A trade advertisement for a pair of side tables en suite with the present table is illustrated, Country Life, July 12, 1919, p. lxxvii, Frank Partridge, London and New York. Subsequently in the collection of Joseph Widener, Philadelphia, the tables were sold, Parke-Bernet Galleries, The Walter P. Chrysler Jr Collection of English Furniture, May 6-7, 1960, part II, lots 352-3. A table with a pierced frieze with carving that is almost certainly by the same hand as that of the present table is illustrated, The Antique Collector, December 1955, trade advertisement, Hotspur Ltd., xliv.
There is a striking similarity to the carving to the legs of this table and that of a library bookcase attributed to William Vile and sold in these rooms, April 4-5, 2007, lot 160 ($575,000). That important library bookcase is one of a small, closely related group of similarly veneered and carved mahogany pieces, some of which are documented as having been commissioned in the 1750s and 1760s by the Royal Household of George II and that of George III and Queen Charlotte, and others having an apocryphal Royal, or an unknown provenance.
The first three examples, all of which remain in the Royal Collection, include an Organ Cabinet made in the 1740s for either George II or for Frederick Prince of Wales, possibly by Benjamin Goodison, c. 1745, with alterations, c. 1763, probably by William Vile; a suite of ten Cabinets, possibly made to house organ rolls, c. 1763, attributed to William Vile; and a 'very handsome Mahogany Bookcase...the whole very handsomely Carv'd ...£107 4s', 1762, which was subsequently altered, probably by John Bradburn, 1767. (See: Jane Roberts, ed., George III & Queen Charlotte – Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, Exhibition Catalogue, 2004, Chapter 9, Furniture, nos. 264, 265 and 267).
The group as a whole is distinguished by their distinctive architectural form, closely related carving of a highly individual design and quality, and the exceptional solid mahogany and unusual richly figured veneers. As the first three mentioned above can, from the documentary evidence available in the Royal archives, be related to the workshop of William Vile, it is certain that he was the maker of the library bookcase sold in these rooms in 2007.
The first reference to the career of William Vile (1715- 1767) appears in a letter written by him on August 10, 1749 to the politician and wit George Selwyn in which he indicates that he was a journeyman in the workshop of his 'Master', William Hallett senior (c.1707-d. 1781) of Great Newport Street, Long Acre. By 1747 he was secure enough in his own business to buy items at the demolition sale of Cannons in Edgware, the mansion built at vast expense by James Brydges, first Duke of Chandos. He also purchased the Cannons estate, building for himself a house on the central foundations of the demolished house. His documented clients include the 7th Viscount Irwin, General James Dormer of Rousham House, Oxon., the Ist Earl of Leicester at Holkham Hall, the 4th Duke of Beaufort, Badminton House, Oxon., and Sir James Dashwood of Kirtlington Park, Oxon.
By 1751 it appears that his property interests were paramount and he possibly became a silent partner of his erstwhile journeyman who had formed a partnership with John Cobb (c.1715-78) first at Castle Lane an subsequently at 72 St. Martin's Lane. It is interesting that Hallett himself moved in June 1752 to St. Martin's Lane, adjacent to Vile and Cobb's premises and that when he vacated the premises in 1755 they were taken over by the partnership. His continued involvement with their business is indicated by continuous payments from Vile and Cobb through 1768.
A number of Hallett's former clients including The Duke of Beaufort and the Earl of Leicester continued to patronize the partnership and commissions are also recorded from the 2nd Duke of Cleveland of 19 St James's Square, the 1st Lord Harrowby of Sandon Hall, the 6th Earl of Coventry of Croome Court, and Sir Lawrence Dundas of Moore Park, Arlington Street and Aske Hall. Vile's name, together with his partner's, were included in the Great Wardrobe accounts for the first time in the quarter ending Lady Day, 1761, the accounts for the period 1761-65 being filled with details of their work including the pieces noted above. On May 31, 1763 William France, Sr. and John Bradburne, both Vile's erstwhile men, were nominated by the Master of the Great Wardrobe to succeed Vile and Cobb, their appointment possibly being necessitated by the illness of Vile, who died in 1767 at the early age of 52 years.
The superb quality and crispness of the actual carved detail is highly distinctive and this certainly indicates an individual craftsman who was possibly originally employed within Hallett's own workshop, continuing to be employed by his successor William Vile. This was possibly John Bradburne (fl. 1750-d.1781), who is credited with having produced some of the finely carved furniture provided during the 1750s and 1760s by the firm of Vile and Cobb (Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, p. 95), and who succeeded the partnership as 'Upholsterer to his Majesty and Cabinet-Maker to the Great Wardrobe'' in 1764. Another possible contender is the carver Sefferin Alken (1744-1783) who was working for Sir Richard Colt Hoare at Stourhead as early as 1744. He is recorded as working for John Cobb and was responsible for carving much of the furniture designed by Robert Adam for the Earl of Coventry at Croome Court. It is also interesting to note the similarity of the design and execution of the carving to the scrolling foliage of the frieze and to the tops of the legs on the present table to those found on the library bookcase sold in these rooms and a Library Bookcase supplied by Thomas Chippendale to Sir Lawrence Dundas for Arlington Street in 1764 (See: Christopher Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, p. 49, figs. 74-5).
The Connoisseur, November, 1930, 'Old Labelled Furniture', R. W. Symonds, pp. 279-287, figs. 283, 284.
R. W. Symonds, Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks, London, 1940, Chapter III, 'A Royal Cabinet by William Vile', pp. 50-56, figs. 33, 34. 35.
Country Life, April 29, 1949, Margaret Jourdain, 'A Pair of Royal Medal Cabinets', p. 983.
The Magazine Antiques, January 1959, Edward H Pinto, 'The Furniture of William Vile and John Cobb', pp. 104-107.
John Harris et al., Buckingham Palace, 1968.
Burlington Magazine, July 1977, Geoffrey Beard, 'Three eighteenth-century cabinet-makers: Moore, Goodison and Vile', pp. 479-486.
Christopher Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1976.
Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986.
The Magazine Antiques, June, 1990, Geoffrey Beard, 'Vile and Cobb eighteenth-century London furniture makers', pp. 1394-1405.
A Royal Miscellany from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, 1990, no. 2, pp. 12-14.
Jane Roberts, ed., George III & Queen Charlotte, London, 2004, no. 264, pp. 250, 258-260, no. 267, pp. 262, 263.
The Catalogue of Antiques & Fine Art, 2004, Vol. IV, issue 6, Geoffrey Beard, The Mystery of the Foliated Ovals', pp. 254-258.
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