A George II Giltwood pier table circa 1738, designed by William Kent, possibly carved by James Richards
- 88cm. high, 215cm. wide, 98cm. deep; 2ft. 10¾in., 7ft. ¾in., 3ft. 2½in.
Supplied under the direction of William Kent to William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire (fig. 1.) for Devonshire House, Piccadilly, London (fig. 2.), circa 1738.
Thence by descent in the Cavendish family, apparently being moved to 2, Carlton Gardens, London, prior to the demolition of Devonshire House in 1924.
Gifted by Victor Cavendish, 9th Duke of Devonshire to his daughter Lady Blanche and her husband Lieutenant-Colonel John (Ivan) Murray Cobbold possibly on the occasion of their marriage in 1919.
Thence by descent at Glemham Hall to Major Philip Hope-Cobbold.
Christopher Simon-Sykes, Private Palaces, Life in the Great London Houses, New York, 1986, p. 102 (shown in a watercolour drawing, in fact dated 1828 and not 1811 as described in that publication), see Fig.3., p. 272 (shown in a photograph of the Saloon), fig.5 and pl. 15 (painted by William Hunt in a watercolour of the Saloon circa 1822), fig.4.
John Fowler and John Cornforth, English Decoration in the 18th Century, London, 1974, p. 49, pl. VI.
Francis Lenygon, 'The "Kent" Furniture at Devonshire House', The Art Journal, 1911, pp. 259-263.
Percy Macquoid, 'Furniture at Devonshire House', Country Life, 6 January 1912, pp. 27-32.
This boldly carved and strongly architectural side or pier table is executed in the 'antique' or Roman manner as promoted by the celebrated architect and close student of the Palladian style, William Kent (1685/6-1748). Kent was from a humble background and became one of the most influential designers of the early 18th century. His relationship with Lord Burlington brought significant aristocratic and royal patronage and his influence on many of the country's greatest houses, their interiors and gardens is immense. It is however, in his capacity as interior designer that he was most successful. His schemes and designs for furniture can be seen at Chiswick House, Kew Palace, Raynham Hall, Holkham Hall and Hampton Court, it is however his association with the Duke of Devonshire, a patron who interests us most here.
William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire employed Kent to undertake the extensions of his country seat, Chatsworth, and also for the ambitious mansion built on part of the grounds of the old Berkeley House in Piccadilly. Interestingly, Lord Burlington's only surviving daughter and heiress married the 3rd Duke's eldest son in 1748, so bringing the possessions of Burlington, including his Piccadilly mansion, where the Royal Academy now stands, and the villa at Chiswick to the Cavendish family.
Whether the current table was initially supplied for Devonshire House or one of Burlington's properties will, for the time being, remain a matter of conjecture. It is evident that the table was in situ in the Saloon at Devonshire House from as early as circa 1822 due to its appearance in a watercolour by William Hunt showing the Saloon following the 6th Duke's introduction of Regency furniture in the early 19th century (Fig. 4). It also appears in anonymous watercolour of the same room a few years later in 1828 (Fig. 3). Indeed as recorded in 1819, Samuel Ware makes mention of "the liberal expense which has been lately incurred in gilding the ornaments of the principle rooms". A Mrs. Arbuthnot attending a party on 1st June 1820 further remarked "the first time I had been up there since the house was new done up. I never saw anything so magnificent as the profusion of the gilding..." It would seem likely that the table remained in place in the saloon, despite further alterations in the 1840s and the restyled Crace interiors, a testament to the regard in which it must have been held, as it once again appears in an early 20th century photograph in the same position, Fig. 5.
In her monograph The Work of William Kent, London, 1948, Margaret Jourdain quotes Horace Walpole who wrote that Kent (1685-1748) was 'not only consulted for furniture, glasses, tables, chairs etc, but for plate, for a barge, for a cradle'. She notes that his 'furniture is rich, florid, and monumental', continuing that 'Some examples of furniture by Kent` are figured in Vardy's Designs of Inigo Jones and Kent, and these, with authentic specimens at Houghton Hall and from Chiswick House, show some slight influence of Venetian work of the sixteenth century, but an even more marked Kentian flavour. In these pieces the enrichments and carved mouldings are very large in scale, and large foliations, masks and demi-figures are freely used' and that 'the scrolls supporting his side-tables are massive in the extreme. These stationary and monumental pieces are more successful in design than his moveables'. These words neatly encompass the spirit and form of Kent's work, his influence, if not his actual participation, being clearly evident in the present table.
Elements of the design of the current table are extremely similar to a number of other pieces of furniture whose design can be attributed to William Kent. A pair of tables in the Soane Museum, London and formerly in the collection of Lord Yarborough at his house in Chelsea, Yarborough House, display very similarly shaped legs to the current table, although of twinned form, and which are illustrated by Peter Thornton, 'Soane's Kent Tables', Journal of the Furniture History Society, 1993, pp. 59-65, figs. 1&2. Here Thornton suggests that the tables could have been carved by James Richards, successor to Grinling Gibbons to the post of Sculptor and Master Carver at the Office of Works and whose name appears several times in the accounts at Houghton and who is likely to have been responsible for the carving on the State Barge designed by Kent for Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1731-32. It is however perfectly feasible that the work could have been carried out by either Benjamin Goodison or William Hallett, both of whom were also employed by Kent though, for a Patron of this standing, it is very likely Kent would have reverted to the Royal carver.
The unusual use of the entrelac carved detail to many of the surfaces of the current table relates to the detailing on a pair of mahogany and parcel-gilt 'back-to-back' desks formerly at Rokeby Hall, Yorkshire where similar details can be found on the pilasters and likewise on a pair of commodes from the same suite, both of which are illustrated by R.W. Symonds, 'William Kent as a Designer of Furniture', Antique Collector, November/December, 1949, pp. 208-213, figs. 1&2. In the same article are illustrated the pair of 'Owl' commodes currently in the Duke of Devonshire's Collection at Chatsworth and are now thought to have originally been commissioned for the Summer Parlour at Chiswick op.cit., p. 209, fig. 4. The entrelac decoration is once again evident on a design for a chimney-piece, dated 1737, for the Board-Room of the Treasury, Whitehall, the upper section of which is by Kent, the lower elements by John Vardy, and which shows this detailing is illustrated, both the design and as executed, by Harold Barkley, 'A Kent-Vardy Collaboration', Country Life, 13 October 1960, p.791, figs 1&2. In his article Barkley suggests that the work may have been executed by James Richards who was responsible for the carved ornaments on the chimney-pieces at Kensington Palace and the decorative features in stone for the New Horse Guards later in the century.
James Richards, 'Master Sculptor and Carver in Wood' to the Board of Works. Richards (fl. 1721-d.1759) succeeded Grinling Gibbons to this important post in 1721, 'becoming one of the most accomplished carvers of the Palladian Years, working in particular for Colen Campbell and William Kent' (see The Burlington Magazine, October 1985, `Some English wood-carvers', Geoffrey Beard and Christopher pp.686-694) . Little is known of his early years, his first recorded commission being on the Rolls House in Chancery Lane where he worked under the direction of the architect Colen Campbell. Other commissions from Campbell included Compton Place and Burlington House, continuing to work for him after Campbell was replaced by William Kent in the service of Lord Burlington, at Houghton and Mereworth until Campbell's death in 1729. In 1726 Kent was appointed to the position of 'Master Carpenter to the Board of Works', in which capacity he was undoubtedly in a position to use Richards' talents as a master carver. Richards carried out carving work at Kew for Frederick, Prince of Wales in the early 1730s and also on another one of his most spectacular surviving commissions in 1732 for the Royal Barge. Designed by William Kent, the barge is described by Beard (see Beard op. cit.) as a 'work of consummate craftsmanship'. Displaying Kent's immense talents as a designer in the full Palladian style his wishes have been translated by Richards into a fantasy world of a small palace richly ornamented with fully sculptured mermaids, dolphins and other creatures of the sea.