Lot 15
  • 15

A brass inlaid première-partie boulle marquetry ebony veneered and ebonised bureau plat basically Louis XIV, modified possibly in the first half of the 18th century

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • Boulle and mahogany
  • 76.5cm. high, 167cm. wide, 83cm. deep; 2ft. 6¼in., 5ft. 5¾in., 2ft. 8¾in.
with a rectangular gilt-bronze banded inset leather top above a recessed frieze drawer flanked on either side by three drawers all within foliate cast borders, with satryr mask escutcheons opposing dummy drawers, the later 18th century knee mounts cast with a female mask,on later cabriole legs joined by a stretcher terminating in gilt-bronze hoof feet, the whole inlaid with brass inlaid strapwork cartouches, scrolls, stylised scallopshells and rinceaux, with similarly inlaid sides on gilt-bronze-hoof feet


Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire, possibly acquired by George Henry Lee, 1st Earl of Lichfield (1690-1743) or more likely acquired by Nancy Tree, later Nancy Lancaster (1897-1994)
Thence by descent


Photographed circa 1947 in the White Drawing Room at Ditchley Park,see Martin Wood, Nancy Lancaster, London, 2005, p. 68, 69-reproduced here in fig. 1:
Painted by Alexandre Serebriakoff (1907-1994) at Ditchley Park in the White Drawing Room, circa 1946, see  Martin Wood, (op.cit. p. 66), reproduced here in fig. 2. Ronnie Tree commissioned the Russian painter to provide a valuable visual record of the rooms at Ditchley after he was to divorce Nancy.


An impressive piece of good size with attractive mounts and marquetry in need of some attention from a restorer but once restored it will look superb.The mounts in particular are well cast. The leather top is distressed from age and use and there are localised areas of losses as visible from the catalogue photograph. The brass inlaid border of the top with losses, gessoed areas to replace some losses, lifting and stains to the ebony veneer. The bronze is dirty and there are very old signs of wear and casting fractures to some of the mounts which would benefit from a light clean. Some foliate borders around drawers are lifting. Some losses to brass inlay and stringing. There has been some rebuilding internally and the legs have been modified as it would originally have had eight legs and a stretcher, four of the gilt-bronze sabots of which have been reused abnd attached to the underside of the kneehole section. The stretcher present now is a later addition but could be removed but the piece would have to be stabilised. Some traces of old minor worm which appears to be no longer active.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Comparative Literature:
David Dubon and Theodore Dell, Furniture in the Frick Collection, An Illustrated Catalogue, Vol. V, Furniture Italian and French, Princeton, 1992, plate 189.

This bureau plat presents an interesting example of an early 18th century desk formerly with eight legs joined by stretchers modified in the first half of the 18th century when the legs were altered, the original sabot four of which have been added to the frieze for decoration, the other four are lacking.

It is worthwhile considering a bureau plat of similar form in the Frick Collection, with two as opposed to three rows of drawers flanking a recessed central drawer, see Dubon and Dell, op, cit., p.189. The latter is  in essence an eight legged desk (which the offered bureau plat was originally) made in the workshop of André-Charles Boulle  subsequently restored by Etienne Levasseur (1721-98) an ébéniste who restored late 17th/early 18th century Boulle marquetry furniture as well as making reproductions in Boulle style.
There is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, see Dubon and Dell, op. cit., illustrated p. 199, fig. 1, a large counterpart to the Frick desk that shares not only the same general design but identical corner mounts, However both have much more elaborate boulle marquetry than on the offered bureau plat.  

Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire:

Ditchley Park was designed by James Gibbs and built for the second Earl of Lichfield in 1722. The interior was richly decorated by William Kent and Henry Flitcroft and remained unfinished when the second Earl died in 1742. It may be that this bureau plat was purchased for the new house during that time.

The 4th Earl died in 1776 without an heir, so the estate passed to his niece, Lady Charlotte Lee, who had married the 11th Viscount Dillon, an Irish Peer. The 17th Viscount Dillon died in 1932 and the estate was sold to Ronald Tree, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Market Harborough. Together with his wife Nancy, the house was extensively redecorated with help from Lady Colefax and the French decorator Stéphane Boudin of the celebrated Paris firm Jansen.

 Nancy Tree at the time was said to have 'the finest taste of anyone in the world'. She was later to become the owner of Colefax and Fowler and is credited as establishing 'The English Country House Look'.

The restoration of Ditchley Park by the Tree family was greatly admired and regularly visited by many prominent figures in British society such as Anthony Eden, the Duchess of Devonshire and Winston Churchill. During the war the Cabinet became increasingly concerned with the security and visibility of Churchill's country house Chartwell and the Prime Minister's retreat at Chequers and decided that 'when the moon is high' he drove north of London to Ditchley, a site that offered excellent tree coverage and no visible access roads.