This Franco-Swedish fashioned lady's desk (bonheur-du-jour), with balustraded gallery for displaying china, is elegantly serpentined in Grecian lyre form that alludes to Apollo as poetry deity; while its marquetry celebrates Love's Triumph and is inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses ('Loves of the Gods'). The chest's Roman-mosaic of trompe l'oeil weave serves to recall the flower-baskets introduced by nymphs attending ancient festivities, and its reeds also recall the Arcadian fertility deity Pan. Its figurative medallion and tablet epitomise the 1760s Roman fashion of interior decoration adopted by the Rome-trained court architect Robert Adam (d. 1792). The medallion is conceived in the French goût-Grec fashion, and its vignette depicts an initiate trumpeting the Pan pipes at an enflamed altar during a sacrifice in antiquity. The altar wreath of veil-draped libation patera is echoed by the desk's 'label' tablet, with its veiled patera enwreathed by Venus' pearls, after Adam's 'Etruscan' manner. A related figurative medallion of the Muse of lyric and love poetry Erato, derived from an engraved work by the artist Angelica Kauffman (d. 1807), features on a commode bearing the date 1772 alongside the signature of the Paris-trained 'inlayer' Christopher Fuhrlohg (Hayward & Kirkham, op. cit., vol. I, p. 66, vol. II, fig. 111).
The scene of Apollo's altar attended by the muse Calliope and an initiate playing festive pipes, was probably inspired by the frieze of an antique vase and corresponds to that of a Louis XVI clock pattern, which was also executed in silver in 1795 by the Great Newport Street goldsmiths William Pitts and Joseph Preedy (see a clock, sold in these Rooms, 19 April 1990, lot 157).
FRANCO-SWEDISH EBENISTES IN LONDON
Fuhrlohg was Swedish, as was his brother-in-law, the cabinet-maker Georg Haupt, who arrived about a year after him in 1767/1768. They then became temporary employees of the Linnell firm, and must have been of great use to John Linnell. During the early 1770s related inlaid pictures of poetic figures, such as Venus, Erato, Diana and a Bacchante, were contributed by Fuhrlohg as well as by his half-brother, the Swedish cabinet-maker Johann Christian Linning (who came over in 1769) and another Swede, Carl Gustav Martin (nephew of Georg Haupt) to the Free Society of Artists exhibitions. Given the collaboration between these cabinet-makers, it is almost impossible to say who made the present bureau, however it was probably a member of this Franco-Swedish Linnell group.
In 1778 Fuhrlohg, having moved on from John Linnell by 1772, advertised his Tottenham Court Road workshops as having 'several curious [finely wrought] and elegant pieces of furniture, inlayed after the designs of the most eminent artists'. His trade-card of the early 1780s bore the feather insignia of George, Prince of Wales, later George IV, and was titled 'Fuhrlohg Ebeniste to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales' (The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, pp. 323-25). Kauffman's seated Muse Erato, together with a Bacchante and a standing Erato, also feature on a commode, that also dates from the 1770s and is similarly parquetried in basket-weave (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, p. 122, fig. 118 and J. F. Hayward, 'A newly discovered commode signed by Christopher Fuhrlohg', Burlington Magazine, 1972 pp.704-710 and fig 88).