By repute, the offices of The Times newspaper, Printing House Square, London.
With Lock & Co., Knightsbridge, London, until acquired by Sir Colville Barclay, Pittshill House, Sussex in 1963.
This magnificent pair of bookcases which were originally a scheme of three with a larger example, were reputedly acquired by Messers. Lock, furniture dealers in Knightsbridge in the late 1950s or early 1960s from the Times newspaper offices in Printing House Square.
The larger bookcase is now on public display at Cannon Hall, Yorkshire, built for the Spencer-Stanhope family under the direction of Carr of York. The building was transformed into a museum in 1957, shortly after which the bookcase in the collection is thought to have been acquired.
The intricate carved boxwood decoration on the current bookcases relates closely to designs published by John Yenn, one of the most skilled draughtsmen of his time. A design by Yenn of about 1780 for a side table which is retained in a group of drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The design which is reproduced by Peter Ward-Jackson, English Furniture Designs of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1984, fig. 262, displays a remarkably similar treatment of the carving to the frieze and the panelling of the legs is close in feel to the recessed panels flanking the doors on the current bookcases. Other drawings retained in the Victoria and Albert Museum display numerous other strongly neo-classical motifs for the design of room schemes, vases and chimney-pieces, that appear on the current bookcases which further support the attribution of the design of these bookcases to Yenn. The quality and precision of the carving and construction of the bookcases conforms to Yenn's meticulous designs.
'..an ingenious faithful intelligent servant' was how Sir William Chambers described his protégé
e John Yenn who had been living with the great architect for ten years when Chambers wrote these words in 1774. He continued that Yenn 'for two or three years past has managed a great part of my extensive business very much to my satisfaction'.
John Yenn (1750-1821), the son of a City barber and wig-maker, began his tutelage under Sir William Chambers in 1764, after five years he was one of the first students admitted to the newly created Royal Academy Schools. He succeeded in his training, achieving a Gold Medal in 1771 for his designs for a nobleman's villa, retained in the Royal Institute of British Architects Drawing collection. He was elected A.R.A. in 1774 and became a full academician in 1791, succeeding his mentor Chambers as Treasurer in 1796.
Having separated from Chambers he continued his own business in a staunchly correct neo-classical style, maintaining his former master's principles regardless of changing fashions which can be most clearly seen in his rebuilding of the West front of the King Charles block, Greenwich, in association with H.H Seward in 1811-14. Yenn's other most important commission and one which demonstrates his skill as a furniture designer, was that for King George III. In 1794-5 Yenn supplied four oval pier mirrors, two for the Dressing Room and two for the King's Closet at Windsor Castle. These mirrors are also executed in a highly intricate and sophisticated manner, mimicking the quality of his designs, and were carved by the pupil of Robert Adam and William Chambers' preferred carver Seferin Alken, Richard Lawrence (See Hugh Roberts, 'A Neoclassical Episode at Windsor', Journal of the Furniture History Society, 1997, pp. 177-187). Given the quality of the current bookcases and of that on the Windsor mirrors it is possibly that Richard Lawrence was responsible for the carving on the bookcases offered here.
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