Possibly commissioned by His Majesty's Government for Napoleon Bonaparte for The Drawing Room, Longwood House, St Helena, 1815-1821;
Then possibly Sir General Hudson Lowe, Governor of St. Helena, by whom it was shipped to his London house on Hereford Street in 1823 after his departure from the Island, until sold by his executors, Phillips, London at some point in 1844;
With Kerin where acquired by Wilfrid Evill (£80), circa 1955, until sold Sotheby's, Wilfrid Evill Collection, 12 July 1963, lot 99;
Purchased at this sale, through an agent, by Honor Frost.
Napoleon in Exile: The Decoration of Longwood House, St. Helena and George Bullock.
There is an evocative pen, ink and wash drawing in the collection of The British Museum, London, from the workshop of George Bullock, of the plan and elevations for the proposed Drawing Room at Longwood House titled 'DRAWING ROOM / FOR / St. HELENA NOVr 1815 NO', (British Library Catalogue, Add. Mss. 20, 222, Lowe Papers, folio 214). This highly detailed drawing includes windows with finely hung drapes and within each of these two windows is positioned a table, the one in the right bay, is remarkably similar to the offered lot. Whilst this tantalising snapshot is in no way definitive proof that the table offered here is the same, it would be wrong to dismiss this compelling evidence.
Also see an engraving after Louis Marchand, circa 1821 and in the collection at Malmaison, Bois-Préau. This depicts Napoleon on his deathbed and features a very similar table, positioned in the window at the foot of Napoleons bed. See Martin Levy, Napoleon In Exile, Leeds, 1998, p.58, fig.41. for a reproduction of this image.
George Bullock (1777/78-1818) was successful even before his St. Helena commission. Patronised by Queen Charlotte and undertaking a number of important commissions, which included Cholmondeley Castle, Speke and Blair Castle. He was a trained sculptor and President of the Liverpool Academy during the Prince of Wales tenure as second patron of the institution. The architect of Longwood House was to be William Atkinson (c.1773-1839) and it is likely that Wilkinson would have recommended a collaborator he had worked with on several other projects.
Bullocks actual account of work undertaken for 'His Majesty's Government' offers more support for the above attribution in a bill for the work undertaken the furniture is meticulously listed and those two tables that appear in the plan of the Drawing Room windows at Longwood are described thus: 'To 2 Flower Stands for Windows wh marble tops 30 - - [£]'. These 'Flower Stands' are listed again in an 'Inventory of Stores belonging to the Longwood Establishment May 1821' where they are recorded as '2 Flower stands Marble Tops'.
The Times reportage on 24th October 1815 gave a glowing account of Napoleons new home, Longwood House, and in addition to a description of the physical layout there is also a reference to the furnishings '...some ornaments composed of green Anglesey marble, are, also in preparation'
Regency decorative schemes were often thematic in colour and design. The predominant colour used in the Drawing Room at Longwood was green. This was duly noted in The London Packet, who in October 1815 recorded that this space was 'coloured with various shades of green'. The offered lot, with its green top, would certainly have provided a harmonious note to this scheme.
After the death of Napoleon in 1821, Sir General Hudson Lowe (1769-1844), the Governor of the Island and the exiled Emperors gaoler, shipped a small group of furnishings from Longwood to London for his own use. The residual pieces, not claimed by Lowe, were sold by Christie, Manson and Woods, 18 May 1822 in London. There was a however a third group, pieces that Lowe could not use on his voyage home that were left on the Island for transportation at a later date. Some eleven cases where held back and in case no. 4 there were 'Two Flower Stands' and in case no. 9 'Three marble slabs for flower stands and pier commode' valued at £20. This inventory of Lowe's hoard was drawn up by Andrew Darling on the 14th August 1823. For a fascinating account and the explicit referencing of contemporary correspondence, inventories and sale catalogues and a discussion on the Bullock commission for St Helena and the eventual dispersal of these pieces see Martin Levy, Napoleon In Exile, Leeds, 1998.
Bullock often sourced his material locally and took pride in asserting this. Although with his commission for the exiled Napoleon there were very few materials to hand on St Helena, perhaps accounting for the 2000 tons sent by sea of building materials and furnishings. This love of materials sourced not only from his mine at Mona in Angelsey but from across the British Isles may account for the finely polished slab of green porphyry used in this lot. Richard Brown wrote in his Rudiments of Drawing Cabinet and Upholstery Furniture, 1820, that 'He [Bullock] has shown that we need no room to foreign climes for beautiful, but that we have abundance of plants and flowers equal to the Grecian, which, if adopted would be found as pleasing as the antique'. Bullock used these specially sourced materials to produce work that was a highly stylised fusion of neo-classicism and foliate motifs. He was however not afraid to look to more recent inspiration from the Continent, and cleverly used brass inlay or 'Buhl work' as seen in the offered lot to give a flourish with boldly cut contemporary classical motifs.
A table or stand in the collection of the Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle is worthy of comparison. It features a similar stand with tapered stem and winged paw feet. This table is illustrated, Wainwright et al, George Bullock, Cabinet Maker, London, 1988, p. 67. The extraordinary feet on the Atholl table and the offered lot relate to those on a documented wine cooler from the Dining Room at Longwood, St. Helena furthering a possible connection.
The Atholl table and another table from Cullen Castle, Scotland which was sold Christie's, 22-24 September 1975 as lot 875 has a similar waisted stem and identical gilt-bronze mounts to the base, This group of tables is discussed by Clive Wainright et al, George Bullock, Cabinet - Maker, London, 1988, p. 111. Noting that the Evill table is 'The Grandest table in the group mixing elements... [of the Atholl and Cullen table] was sold Sotheby's (12 July 1963, lot 99...) - it had brass inlay to the column as well as the two inlaid patterns to the frieze surrounding the rectangular marble top'.
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