109
109
A set of George III engraved mahogany, sycamore and tulipwood library steps, attributed to Mayhew and Ince, circa 1785
ACCÉDER AU LOT
109
A set of George III engraved mahogany, sycamore and tulipwood library steps, attributed to Mayhew and Ince, circa 1785
ACCÉDER AU LOT

Details & Cataloguing

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A set of George III engraved mahogany, sycamore and tulipwood library steps, attributed to Mayhew and Ince, circa 1785
decorated throughout with red wax guilloche bands and husk swags, the handrail supported by tapering turned, fluted and square section uprights, the sides with roundels, acanthus and husked Vitruvian scrolls on turned supports joined by stretchers and with brass castors, with batten carrying holes to underside of stretchers, inscribed 'S 435'
229cm. high, 74cm. wide, 160cm. deep; 7ft. 6in., 2ft 5¼in., 5ft. 3in.
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Provenance

Most probably supplied circa 1785 to George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough for the Observatory at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire;
With Symons Galleries Inc., New York in 1962;
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 1 February 1963, lot 176;
With John Keil Limited, June 1963;
Acquired by the Hon. Mrs. Marten O.B.E., D.L., for Crichel, Dorset;
The Exceptional Sale, Christie's, London, 4 July 2013, lot 29, where acquired by present owner.

Exposition

C.I.N.O.A. International Art Treasures Exhibition, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1962, Exhibit 86
British Antique Dealers' Fair & Exhibition, 1963

Bibliographie

Blenheim Day Book, Blenheim Muniments Room, Box XXII/74/7, possibly the steps referred to 2 August 1783 or 14 October 1785
G.Beard and C.Gilbert, The Dictionary of English Furniture-Makers 1660 - 1840, Leeds, 1986, p.595
H.Roberts, 'Nicely fitted up' Furniture for the 4th Duke of Marlborough', Furniture History, 1994, pp. 137 and 149

Description

These library steps are most likely one of a pair supplied on the 14 October 1785 by the London cabinet makers John Mayhew and William Ince to George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, for the Observatory at Blenheim Palace. The firm of Mayhew and Ince enjoyed a long and remarkable relationship with George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough.  Their seminal 1762 work titled Universal System of Household Furniture was dedicated to the Duke acknowledging ‘Your Grace’s extensive Knowledge, in the Arts and Sciences, but more particularly in Drawing and your being ever willing to promote, and encourage industry and ingenuity.’ The first known commission from the firm by the Duke dates from 1772 at Blenheim, Oxfordshire and at Marlborough House, London. For nearly three decades following, the day book from Blenheim details various individual items and suites of furniture made by Mayhew and Ince arriving at the Palace (Blenheim Muniments Room, Box XXII/74/7).

The 4th Duke was a keen astronomer and was presented a 10’ Herschel Telescope by King George III in 1787. As part of his alterations and renovations to Blenheim palace the Duke instructed his architect William Chambers to design two observatories. In the 1797 inventory titled a New Description of Blenheim a ‘new commodious and elegant observatory …. Lately erected, amply furnished with the best astronomical apparatus’ is noted with ‘another corresponding observatory….., at the western angle’ (W. F. Mavor 4th edition). A note in the daybook at Blenheim dated 14 October 1785 - Came from Mayhews, A Pr. Of Mehogany Steps for the Observatory, confirms the Mayhew and Ince attribution as well as the intended purpose of the steps (Blenheim Muniments Room, Box XXII/74/7).

Library steps became increasingly popular throughout the 18th century. London cabinet makers were learning quickly to accommodate their patrons with furniture and accessories befitting their newly formed libraries. Nowhere was this more true than at Blenheim. William Chamber’s had designed a vast picture gallery taking up the entire west front of the Palace, however, the 4th Duke’s grandfather Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland left him the enormous Althorp collection of books. The picture gallery was quickly changed into a library to accommodate the books and swelled to a size of over 20,000 volumes. Since the Duke’s passion for astronomy began to wane and the observatories fell into disuse it is likely that the steps were moved into the great library circa 1800.

Other houses with fine library steps similar to the Blenheim pair include a set of two flight steps formerly the property of Edward John Peregrine Cust, 7th Baron Brownlow at Belton House, Lincolnshire sold Sotheby’s, London, 4 July 1997, lot 56. Thomas Chippendale the younger was also known to have supplied a set for the library at Stourhead, Wiltshire recorded in the firm’s accounts 19 October 1804. Percy Macquoid also notes another set with a Chinese fretwork frame formerly in the collection of Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire (P. Macquoid, R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, 1954, p.288, fig.3.).   

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