This magnificent bureau was almost certainly executed circa 1770-1775 by the Flemish ébéniste José Canops (d. 1814) at the Royal Spanish workshops in Madrid. Its impressive proportions and sophisticated marquetry scheme demonstrate the Spanish court style developed by Carlos III, which is most clearly evident in the Palacio Real in Madrid. The King embarked on several ambitious building projects for the palace and brought numerous renowned artists to Spain such as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) and Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779). The Neapolitan designer Matteo Gasparini (d. 1774), who came to Spain in the King's entourage, was responsible for the exuberant rococo decoration of three main reception rooms, including theChamber of Carlos III or Salon Gasparini, for which he designed the intricate marble floors, embroidery wall-panels and glazed stucco ceilings which simulate porcelain (J. Hernandez Ferrero, The Royal Palaces of Spain, New York, 1997, pp. 27 and 134-137).
Among the artists which Carlos III introduced to the Spanish court was the talented Liègeois ébéniste Joseph (later José) Canops, who is first mentioned in the Royal ledgers in 1759. Canops collaborated with Gasparini on the opulent decoration of the 'Cuarto del Rey', for which he executed a rare suite of ormolu-mounted marquetry seat-furniture, and is also responsible for the lacquer-inlaid marquetry furniture and panelling in the 'Gabinetes de Maderas Finas de Indias' or 'Cabinet of Fine Exotic Woods', which was completed in the late 1760s and dismantled in the early 19th Century. Canops' marquetry furniture emulates French prototypes, which were admired throughout Europe during the 18th Century, however, he developed a uniquely individual Court style for Carlos III at the Palacio Real (F. Nino Mas/ P. Junquera de Vega, Palacio Real de Madrid, Madrid, 1985,£. 235).
Possibly the most celebrated items of furniture by Canops in the Palacio Real are two marquetry cylinder bureaux executed circa 1765-1770, which in construction, shape and decoration are closely related to the Goldsmid bureau. One of these was part of the furnishings of the exotic gabinetes and is inlaid with incised lacquer panels depicting flowers within foliate and trellis marquetry. The legs have distinctive open oval scrolling angles, which are very similar to those on the present bureau. Furthermore, there are striking constructional similarities, the most significant being the dark, open-grained mahogany used in the carcase. The decoration of the second bureau in the palace is more closely related to French Louis XV examples. Its marquetry scheme, with flower-baskets within scrolling strapwork flanked by cube parquetry panels, clearly derives from the oeuvre of Jean-François Oeben (1721-1763) (see J. de Contreras y Lopez de Ayala, Colecciones Reales de Espana, El Meuble, pp. 380-382, figs. 295-297). The marquetry decoration of the present bureau is particularly close to that of the latter bureau, and incorporates similar meandering inlays to the cylinder and floral cartouches framed by scrolls. Even closer parallels can be seen in the execution of the musical trophies within the cartouches, which appear on the top of the bureau in the palace and to the sides and back of the Goldsmid example. It undoubtedly belongs to the same group, and can firmly be attributed to Canops. However, it may have been executed in a slightly later, transitional phase, circa 1770-1775, as the marquetry is freer and more open and already incorporates a number of neo-classical features such as rosettes and roundels in the strapwork. The fact that the bureau was executed in the workshop of Canops together with the inlaid fleurs-de-lys to the top would strongly suggest a Royal provenance.
SIR ISAAC LYON GOLDSMID
Sir Julian Goldsmid was the grandson of Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, 1st. Bt., the celebrated financier and philanthropist. Sir Isaac's business flourished especially in Brazil and Portugal, and he was created a baronet in 1841, and subsequently became Baron de Goldsmid e de Palmeira in the Kingdom of Portugal in 1845. The bureau was probably bought by Sir Isaac during his travels and it was sold Christie's, London in 1896 after his grandson's death. It was acquired at that sale by the London dealer Hodgkins and almost certainly bought from him by a member of Sir Julian's family.