A George I gilt-gesso bureau-cabinet circa 1720, attributed to James Moore
- Wood, gilt-gesso, glass
Purchased at The Grosvenor House Antiques Fair from Mallett & Son Ltd., London, 15th June 1978.
Synge, Lanto, Great English Furniture, London, 1991, p.52.
‘A Golden Cabinet’, Mallett Spring Catalogue. London: Mallett & Son Antiques, 2003, pp.6-13.
Dias, Carlos Malheiro, Cartas de Lisboa. Primeira Serie (1904), Lisboa, Livraria Classica Editora, 1905, p.109.
Murdoch, Tessa, ‘The king’s cabinet-maker: the giltwood furniture of James Moore the Elder’, Burlington Magazine, vol. CXLV, 2003, ill. 8, p. 410.
‘Noticia verdadeira do ornato, que se vio nas cazas de Madre Soror Paula Maria’. Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa, manuscript - BNL, F.4640 - published in Guimarães, J. Ribeiro, Summario de Varia Historia, 1872, pp. 67-70.
Proença, José António, Mobiliário da Casa-Museu Dr. Anastácio Gonçalves. 2002, p.183.
Symonds, R. W. 'A Royal Scrutoire', Connoisseur, June 1940, pp. 233-236.
Symonds, R. W., ‘English Gesso Furniture’, The Antique Collector, Vol. XXVII, August 1956, p. 140.
Anglo-Portuguese relations became closer after the 1703 Treaty of Methuen between the two allied countries. On this treaty, the export of manufactured goods to Portugal was encouraged, furniture included. At the same time, with Portugal's newly found Brazilian wealth, Dom João became an important patron of the arts commissioning pieces from Paris, Rome and London. The London commissions are not very well documented but some are known through articles in period newspapers between 1723 and 1730, showing his interest in English goods. They mention globes, iron rails and gates for the Palácio de Mafra, a model of the British Crown and even a “curious Silver Vessel”, by Paul Crespin, which was taken to Kensington Palace to be shown to King George I. Although not recorded in these newspapers, the present lot falls into an interesting London made group of two pairs of bureau-bookcases that are historically linked to the King of Portugal.
The current bureau appeared on the Portuguese market in the 1960’s and was sold again at Sotheby’s in 1977 by a Portuguese dealer. Before that we do not know its provenance or when it parted ways from its pair. Nonetheless, we know more about the latter, as it is reputed to have belonged to the Portuguese Royal Collections, namely to Queen Carlota Joaquina (1775-1830), wife of Dom João VI and then to their grand-daughter Queen Dona Maria II (1819-1853), who had given it to her lady-in-waiting, Duquesa de Ficalho (1784-1859). The bureau was gifted by the Marquês de Ficalho to the Condessa de Geraz do Lima (1832-1891), and then by descent until sold in 1994 at Soares & Mendonça, to a private collector, who then sold it with Christie’s (4 July 2002, lot 100) when purchased by Mallett. The London dealers removed the later additions to match the state of the present lot and sold it to a private collector.
The second pair of bureaux, and the only know comparison to this, was in the collection of the family of one of the King’s lovers, the nun Paula Teresa da Silva e Almeida. The King was extremely affectionate to Madre Paula, as she was known, providing her with a lavish life in the monastery. An eighteenth century manuscript existing in the Biblioteca Nacional in Lisbon recorded the interiors of Madre Paula’s lavish private apartments. The accounts mentions “two bureaux with mirror in the doors, ornamented with gilt reliefs“ which seem to match the pair first published by R.W.Symonds in 1940 (‘A Royal Scrutoire’, Connoisseur, June 1940). According to Symonds, this piece was originally made for King João V and stayed with the descendants of Leocádia Assis e Almeida, sister of Madre Paula, until sold in London in the 1930’s. It formed part of the stock of Frank Partridge & Son, of King Street, where it was tragically destroyed during the London blitz. Its pair, we believe, lives today at Dr. Anastácio Gonçalves house-museum in Lisbon, though almost unrecognisable after falling into the sea, when all the gesso decoration was lost (Malheiro Dias, Cartas de Lisboa, 1905, p.109). It is now red japanned but it keeps the superb yew veneered interior.
In these bureaux, gilt-gesso, a type of plaster, was applied on the wooden carcass in layers and then the design would be cut into it. In the same way wood is gilded, a red clay ground was applied and then gold leaves would be individually applied. The decorated surface was then burnished in the raised areas and punched and stippled on the ground, creating different glittering effects and textures. The elaborate French influenced strapwork designs covering almost the entire surface of the exterior in this imposing piece would have had, when delivered to Portugal, a striking effect with its bright shiny surface resembling solid gold, highly appropriate for the gold rich monarch. The rich fitted interiors veneered in yew would originally resemble the then fashionable tortoiseshell.
The present lot is among the best examples ever made in this technique and attributed with a degree of certainty to the workshops of the royal cabinet-maker James Moore (c.1670-d. 1726). With its pair, it is the only surviving bureau known to have been fully decorated in gilt-gesso, usually seen in small pieces such as tables, chests and mirrors. The quality and richness of the design is of the highest order and the unusual feature of having mirror plates on the sides indicate a commission made for the export market. The quality and grandness of the piece and the similar ornament designs found in pieces long attributed to Moore, such as a chest in Boughton House, and the Bateman chest, strongly suggest the involvement of James Moore and if this was a royal commission, it would be natural to assume that the King’s agent in London would enlist the talents of the royal cabinet-maker.
James Moore, of Nottingham Court, Short’s Gardens, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, London, had an exceptional career working for a group of vanguard thinking patrons. He started his career possibly as an apprentice with Elizabeth Gumley and her son John and, in 1714, Moore enters into partnership with the Gumleys, an association that continued until his death in 1726, although it is obvious from surviving documentary evidence that the partners frequently carried out individual commissions, besides those for the Royal Household. Some of Moore’s known patrons include the Duchess of Marlborough, Duchess of Buccleuch, the Duke of Montagu, and the Earl of Burlington.
This bureau attributed to James Moore supports much of his reputation, demonstrating a gallant style and utilization of a wide array of influences. His works draws from an awareness of English baroque architecture and from the influence of both oriental export and French styles, but also show a willingness to adapt his production to the export taste. Less progressive in terms of design than some of his other works, and showing Moore’s close contact with the cabinetmaking industry of the Strand, the form of this bureau relates to other pieces made by cabinet-makers such as Peter Miller. The Le Pautre inspired foliated engraved lock and hinges also appear in other period walnut bureaux.