Lot 8
  • 8

A George II mahogany breakfront bookcase circa 1740, possibly to a design by William Kent, originally an alcove fitment with consequential alterations to the sides

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • mahogany, glass, wire-mesh
  • 266.5cm. high, 232.5cm. wide, 67cm. deep; 8ft. 9in., 7ft. 7½in., 2ft. 2½in.
the fluted cornice with broken triangular pediment above three doors, the centre one with an oval mullion and fluted carved pilasters, headed by corbels, the lower part with a scroll moulding above divided doors, flanked by two banks of four drawers, the rear sections of the sides, cornice, waist moulding and plinth extended in the 19th century following removal from original alcove


Acquired or commissioned by Sir Hugh Smithson, later 1st Duke of Northumberland (1715-1786) for Stanwick Park, Yorkshire;
Thence by descent and transferred to Albury Park, Surrey in the early 20th, recorded there by Helen, 8th Duchess of Northumberland in 1930 (op.cit. no. 35) and more recently at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.


Possibly the bookcase recorded in An Inventory of the Best Rooms Stanwick 1773 in No. 4 In your Lordships Room up Stairs and described as one mahogany Book case, this is the only reference to a bookcase in that document, although having been fitted into a recess it may have been omitted and this entry may well refer to another (The Archives of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle DP/D1/I/132);
Probably the bookcase recorded in An Inventory and Valuation... Stanwick Park, 1865 in The Dressing Room Adjoining [the Duchess's Bedchamber] and described as 'A fine, old, carved Bookcase the upper part *** by wire work the under part enclosed by panel'd doors with carved mouldings (locked)' (Alnwick Sy.H.IX.1.O);
Almost certainly the bookcase photographed in the Dining Room at Stanwick Park, Yorkshire before the house was sold in 1922 (photograph reproduced opposite);
Helen, 8th Duchess of Northumberland, Catalogue of Contents, Albury Park and 17 Princes Gate in the Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, Privately Published, 1930, item number 35;
Illustrated, Albury Park, The House of Helen Duchess of Northumberland, Country Life, August 25, 1950, p. 677, fig. 11;
Helen, 8th Duchess of Nothumberland, Albury Park, Northampton, 1951,  p.33;


This impressive bookcase is in good country house condition, displaying very good colour and patina, which can be enhanced by waxing. The sides have been extended when removed from the alcove (circa 1880) where was originally placed, although there was no alteration to proportions or volume. Doors with later glass panels and replaced wire netting – originally only with netting - the doors backs with later screwed mouldings to secure glass panels; old tack marks to inside doors possibly from silk backs; backboard of central lower section grained; shelves appear to be original; lower side cupboards have later oak drawers, probably done when sides where extended; repairs to hinges to left door of central lower section, with a screw visible in the exterior; upper central door hinges probably replaced with minor losses around them; slide sections for shelves to central upper cupboard probably replaced; small losses to garlands carvings and there is a small loss to vitruvian scroll frieze to right hand side. Marks and scratches consistent with age and use.
"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 bookcase appears to have formed part of the original interior of Stanwick Park, Yorkshire. Commissioned by Sir Hugh Smithson who rebuilt the original house in the neo-Palladian style circa 1739-40, just prior to his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Seymour, daughter of 7th Duke of Somerset and heir to the Northumberland estates. Stanwick was designed in the fashionable taste of the 1730s as promoted by Lord Burlington, William Kent and their circle. As Tim Knox notes in his recent essay for the current William Kent exhibition, ‘Stanwick…had a strange trio of Burlingtonian open pediments on the west front, and a dining room with a ceiling copied from Chiswick House’ (see S. Weber, ed. , William Kent, Designing Georgian Britain, Yale, 2013, p. 593), suggesting that Sir Hugh was closely connected to this enlightened circle.

It would seem probable that this bookcase was supplied with the commode, also offered in this sale as lot XXX, as both appear to have been recorded in the 1773 inventory of Stanwick Park in ‘Your Lordships Room up Stairs’, a fact further substantiated by Lady Elizabeth Smithson, later the 1st Duchess of Northumberland in a letter to her mother Lady Hertford (later Duchess of Somerset) which is dated August 8th, 1740, in which she notes ‘between the windows (in Sir Hugh Smithson's dressing room at Stanwick) stands covered with a marble a 'French' set of drawers in mahogany much ornamented with brass gilt’.

The architectural form of this bookcase, and that is what was originally conceived as part of the fittings of the room, is in accordance with the new concept of the use of bookcases to enhance the architectural decoration of a room which emerged in the mid-1730s. Typical of William Kent’s interiors and his schemes where he is evident as the complete architect. Prior to this date bookcases would have been considered secondary to the room scheme and purely pragmatic. Indeed, the library created for Queen Caroline at St. James's Palace circa 1735, if one agrees with the date on the design in the Soane Museum, now demolished but recorded by W.H. Pyne in his watercolours of The Royal Residences in 1819 and retained in the British Library, shows a rather drab room, with plain, unadorned bookcases projecting, perpendicular to the walls, into the room. 

Kent, having travelled in Rome with Lord Leicester and admired the vaulted ceilings they discovered on their travels, created library schemes in grand, cove-ceilinged rooms with projecting ‘free-standing bookcases’, carved with architectural details to match their surroundings and painted in the colours of the walls, the carved decorative motifs enhanced with parcel-gilding to match the architectural mouldings of the room. This is evident in Kent’s design for the Library at Holkham Hall, Norfolk, ( fig.2), for 1st Earl Leicester which shows similarly proportioned bookcases to the current lot, fitted as part of the overall scheme of the room, see J. Cornforth, Early Georgian Interiors, Yale, 2004, pp. 313-316. The Library designed by Kent for the 3rd Duke of Devonshire at Devonshire House, Piccadilly, was formed almost simultaneously with that at Holkham and again incorporated a range of bookcases similarly proportioned to the current lot, but again painted, and not in mahogany, a number of which were sold Chatsworth: The Attic Sale, Sotheby’s house sale,  5-7 October 2010, lots 105-107. That the current bookcase was conceived in mahogany unlike the full library schemes, suggests that this was for a more intimate setting and would have conformed with the commode in the same room.

In considering an attribution to a maker of this bookcase, the most likely candidates would appear to be those cabinet-makers most closely associated with the Burlington-Kent circle, namely John Boson and Benjamin Goodison. The lives and work of Goodison and Boson were undoubtedly interlinked. They both shared many patrons and were working at precisely the same time. Goodison most probably succeeded into Royal service upon the death of James Moore circa 1727, having been Moore's apprentice since 1719. Boson first appears in records working as a carver on St. George's Bloomsbury in the 1720s, undertaking his first domestic work at 4 St. James's Square in 1725. While Goodison's name is most closely linked to much 'Kentian' furniture, it is probably due to John Boson's premature death in 1743 that the latter has not received the credit he perhaps deserves. Both men were associated with the Royal Household and are noted as having received payments from the Royal Wardrobe, along with William Kent and others, in the late 1730s for work undertaken for Frederick, Prince of Wales at both Hampton Court and Kew Palace. Boson is closely associated with the furniture supplied to 3rd Duke of Devonshire for Devonshire House and Lord Burlington whilst there are recorded payments to Goodison from Lord Leicester. To differentiate between the work of these two cabinet-makers without firm records of their work is difficult but it is most probable that William Kent, as architect and designer, remains the significant core figure and responsible for many of the designs.