PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
Or possibly acquired by Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (d.1773) for Chesterfield House, London, and by descent to George Edward Stanhope Molyneux, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (1866-1923), Highclere Castle, Berkshire,
Thence by descent, the Earls of Carnarvon, Highclere Castle, sold Sotheby's London, 26 February 1954, lot 121;
Christie's London, 2 July 1981, lot 11;
Christie's London, East & West: A Private Collection from Eaton Square & Anouska Hempel, 2 May 2013, lot 30
Jacques Dubois was the half-brother of Noël Gérard, who was one of the most important ébénistes and dealers in Paris between 1720 and 1730 and it is possible, although not proven, that Dubois trained and worked in his workshop. If he did not work in Gérard's atelier, more than likely he worked as an ouvrier libre, eventually explaining why he did not receive his mâitrise until late in his career, in 1742, when he was 48. Not being able to stamp his pieces, he clearly worked for other colleagues and marchand-merciers, as it seems to be the case of the present lot, bearing the stamp of his colleague and marchand Denis Genty.
Along with Bernard van Risamburgh, Joseph Baumhauer and Jean Desforges, Dubois was one of the finest ébénistes working Chinese, Japanese and European lacquer veneers in the Louis XV idiom and is renowned for a number of commodes and small writing tables but also for some exceptional bureaux plats, both in lacquer and in fine wood marquetry.
The design of all of them is rather uniform and organic; the drawers are separated by marked curves with the central drawer slightly recessed; see, for example one in bois-de-bout marquetry, from the Wendland Collection (ill. Alexandre Pradère, Les Ébénistes Français de Louis XIV à la Révolution, 1989, pp. 174-75, pl. 157). This example shares with the present lot a side mount of centrifugal design. The floral marquetry designs on both are, as described by Prádere when speaking of Dubois oeuvre, “graceful, with long attenuated flowers and leaves sparingly placed on the panels”.
Dubois is known for his exuberant and distinctive mounts, and the boldly cast corner chutes in this lot, of seemingly unique design, gracefully frame the cabriole legs, resembling a rich branch of elongated acanthus with further foliage and flowers, resulting in a strong overall outline to the bureau.
The drawers on this piece were later embellished with rocaille handles, certainly made in England, and that follow a pattern published in Birmingham circa 1765-80 - see N. Goodison, 'The Victoria and Albert Museum's Collection of Metal-Work Pattern Books', in Furniture History Society Journal, vol. XI, 1975, pl. 8 (fig.2).
The illustrious provenance for this important table goes back to Highclere Castle, Buckinghamshire (fig.1), the seat of the Earls of Carnarvon, well-known not only for the role of the 5th earl in the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb but also as the setting for the acclaimed TV series Downton Abbey. The wife of the 5th Earl, Almina was the only daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, and might answer the question of how the piece entered the Carnarvon collections, having inherited numerous outstanding pieces of French Furniture.
Nevertheless, the fact that the bureau has coeval English handles might indicate its presence on the British Isles in the third quarter of the 18th century. One of the most celebrated Francophile tastemakers in London at that period was Phillip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield who built Chesterfield House in London, an ancestor of the Carnarvons and who could be considered as the first possible British owner of this exceptional bureau plat.
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