This table is virtually identical to a casket-on-stand supplied to the consummate collector, George Watson Taylor, for his country estate of Erlestoke Park in Wiltshire. This companion piece is veneered in lapis lazuli and supports a pietra dura casket enclosing a Berlin porcelain dejeuner service. While obviously executed by the same bronze-maker, it is of varying proportion (measuring 28 inches high by 49 inches long by 34½ inches deep). The Watson Taylor piece was recently offered as part of the John Hobbs collection, part two, Phillips New York, 22 October 2002, lot 72.
THE WATSON TAYLOR CASKET-ON-STAND
George Watson Taylor (1771-1840), came into a vast fortune via his wife's inheritance in 1815, supplementing his own income from his family's sugar plantations in Jamaica, and allowing him to embark on a successful political career, while at the same time spending lavishly on art and entertaining. In 1816, Watson Taylor purchased a Georgian townhouse in Cavendish Square. In the same year, he acquired Erlestoke Park, near Devizes, Wiltshire after his failed attempt to purchase Houghton Hall when his £364,000 offer was summarily refused by Lord Cholmondeley. Watson Taylor set about furnishing both houses in a most sumptuous manner over the next few years and it was almost certainly during this period that the casket-on-stand was commissioned, together with a pair of hardstone-mounted cabinets and consoles, all supplied by Robert Hume.
The hardstone-mounted furniture formed part of the magnificent furnishings of the Grand North Drawing Room at Erlestoke, part of a suite of Drawing Rooms on the East front of the house that was fitted out in the most extravagant manner. The spectacular furnishings included royal French eighteenth century furniture, examples of which are now at the Getty, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
By the early 1820s, Watson Taylor's fortunes had reversed, in no small part due to his extravagant spending, and this brought about the Christie's sales of his Cavendish Square mansion - the contents of the library and the Old Master Paintings collection were sold in 1823 and the entire mansion and its contents were sold in 1825. George IV, at the forefront of the fashionable French taste, was a major purchaser at the latter sale acquiring several French pieces with royal provenance that remain in the English Royal collection today.
By 1832, Watson Taylor was bankrupt. The casket-on-stand was included in the spectacular sale of the contents of Erlestoke Park conducted by George Robins from 9 July until 1 August 1832. This stand was sold as part of the Grand North Drawing Room furnishings on the thirteenth day of the sale, 23 July, lot 12 and was purchased by 2nd Earl of Normanton for Somerley in Hampshire.
Sadly, this table frame does not appear in any of the auction catalogues of Watson Taylor's collections.
THE ATTRIBUTION TO ROBERT HUME
There are contemporary literary references reporting the Erlestoke sale that link Robert Hume to four examples of hardstone-mounted furniture from the Grand North Drawing Room. These references exemplify the various capacities in which Hume worked. A reference to the pair of consoles, lots 10 and 11, states: 'a beautiful pair of console tables mounted in massive ormolu, inlaid with precious stones and representing fruit, foliage, and birds of various colours, were valued at 2000 guineas, but were bought at the sale for 580 guineas by Mr. Hume the dealer from whom they were originally procured' (Gentleman's Magazine, August, 1832, p. 162). Another contemporary account suggests that the console tables 'were worthy of a place in Windsor Castle and would hand down the name of the maker (Mr. Hume) in posterity. Mr. Hume (who was present) said he should consider himself fortunate if they were not the means of consigning him to a workhouse. It was then mentioned that the manufacture of these tables cost £2,000 for which not a single farthing had been paid' (The Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, 26 July 1832, p.3). These consoles are now in the public collections at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (unpublished).
A cabinet, lot 25, (together its its pair, lot 26) was described as 'A very MAGNIFICENT EBONY CABINET, of splendid classic design, the centre door representing one of the finest specimens of bold Florentine Mosaic...most splendidly mounted with or-moulu'. The same publication reports that these 'were bought also by Mr. Hume at 475 guineas (as agent for the Duke of Hamilton)'. Indeed, these cabinets formed part of the remarkable collections of the Duke of Hamilton, the celebrated connoisseur-collector, who himself was patron to Robert Hume. One of these cabinets belongs to the Brooklyn Museum and is currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while its pair was most recently sold by S. Jon Gerstenfeld, Christie's London, 6 July 2000, lot 100 (£1,653,750) (and fully discussed in E. Lennox-Boyd, Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, pp.148-161). A further ebony commode mounted in ormolu and 'Florentine Mosaic' formed part of Watson Taylor's sale in 1825 which confirms that these cabinets would have been executed prior to this date.
A clock cabinet of a very similar type to the Erlestoke pair, mounted with Gobelins hardstone panels (probably originally ornamentation for Louis XIV's furniture), was supplied by Robert Hume, Sr. to the 10th Duke of Hamilton in 1825. Correspondence regarding the procurement of materials for this cabinet, including 'Mosaics Florentine bought of Hume pietra dura', dates as early as 1820 (R. Freyberger, 'The Duke of Hamilton's Clock Cabinet', Christie's International Magazine, July 1991, pp. 10-13). The cabinet, now in the Sir Arthur Gilbert collection on display at Somerset House, London, is illustrated in A. M. Massinelli, The Gilbert Collection: Hardstones, London, 2000, pp. 49-50, no.9.
Notably, all of these objects incorporate earlier French and Italian hardstone panels which is a reflection of the taste among English connoisseurs for the richness of the ancien regime. The present table stand is likely to have supported a casket, perhaps similarly ornamented. Certainly, the table's bold masks and floral garlands recall Palladian classicism while the lion monopodia supports reflect a more 'modern' French-inspired classicism in a rather eclectic antiquarianism. Of note, the table's rim is precisely of the same design as appears on all of the cabinets cited above.
Another console table which is accepted as part of the hardstone-mounted group by Robert Hume was sold, the property of a Gentleman, Christie's London, 28 October 1999, lot 67 (£54,300).
Of note, recent scholarship has identified the participation of the French agent, supplier and designer, Gregorio Franchi, in the production of a related pair of cabinets supplied to William Beckford. While heretofore attributed to Hume, the construction and craftsmanship of these cabinets set them apart from the remaining pieces in the group. This pair of cabinets is fully discussed in an article by Bet McLeod and Philip Hewat-Jaboor, 'Pietre Dure Cabinets for William Beckford: Gregorio Franchi's Role', Furniture History, 2002, pp. 135-143.
Robert Hume is listed as carver, gilder and cabinet-maker at various London addresses from 1808 until 1837. While the dates of the partnership between Robert Hume, father, and Robert Hume, son, is unclear, 'young Hume' was working with William Beckford as early as 1815. With the exception of the Hamilton/Gilbert clock cabinet, Robert Hume, Jr. is accepted as the maker of this entire group of pietra dura-mounted furniture. Significantly, Hume and Son were entrepreneurs, not simply cabinet-makers. Robert Hume, Jr. worked in various capacities for the foremost collectors of the day, acting variously as dealer, agent, cabinet-maker and quite possibly supervisor and designer in the production of furniture outside his own specialty. In consideration of this point, metalwork is not listed among the firm's trades, however ormolu figures prominently in the design of this group of pieces. This may suggest that, like Vulliamy and the French marchands-merciers, Hume sub-contracted certain tasks to independent specialists while maintaining a supervisory role for these objets de luxe. The difficulty in assessing Hume's role is best exemplified by the seemingly contradictory contemporary accounts which refer to him alternatively as 'dealer' and 'maker' of the Erlestoke consoles.
While the ormolu is probably of English manufacture, the actual 'bronzist' cannot be identified with any confidence. One possibility might be Samuel Parker, who described his establishment as 'Bronze & Iron Bronze Works' in the 1820s, and ran a vast business as evidenced by his size of his insurance policies (over twice the amount of the Vulliamys). Parker supplied various lighting fixtures, chimneypieces and other furniture enrichments for George IV, particularly at Brighton Pavilion, working to the designs of Robert Jones.
We would like to express our thanks to Roger Smith for his assistance in the preparation of this catalogue entry. Much of the information in this footnote is based on research conducted by Ronald Freyberger.