Lot 11
  • 11

A George IV pietre dure mounted ebony veneered cabinet attributed to Morel and Hughes, circa 1823, the pietre dure panels, Florentine and 17th century

250,000 - 400,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • hardstone mosaic panels, gilt-bonze, ebony and ebonised mahogany, gilt-limewood
  • 180cm. high, 141cm. wide, 52.5cm. deep; 5ft. 11in., 4ft. 7½in., 1ft. 8¾in.
with a gilt-bronze beaded and foliate cast gallery above a leaf-cast gilt-wood cavetto cornice and an arrangement of eighteen drawers and three cupboards inset with panels portraying birds and flowers in various coloured semi-precious stones and hardstones, the rear of one drawer fitted with four graduated velvet lined drawers and the rear of a further drawer formerly fitted with the same now lacking drawers, raised on an ebonised stand with ball turned ebonised columns with carved and gilt-limewood Corinthian capitals on a leaf-carved and ebonised mahogany platform with a mirrored back


Almost certainly commissioned by Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland (1785–1847) for Northumberland House, London, circa 1823, until the house was demolished in 1874;
Thence by descent and formerly in the Print Room at Syon House, Middlesex.


Possibly the cabinet described in the Account of Morel & Hughes dated 31 March 1823, p.16 & 17, for the Drawing Room, Northumberland House (Sy.U.I.64(2)):

To thoroughly repairing another ebony cabinet, larger than preceding, polishing & making good the Mosaic work new carved & gilt mouldings, & an ormolu gallery for the top, composed of wrought columns in suit with foregoing  185-16-

To a stand for do of black polished wood as ebony supportd by columns & pilasters, with carved & gilt capitals & bases & mouldings to correspond with the foregoing  222-12-

Possibly the cabinet recorded in the Inventory of Northumberland House, 1847, p.72, in the Crimson Damask Room (Sy.H.VI.2.d):

An elegant Ebony Cabinet inlaid with choice Marbles in birds &c. on massive carved and gilt stand and looking glass back


CABINET The gilt-bronze gallery is of superior quality and in untouched condition. It is tarnished in places and lifting slightly at the rear of each return. The top – which would not normally be visible – is made of stained pine and there are old marks. The giltwood palmette cavetto frieze with some retouching, both old and new. Minor losses to the giltwood mouldings, one of the giltwood gadrooned friezes with repaired losses to each corner. Some areas of the giltwood mouldings to the hardstone panels with localised retouching, lifting and losses. Some of the ebonised mouldings with wear and some of the beading around the drawers replaced. There are repairs to the timber around lock sites; these include reglued chipped and cracked sections. Signs of movement to the cabinet sides along construction joints. One small right side drawer formerly fitted with four concealed drawers. The opposing small drawer fitted with four velvet lined drawers; the top and bottom examples are very difficult to open and one leather pull is lacking. The central cupboard fitted with five small drawers. Some drawer carcases with old splits and warping as to be expected, and as a result some of the drawers are 'sticky'. There are hair line cracks to hard stone panels as to be expected and signs of very old repairs. The hard stone panels display spectacular array of colours and would benefit from a gentle clean according to taste. STAND The exquisitely carved capitals and bases of the supports with ingrained dirt and some areas of retouching/regilding. There are minor losses to some of the carved details and a split to one of the carved lotus leaves. The pilasters to the rear of the base in conforming condition, but with larger chips to some of the carved detail. The mirror plate is in good condition with one small bruise and there are old marks and scratches to the pedestal from the placement of objects (see illustration page 63 of the catalogue). The acanthus carved giltwood leaves with ingrained dirt and veneers with losses to the ebony veneers and retouching. With painted Northumberland Inventory Number '02040' to the base. Cuts made to accommodate the skirting board of Northumberland House are visible to the lower section of the back. Overall, this stunning cabinet on stand exhibits exactly the kind of wear one would expect for a piece of this age.
"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

This magnificent cabinet belongs to one of the most important commissions of the 1820s and, together with lot 4, forms part of the celebrated Northumberland group of pietre dure mounted cabinets which includes the renowned royal Cucci Cabinets (see below). Incorporating 17thcentury Florentine panels, this striking cabinet is an homage to the exceptional output of the Grand Ducal workshops and grants us a fascinating insight into the appetite for pietre dure works among the collecting elite of the time. What is particularly interesting about the present cabinet, and what distinguishes it from its counterparts in the collection, is that it was almost certainly supplied by the fashionable London firm Morel & Hughes as part of their extensive Northumberland House commission between 1822 and 1824.

Morel & Hughes and The Northumberland House commission

Of the numerous programmes of improvement to the Percy's beloved London residence, the alterations by Thomas Cundy (1765–1825) in the 1820s were the most ambitious (see fig. 1). His extensive refurbishment created an entire suite of new rooms in the South Wing of Northumberland House. Cundy also made modifications to Robert Adam’s famous Glass Drawing Room and added the Grand Staircase; a magnificent and triumphal gilt-bronze mounted marble flight of steps designed by Cundy. Other notable buildings which he built or altered significantly include Syon House, the Duke of Northumberland's other prominent London residence, nearby Osterley and Middleton Park for the Earl of Jersey, Tottenham Park in Wiltshire, Burton Constable in Yorkshire and Hawarden Castle in Flintshire, Wales.

In 1822, the 3rd Duke engaged Nicholas Morel (fl. 1790-1830) and Robert Hughes (fl. 1805-1830) to supply furniture to Northumberland House following its radical renovation by Cundy. The pair had exceptional pedigree. Morel was part of the Anglo-French band of craftsmen who worked for Henry Holland and Dominque Daguerre in the 1790s, notably at Carlton House. His partnership with Robert Hughes is first recorded in an account for Weston Park dated 4 June 1805 (Phillis Rogers, Journal of the Furniture History Society, 'A Regency Interior: The Remodelling of Weston Park', p. 18, vol. xxiii, 1987). Hughes probably joined Morel the same year the account was recorded (op. cit., p. 11) and they had premises at 13 Great Marlborough Street which were first listed to Morel alone in 1802 and later to Morel & Hughes in Robson's Directory, London, 1820.

Throughout their partnership Morel & Hughes enjoyed a rich and discerning client base. The firm supplied the Prince of Wales with furniture for Carlton House between 1810 and 1812. Other noteworthy patrons included the aforementioned 1st Earl of Bradford at Weston Park (1802-03 and 1805-06); the Earl of Mansfield for work at Kenwood (1808); Edward, Lord Lascelles for work at Harewood House, Hanover Square (1809); the Duke of Bedford whom they provided with materials in 1807-08; the Duke of Buccleuch (1813); and the 2nd Marquess of Bath (1813). The Northumberland commission was however their largest and most important, and arguably one of the greatest of the 1820s.

Upon completion of the commission June 1824, the Duke was issued with an invoice totalling £34,111 9s 7d. The Morel & Hughes accounts meticulously document the variety and scale of the commission describing all manner of work. Enlisting the talents of London’s leading craftsman they supplied furnishings and decoration including sumptuous textiles and upholstery, wonderful new ‘Grecian’ furniture, richly carved and gilded seat furniture. They were also charged with restoring, enlarging and modernising existing suites and family pieces.

Rudolph Akermann, the great arbiter of taste, referred to the Northumberland commission in his Repository of Arts periodical in March 1825, describing the ‘Splendid furniture lately executed for His Grace the Duke of Northumberland', a testament to the importance and fashionability of Morel & Hughes' work. The commission would have certainly influenced the tastes of other noble families, including the 3rd Duke’s close friend George IV who subsequently instructed Morel to start work at Windsor Castle in 1825, then being extensively re-modelled by Sir Jeffry Wyatville. Less than a year later, Morel abruptly dissolved his partnership with Hughes to form one with George Seddon (1769-1857) in order to complete the Royal Commission. Robert Hughes continued to work extensively for the 3rd Duke, not only with the seasonal opening and closing of Northumberland House, but also upholstery and repair work and supplying a number of pieces of new furniture, particularly for Syon House.

The cabinet in the context of the pietre dure collection at Northumberland House 

The present cabinet was conceived to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Duke’s extant pietre dure mounted cabinets, forming one of the most important collections of its kind amassed in England and which had recently been added to by the acquisition of Louis XIV's exceptional cabinets in 1822. Created by the Italian furniture maker, Domenico Cucci, the Cucci Cabinets were made in the late 17th century for the Sun King’s Palace at Versailles. Two other outstanding cabinets belonging to the family since the 18th century made up a breath-taking assembly of pietre dure cabinets which must have dazzled guests in the resplendent surroundings of the newly renovated Northumberland House (see page 36 for a discussion of the Roman Baroque cabinet).

The naturalistically rendered flowers and birds that form the subject matter of the pietre dure mosaic in the decoration of the present cabinet are typical of the output of the Grand Ducal workshops of Florence in the 17th century. Founded in 1588 by Ferdinando I de’ Medici, the Grand Ducal manufactory quickly established itself as the leading producer in the highly specialised field of hardstone mosaic and relief work, a dominance that was to last for three centuries.

The designs of the panels on the offered cabinet show the influence of Jacopo Ligozzi’s (Verona 1547-Florence 1626) depictions of flora and fauna, who late in his life was named director of the Grand Ducal workshop. From their inception in the first decades of the 17th century and for over a century thereafter, the jet black colour of the Belgian marble panels made an ideal ground, accentuating the vivid colours of the bird’s plumage and the bright compositions of flowers and fruit which became the signature of the pietre dure panels manufactured in Florence. Admired and coveted across Europe, these panels were frequently imitated but seldom equalled in quality and execution. The panels of the present lot exhibit the great skill and sophistication of the Grand Ducal Workshop, utilising a rich assortment of hardstone, each sensitively chosen and combined to give naturalistic detail, colour and fluidity to the scene.

It is interesting to consider how the panels came into Morel & Hughes' workshop. Their account for the work dated 31 March 1823 (Sy.U.I.64(2)), refers to ‘thoroughly repairing another ebony cabinet, larger than preceding, polishing & making good the Mosaic work new carved & gilt mouldings, & an ormolu gallery for the top, composed of wrought columns in suit with foregoing ’. This entry possibly relates to the offered cabinet and suggests the pietre dure panels might have come from a cabinet already in the Northumberland collection, although it is worth noting the carcass of the present lot is entirely English in its construction. Interestingly, there was a longstanding culture of re-using these highly prized articles amongst cabinet makers of the day, from Adam Weisweiler (c.1750-1810) to Robert Hume (fl. 1808-1840). Indeed, Morel & Seddon used 18th century pietre dure panels from a rosewood cabinet made by Tatham & Bailey for Carlton House in 1810, incorporating them in a bath cabinet as part of the Windsor Castle commission (see Jane Roberts, Royal Treasures, London, 2002, pl. 90, p. 163-165). The Royal Collection also contains an ebony and giltwood centre table by Morel & Seddon from the same commission circa 1828. According to their account for the work, the table was conceived ‘to receive His Majesty’s oblong Florentine marble slab’, which resonates with the Northumberland commission and further demonstrates Morel’s proclivity to utilise and incorporate existing materials into his cabinet making (Hugh Roberts, For the Kings Pleasure: The Furnishing and Decoration of George IV's Apartments at Windsor Castle, London, 2001, p.83 and 96). It was also common practice for large firms of cabinet makers and upholsters to acquire materials when the opportunity arose, demonstrated by Morel & Hughes’ acquisition at the sale of The Stock in Trade Of Mr George Bullock Dec., of a large quantity of 'foliage inlaid borders in oak and ebony and also in oak and holly’ (Christie's, Manson & Woods, 14 May 1819, lot 67).

When it came to the arrangement of the panels, early Florentine examples of a similar form to the present lot would have been influential and provide interesting precedents, such as the ebony cabinet now at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (see fig. 2) and a late 17th/early 18th century Indian chestnut cabinet in the Opificio delle Pietre dure Museum (Inv. 577). If the panels did in fact come from an existing cabinet in the Northumberland collection, it is likely to have been of a similar form to these examples.