A Royal Regency ormolu-mounted burr-yew breakfront bookcase Supplied to George, Prince of Wales for Carlton House, London, by Marsh and Tatham in 1806, probably to a design by Charles Heathcote Tatham
- Yew-wood, marble, gilt-bronze
Removed to Windsor Castle, Berkshire, in 1827 where recorded in Room 235 in the 1866 inventory.
Probably with H. Blairman, according to the label.
Property of The Late Villiers David, Esq., Christie's London, 21 November 1985, lot 96.
H. Roberts, For the King's Pleasure, London, 2001, p. 328 (for the Morel and Seddon account) and p. 333, fig. 414, for one of the matching bookcases which remains in the Royal Collection.
This elegant Regency bookcase originally formed part of the extensive furnishings of Carlton House, the palatial London residence of George, Prince of Wales. The Prince, a precocious Francophile, employed the similarly minded architect Henry Holland to oversee the works which began in 1784. The State apartments were the first to be undertaken and by September 1785 the magnificence was there to be seen, Horace Walpole uncharacteristically remarking that the new palace would be ‘the most perfect in Europe’. The costs though were extreme and work was halted at the end of 1785 while Parliament investigated the enormous overspend which had already reached a staggering £250,000. The Prince petitioned his father, King George III, who eventually conceded further funds and work resumed in the summer of 1787. There was a near continuous updating and refurbishment of Carlton House over the next thirty-odd years leading up to George’s accession to the throne in 1820.
The current bookcase was one of four supplied by Messers Marsh and Tatham in addition to the ivory inlaid ebony library furniture made for the main library at Carlton House. These four bookcases, which originally displayed similar detailing to the ebony furniture were invoiced in June 1806;
‘Four elegant Yew Tree bookcases inlaid with ebony ornaments decorated with bronze and antique heads, rich ormolu ornaments, open brass-work and plate glass etc, to complete design…£680
Statuary marble tops and ledges to the same…£140.35’
The use of the burr-yew veneers together with the marble, bronze and ormolu mounts demonstrates the Prince’s continued preoccupation with contemporary French taste. It is comparable with the French furniture of the late Louis XVI and early Empire taste of which Prince George was one of London’s main proponents. Indeed at the end of the eighteenth century the celebrated marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre was working at Carlton House and helping to import the furniture of his favoured maître-éboniste, Adam Weisweiler, whose work is reflected in the current bookcase. The strong Grecian styling further reflects the work of the French architect and designer, Charles Percier, whose Recueil de Décorations Interieures of 1801 illustrates a desk surmounted by busts of philosophers. The busts surmounting the current bookcase closely follow the designs of Thomas Hope, friend and admirer of Percier, who illustrates on plate fifty-seven of his Household Furniture and Interior Design, 1807, near identical models which he lists as ‘Different heads of the Indian or bearded Bacchus’ (see figs. 4 & 5). Whilst the current bookcase predates Hope’s publication, his Duchess Street Mansion was opened in 1804 and was highly influential on the taste of the day. Furthermore, Hope’s preferred bronzier, Alexis Decaix a French émigré craftsman, is known to have worked for the Prince at Carlton House and would seem the most probably candidate for supplying the high quality mounts on this bookcase.
The design of this suite of bookcases, together with much of the ebony library furniture for Carlton House, can be attributed to Charles Heathcote Tatham, brother to Thomas Tatham, the founding partner of Marsh and Tatham. Charles was employed during the 1790s by the architect Henry Holland and would have been fully aware of the work he was undertaking at Carlton House for the Prince. Between 1794 and 1796 he travelled in Rome and the Italian provinces, drawing and where possible purchasing fragments of antique sculpture and architecture to send back to Holland in London. Many of the fragments Tatham acquired are now in the Soane Museum, while several of his drawings survive among the Tatham/Holland correspondence in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1799, these and other examples of his drawings after the Antique were engraved and published in a single volume entitled Etchings of Ornamental Architecture drawn from the Originals in Rome and Other Parts of Italy during the years 1794, 1795 and 1796. Tatham`s emphasis on the massive and sculptural qualities of antique art and architecture, are clearly exemplified by the present bookcase. The attribution of C.H. Tatham as designer of this group of furniture is discussed in detail by Clive Wainwright, ‘The Furnishing of the Royal Library at Windsor’, Connoisseur, June 1977, pp. 104-109.
Windsor Castle – Morel and Seddon’s enrichments
Upon his accession in 1820 the new King George IV considered that Carlton House, the official Royal residence of St. James's Palace and Buckingham House, his father’s residence, were all inadequate for his needs. Consideration was given to enlarging Carlton House but eventually it was demolished in 1825 and replaced with Carlton House Terrace which stands today. George IV then proceeded to refurbish Buckingham House, as it was, and Windsor Castle. Much of the furniture and interiors of Carlton House were relocated and reused and the King commissioned the fashionable Regency firm of Morel and Seddon to undertake much of this work.
The current bookcase was removed to Windsor, via the Great Marlborough Street workshops of Nicholas Morel and George Seddon. Here the four bookcases were variously altered and enhanced each in a different manner for the newly refurbished rooms at the ancient castle. The alterations to this bookcase and another (one of two) which remains in the Royal Collection are recorded in the Morel and Seddon accounts for Room 235;
‘To thoroughly repairing cleaning and repolishing a large winged yew tree bookcase, taking off rebronzing in the best manner and refixing the therme heads, draperies mouldings etc, regilding the ormoulu ornaments, repolishing the marble slabs, and making a new key to the locks [Charged with No. 806 In Room 242]’ (see H. Roberts, For the King’s Pleasure, London, 2001, p. 328).
Room 235 at Windsor Castle was within a suite of rooms in and adjacent to the York Tower, one of the new towers forming the gateway into the Quadrangle. It was originally conceived as a drawing-room. Hugh Roberts records in his study of George IV’s apartments at Windsor, that the furnishing of this room was ‘…both lavish and eclectic. The new pieces, all amboyna veneered and mounted with giltwood or gilt-bronze ornaments, consisted of a sofa table, circular table and fall-front secretaire. The refurbished pieces included a lacquer cabinet -on-stand, another of the yew-wood bookcases from the Carlton House library, a pair of giltwood torchères and one from a set of four lavishly mounted mid-eighteenth century commodes attributed to Pierre Langlois.’ (H. Roberts, op.cit, p. 320).
The intriguing inscription beneath the marble of the base section of this bookcase may well correspond to Morel and Seddon’s work, the number, here recorded as ‘5-5’ appears to relate to their initial estimates for the refurbishment as recorded in their account books where this piece is recorded under number 555. Unfortunately at present we are unable to trace the meaning or person behind the word or name ‘Flavan’. When the current bookcase left Windsor Castle we cannot be sure but it is recorded in the inventory of 1866 as confirmed by the brands and labels affixed to this piece and would have appeared to have been in the stock of the renowned dealer of Regency furniture, H. Blairman.