THE COMMISSION FOR HAGLEY HALL, WORCESTERSHIRE
The magnificent Hagley Hall sideboard-tables were supplied for the Garden Saloon of the Roman or Palladian-planned villa and were intended to serve for the display of the desert, when it functioned as the Withdrawing-Room from the adjoining, and more formal, Banqueting Hall.
Their design evolved from the patterns for 'Roman' or 'Marble' tables such as those featured in Batty Langley's Treasury of Designs, 1740, but their lightness reflects the elegant French 'Picturesque' style, that Chippendale described as 'Modern' in his Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1754. The tables have been celebrated as masterpieces of Georgian cabinet-making and have previously been attributed to Thomas Chippendale (d. 1779) of St. Martins Lane, since their inclusion in Thomas Chippendale: A Study of His Life, Work and Influence, 1925 written by Oliver Brackett of the Victoria & Albert Museum's Department of Woodwork. Brackett admired the tables as being distinguished for their graceful lines and the spirited quality of their carving, and noted that they were 'made for the Dining-room' together with a suite of chairs (see lot 51 in this sale), however the Chippendale attribution is no longer sustainable.
The tables celebrate 'Nature's Abundance' and in keeping with their function for displaying plate, fruit, wine etc., their cornices are wreathed by ribbon-guilloches enriched with flowers and shells recalling the Roman Nature-deity's triumph. Likewise their ribbon-scrolled frames are serpentined in the 'natural' manner lauded by the artist William Hogarth in The Analysis of Beauty, 1753. Their trussed console legs and wave-voluted feet are embellished with Roman acanthus and bubbled embossements. Rome's Temple of Venus is recalled by their fret-railed freizes, which are enriched with flowers and lozenged compartments, while luxuriant sprays of Roman foliage are also tied to their lambrequined aprons by more lozenged frets, whose pattern featured on a 'bracket for marble slab' illustrated in the Director (pl. CXXXIV). As well as illustrating a wide variety of related fret patterns, Chippendale's Director also featured a parlour chair pattern with an acanthus-spray in the splat and with legs of similar form to these tables (pl. XIV).
THE ATTRIBUTION TO VILE & COBB
The aprons of the tables relate to seat-frames on a suite of seat- furniture supplied to the Hon. John Damer of Came House, Dorset, by Vile & Cobb between 1756-62 (A. Oswald, 'Came House, Dorset - II', Country Life, 27 February 1953, p. 574, figs. 7 & 8). In view of the related and documented chairs supplied for Came House by Chippendale's neighbours in St. Martin's Lane, Messrs William Vile and John Cobb, it is probable that this firm also supplied these tables for Hagley.