This 'antiquarian' secretaire-cabinet, reusing late 17th Century repoussé silver mounts grafted onto an entirely 'modern' Regency form, reflects the profound influence exerted on the 2nd Marquess by his neighbour William Beckford of Fonthill. Beckford's rapacious enthusiasm for the magnificent and exotic is well documented, and the recent exhibition 'William Beckford 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent', (Exhibition Catalogue, 2001), has thrown yet more light on his eclectic and avant garde taste. One of the principal strands of Beckford's antiquarianism at Fonthill was his taste for 'black ebony' furniture, often supplied by Robert Hume Jr.. Longleat was well-known for its ebony furniture, 'an Ebony Table with fine India Carving 2 Dozen of chairs ditto 12 of them with Elbows Fine cane Bottoms' appearing in the 1740 Inventory. Horace Walpole, who commented on the Longleat ebony furniture, himself had a suite of 'Tudor' (actually Batavian) ebony chairs placed in the Holbein chamber at Strawberry Hill and both Beckford and the 2nd Marquess acquired similar suites of ebony seat-furniture, which were respectively placed in St. Michael's Gallery at Fonthill and in the State Dining-Room at Longleat, where they remain to this day. Louis XIII cabinets of solid ebony in the manner of Pierre Gole, their doors carved in high relief with mythological subjects, were also a shared taste. However, whilst those at Longleat survive in their original form, Beckford's, traditionally thought to have been supplied by Edward Holmes Baldock for the Crimson Drawing- Room, were reused to form a pair of side cabinets, now at Charlecote, Warwickshire, with the addition of rich ormolu mounts and fluted columns (op. cit., no.87, p.361).
This secretaire cabinet, a reflection of these very same antiquarian sentiments, was almost certainly executed in the same workshop as the Japanese lacquer cabinet-on-stand (lot 326), with which it shares the distinctive slate top, overall treatment and metalwork, as well as the use of stained-sycamore to simulate ebony veneer. Although the extent of the 2nd Marquess' patronage of George Oakley (d. 1841) beyond the antiquarian suite of oak seat-furniture (lot 361) is unrecorded, the distinctive brass inlay on the lacquer cabinet-on-stand may well point to his workshop.