THE ATTRIBUTION TO THOMAS CHIPPENDALE
This cabinet relates to Thomas Chippendale's neo-classical pattern for 'A Ladys Writing Table and Bookcase' with French rococo enrichments, illustrated in the third edition of his The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1762, pl. CXVI (see illustration). Being intended to furnish the window-pier of a lady's apartments, Chippendale noted that its doors were to be mirror-panelled, and, as in this case, its bureau fitted with a dressing drawer was to be attached to the central feet which 'come out with Drawer'. Chippendale's pattern for a lady's bureau-cabinet partly evolved from his earlier designs for 'China-cabinets', and its side cupboards were no doubt intended to support china vases, while the three central cartonnier drawers were bordered with a pagoda edging. In this later version, the rococo ornament has been omitted, a mosaic fret cornice applied to the side cupboards and a band of palm leaves substituted for the pagoda edging. These details, together with the medallion capped therm feet, display the influence of the architect Robert Adam, and relate to the japanned cabinet-stands that Thomas Chippendale supplied circa 1772 for Adam's neo-classical State bedroom at Harewood House, Yorkshire (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol.II, fig.102) as well as to the artist's table supplied in 1767 for Adam's library at Nostell Priory (C. Gilbert, op. cit., fig.396). The pierced fretwork on the side cornice repeats that on the dressing-table from Arniston House, now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, which has a strong Chippendale attribution, while the scrolled brackets surmounting the fretwork and joining the sides to the arched center are very similar to those on the violin bookcase, supplied by Chippendale for Pembroke House circa 1760-62 (C. Gilbert, op. cit., figs414 and 78). In view of the design and quality of this piece, it may well have been created in Chippendale's own workshops in St. Martin's Lane.
A Lady's Writing-Table of very similar form to the current example with concave sides to the base and forward sliding legs formerly in the collection of Jack Warner was sold by David Geffen in these Rooms, 12 October 1990, lot 173, ($220,000), and a further example slightly earlier in date with Gothic detailing was sold anonymously in these Rooms, 22 April 1989, lot 103, ($143,000).
THE SAMUEL MESSER COLLECTION
A little over a decade ago Christie's London witnessed the extraordinary sale of the Samuel Messer Collection, a collection that epitomised the Chippendale period of furniture-making, and in some way marked the end of the great English furniture collections formed in the early years of the 20th century in the Britain. Samuel Messer had followed in the tradition of many of these earlier collections and demonstrated an equally keen eye for a truly wonderful untouched surface and colour. Many of the pieces in the Messer collection came from these great collectors, including Percival Griffiths, J.S. Sykes, Fred Skull, James Thursby-Pelham, Geoffrey Blackwell and Herbert Rothbarth, from whose collection Messer bought the current lot, to name but a few.
Samuel Messer was indeed fortunate enough to have had the guiding influence of Robert Symonds who was instrumental in building many of the great aforementioned collections. Most notable of these was the Percival Griffiths Collection, which Symonds used to illustrate his book English Furniture from Charles II to George II in 1929. This publication bought to the forefront Griffiths' collection and demonstrated the passion which both men had for original patination and fine quality of timber. It cannot be denied that there was evidence of this remarkable eye for purity in virtually every piece of the Messer sale. Whilst many of the lots in The Messer Collection came laden with impressive provenances, these have surely been enhanced by the connection with Samuel Messer himself.