comprise flowered and scalloped cartouches. These handles, as well as the drawer's reeded escutcheon plate, feature as pattern numbers 256 and 379 in a mid-18th Century Birmingham brassware catalogue issued by Timothy Smith, while the loper handles appear as number 131 (T. Crom, An Eighteenth Century English Brass Hardware Catalogue, Florida, 1994, pp. 36, 55, 19). Chippendale used very similar handle plates for a flower-festooned secretaire-bookcase that he supplied in 1764 to Sir Lawrence Dundas, Bt. (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, fig. 87).
THE ROCOCO OR FRENCH 'PICTURESQUE' STYLE
The table's French 'picturesque' style, with its serpentined forms, combined with Roman acanthus, water reeds and scalloped elements, was popularised in the 1740s by the architect, Isaac Ware (d. 1766), Secretary to George II's Architectural Board of Works, where he worked alongside James Richards, his father-in-law and the Board's Master Carver. The serpentined form was also praised as the 'line of beauty' in The Analysis of Beauty, 1753, by William Hogarth, artist and founder of London's fashionable school of design in St. Martin's Lane. Thomas Chippendale (d. 1779) adopted the Louis XV style for the French armchair that served as the shop-sign of his St. Martin's Lane workshops established in the early 1750s (Gilbert, op. cit., vol. II, fig. 13). He also included French chair patterns in his celebrated publication The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director issued in three editions between 1754 and 1762. While bronze or ormolu ornament had largely replaced carving on fashionable Parisian cabinet-furniture, Chippendale explained that his Director ornament could either be executed in brass or carved, as is the case with this library table. He did however illustrate patterns for brass-work handles and escutcheons.