These cabinets illustrate the Regency vogue for Chinese design interpreted in a most vivid and colorful way. This style was in a large part driven by the enthusiasm of the Prince of Wales, later George IV, who first created the Chinese Drawing Room at Carlton House followed by his extraordinary seaside Pavilion at Brighton. An undertaking that began as early as 1787, the Chinese-inspired interiors at the Brighton Pavilion were initiated by the decorators John and Frederick Crace in 1802. As part of this scheme, furniture designed by Henry Holland and supplied by the London cabinet-makers Elward, Marsh and Tatham took their inspiration from imported lacquer and bamboo wares but reconfigured into Western forms. Views of the Long Gallery at Brighton executed by architect John Nash in 1826 show a predominance of bamboo (J. Dinkel, 'The Furnishings of The Royal Pavilion,' Arts of Asia, May-June 1988, pp. 133-138).
Stylistically, the cabinets compare closely to two similar sets supplied for Brighton by Elward, Marsh and Tatham: a set of six inset with lacquer panels (see C. Musgrave, Regency Furniture 1800-1830, London, 1961, pl. 24A) and a further set of four with pleated panels (as seen in the Nash illustrations). A related but undocumented cabinet attributed to the firm is now in the public collection at Temple Newsam House, Leeds (C. Gilbert, Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall, Leeds, 1998, vol. III, pp. 570-571, fig. 684).
THE CHINESE ROOM AT MIDDLETON PARK
These cabinets were almost certainly supplied in 1806-10 for the Chinese Room created at Middleton Park, Oxfordshire, as part of the extensive alterations and enlargements undertaken by the 5th Earl of Jersey after 1805, under the direction of the architect Thomas Cundy Senior (1765-1825). Alterations continued throughout those four years but it is clear that furnishing was happening simultaneously: the famous account of 1806-1807 from John McLean is for almost £5,000, enough to cover an almost complete furnishing of both Middleton and the London house in Berkeley Square (G. Beard and C. Gilbert, eds., The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, Leeds, 1986, p. 568). The attribution to Marsh and Tatham, already suggested on stylistic grounds, is reinforced by a payment in 1804 from Lord Jersey (then Lord Villiers) to that firm of £715 (op. cit., p. 279). Marsh and Tatham had worked for his father in 1797.
If these cabinets are linked to the 1804 payment to Marsh and Tatham it would suggest that Lord Jersey created the Chinese Room before starting on the main enlargements to the house and at the period when that firm was supplying furniture of exactly this style to the Brighton Pavilion. Lord Jersey (then Lord Villiers) had married the grand-daughter and heiress of the banker Robert Child in May 1804 and his father died in August 1805, when he became the 5th Earl. It seems possible that the Chinese Room was an ultra-fashionable celebration of his 1804 marriage, but it seems more likely that it was not begun until after his fathers death in 1805, in which case the 1804 payment possibly refers to his earlier house, Prospect Lodge at Tunbridge Wells.
The strength of the chinoiserie theme at Middleton is shown by the detail of the McLean commission, which included several pieces of furniture of japan and lacquer, including some which seem to have included lacquer provided by Lord Jersey ('A black Japann cabinet made to your Japan' -- S. Redburn, 'John McLean and Son,' Furniture History, 1978, p. 36) ). The group was very large and intriguingly hard to identify in the Middleton sale.
The artist William Alfred Delamotte (1775-1863) was commissioned to record interior and exterior views of Middleton in 1840. His two views of the Chinese Room, showing much of the furniture that remained there in the 1900 photographs and the 1934 sale, were sold Christies London, 13 December 1988, lot 53, have been on the London art market subsequently and were published in C. Gere, Nineteenth-Century Decoration, The Art of the Interior, London, 1989, p. 234, fig. 265 and S. Parissien, Regency Style, London, 1992, p. 156. Although these cabinets are not identifiable in the photograph, it is possible that the outline of a bookcase shows one of them in the same position flanking the chimneypiece where it was photographed c. 1900 (reproduced here).
The cabinets appear in the sale catalogue for the house sale conducted by Hampton and Sons in 1934 where they were still located in the Chinese Room. They were sold as consecutive lots described as:
Lot 1398: A bamboo japanned dwarf open bookcase with red lacquer interior and rosewood panels decorated in Chinese gold script, the top of black figured marble (4ft)
Lot 1399: A similar lot
MONKTON HOUSE, WEST DEAN
These sensational cabinets were acquired as part of the collections formed by Edward James at Monkton House, which was in the park of his parents' house at West Dean Park, Sussex, in the mid-1930s. James altered Monkton with the architect Kit Nicholson, son of William and brother of Ben. The interiors were an extraordinary and personal combination of surrealism and 'Vogue Regency.'