Lord Delaval’s lost corner cupboards
Our understanding of the importance of the present corner cupboards owes an enormous debt to the research and writings of Lucy Wood, whose in-depth survey of the case furniture in the Lady Lever Art Gallery (Wood, op. cit., 1994, pp. 79-87) and earlier article on the furniture supplied to Lord Delaval (Wood, op. cit., 1990, pp. 198-234) have laid the foundation for the following paragraphs, especially the latter where the ‘missing Delaval corner cupboards’ are first identified and the pertinent archival material is reproduced.
That the present corner cupboards are en suite with the Lever commode is beyond any doubt. Conceived in the ‘French’ taste, the simulated jasper tops, rich gilt rococo mounts, gilt ground and painted neo-classical decoration are identical in their treatment to the Lever commode. Although the present corner cupboards have a later painted white surface around the cupboard doors, they appear to retain the original gilt surface beneath. The mythological figures depicted on the cupboards also differ. On the present lot we see Artemis with Orion, a Satyr, possibly Silenus, with a nymph, Apollo with a consort, possibly Daphne or Castalia, and Pan teaching Echo to play the flute instead. United, the suite would have made a spectacular ensemble.
The Lever commode was acquired by William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925) in 1904 when it was valued at £250 (Wood, op. cit., 1994, p. 79). It had been sold the previous year at Christie’s among a group of furniture which belonged to a Lt. Col. Leopold Richard Seymour (see Christie’s, 8 June 1903, lot 105) and was formerly at 95 Piccadilly. This grand Victorian mansion neighbouring the famous The Naval and Military Club, known informally as The In & Out, was presented to him together with its contents by his brother Arthur Seymour. Christie’s 1903 auction catalogue describes ‘A cabinet, formed as a commode, of Louis XV design, with shaped front end, and folding doors enclosing shelves [sic], painted with Cupids and arabesque foliage on a gold ground, and mounted with or-mulu, the top painted to represent marble – 51 in. wide.’ (Wood, op. cit., 1994, p. 81-82). The dimensions are fractionally off as the commode’s true width is 51½ in. An annotation in the auctioneer’s book states the commode was ‘bought at Louisa Lady Waterford’s sale’ (Wood, op. cit., 1994, p. 82). Although no corresponding sale has been identified, this distinguished line of provenance crops up with some regularity in connection with the Seymour brothers. Firstly with sale of ‘An Old Italian “Coffre-de-Marriage…formerly property of Louisa, Marchioness Waterford’ belonging Arthur Seymour (Christie’s, 2 July 1986, lot 238) and subsequently in the dispersal of property belonging to Lt. Col. Leopold Richard Seymour’s widow, Lady Falle (Christie’s, 26 March 1919, lots 96 and 111) (see Wood, op. cit., 1994, p. 86). It is therefore conceivable that the present corner cupboards were also acquired from Louisa, Marchioness Waterford - at auction or otherwise - by Arthur Seymour and/or Lt. Col. Leopold Seymour at the same time as the Lever commode. To date no record of their dispersal has come to light.
Louisa Anne Beresford, Marchioness of Waterford was, amongst many other things, a prolific watercolourist of the Pre-Raphaelite school, having been tutored by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and attended drawing classes held by John Ruskin. She divided her lengthy widowhood between Highcliffe Castle, which she inherited from her father Lord Stuart Rothesay, and Ford Castle, which was left to her by her husband Henry de La Poer Beresford, the 3rd Marquess of Waterford (1811–1859). Ford Castle provides the crucial link to Seaton Delaval, and was inherited by the 3rd Marquess of Waterford through his mother, Lord Delaval’s granddaughter, Susanna (née Carpenter) (d. 1827). Although the father of seven children, Lord Delaval left no male heir and all bar one of his children tragically pre-deceased him. Ford Castle was bequeathed to his granddaughter and importantly, she inherited all his furniture and personal chattels at Seaton Delaval Hall and Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire.
Lord Delaval kept meticulous records of the collection at Seaton Delaval Hall and there survive no less than twenty inventories of the contents of his houses between 1777 and 1803 in the Delaval Archive. The suite - including the present 'Corner Cubbords' - is first recorded in the Drawing Room at Seaton Delaval Hall in 1786 (NRO 3439/15, p. 62.):
‘1 Gilt & Painted Comode [sic] with Marble coloured top 2 Do_Do_ (Cabinets or) Corner Cubbords [sic] with each a Glass chandelier on them.’
The suite is again listed in the Drawing Room in 1801(NRO 2DE 31/6). It seems most likely that the commode and cupboards were transferred to Ford Castle by Lord Delaval’s granddaughter following his death in 1808.
John Carrack and John Cobb
Whilst the identity of the maker remains a mystery, correspondence in the Delaval Archive between John Carrack of Lambs Conduit Street, the St Martin’s Lane cabinet-maker John Cobb and Lord Delaval provides an illuminating insight into the commission.
The suite had apparently been on consignment with Cobb for some time before he secured Lord Delaval’s business. It is fascinating to see Cobb take on a roll more akin to a Parisian marchand-mercier and in a letter dated 10 January 1776 we learn how the transaction unfolded (NRO 2DE/34/2/62):
‘You did me the favour to inform me by your Clerk yesterday that a gentleman had writ you word he would give £50 for the Commode that is painted with Figures 13 Copper front Drawers Inlaid in mother of Pearl with the 2 Coins or Corner Cub boards appertaining I am Certain they Cost me more money then the Former Reduced price of £140 but Rather then they Should Stay on hand any Longer I wil be Content to take £80 Ready money allowing you 7½p Cent as by Former agreement for ware house Room & commission’
The gentleman in question was of course Lord Delaval and Cobb writes to him on 7 February 1776 to confirm delivery of the ‘Carefully packd…Comode and Quoins’ to the Royal Northumberland Bottle Warehouse, destined for Seaton Delaval Hall (NRO 2DE/34/2/78) (Wood, op. cit., 1990, p.217). The value of the suite had apparently depreciated since Carrack’s initial acquisition, perhaps indicative the declining appetite for the 'French' rococo style. Evidently, the interior of the Lever commode has undergone significant change at some stage and no longer corresponds to Carrack’s sensational description. The present corner cupboards are applied with the same later red wash to the backboards which has been applied to the interior and backboards of the Lever commode also, making it likely that the suite remained intact when the alterations took place (For a detailed discussion see Wood, op. cit., 1994, pp. 79-87).
Sir John Hussey Delaval
The refined elegance of the present corner cupboards and their sister commode is perhaps somewhat incongruous with imposing theatricality of their original home at Seaton Delaval Hall, Sir John Vanbrugh’s Baroque masterpiece nestled on the windswept Northumbrian coastline. The fate of Seaton Delaval had been secured by Lord Delaval, enobled in 1783, who was a man of enormous zeal and entrepreneurial acumen. He managed to reverse the profligacy of his elder brother and heir, Sir Francis Blake Delaval, by exploiting the commercial potential of his estates founding a new port at Seaton Sluice with his younger brother Thomas and establishing a thriving glass, bottle and brick factories. By 1771, shortly before his elder brother’s death, Sir John was in a position to buy out all his remaining interest in the estates, including Thomas’. By his early 40s he owned Doddington in Lincolnshire – inherited from his mother in 1759 - Ford Castle and Seaton Delaval in Northumberland, The Hartley Colliery and Royal Northumbrian Glassworks and in London, Grosvenor House in Millbank, before moving to Hanover Square in 1780. Naturally his success enabled him to extend the family collections as well as properties. The inventories of Seaton Delaval and other residences provide an invaluable resource in determining the mark Lord Delaval left of the family collections. The present corner cupboards would have been in keeping with a 'lightening' of the interiors achieved with the introduction of satinwood, giltwood and lacquer furniture as demonstrated in the Brown and Bryers inventory of 1786 which lists in the Saloon ‘two semicircular painted and gilt tables’ as well as ‘two card tables painted different colours, four gilt pedestals and six Chinese vases’ (NRO 3439/15) (see also Sotheby’s London, Two Noble Collections, Powderam Castle & Seaton Delaval Hall, 29 September 2009, lot 145).
The Windsor Suite and other comparables
The Delaval suite does not exist in isolation. A closely related suite - comprising a chest of drawers and a pair of corner cupboards - survive at Windsor Castle (Royal Collection, refs. RCIN 21219 and RCIN 21220) (illustrated Wood, op. cit., 1994, p. 83, figs. 66-71). Acquired by Queen Charlotte, the Windsor suite must surely have be made by Carrack's cabinet-maker, being of almost identical shape and with the same mounts and a similarly iridescent painted surface, in this instance a vivid green ground with rossettes and gilt-trellis decoration. Interestingly, the Lever commode has lost its apron mount but the emergence of the present corner cupboards can confirm Wood’s hypothesis that it would have been identical to that of the Windsor commode, as the mounts of the present corner cupboards confirm exactly with those in the Royal Collection (ref. RCIN 21219) (ibid., figs. 66-71).
Carrack and Cobb were evidently supplying an elite and international clientele. Indeed, Cobb refers to ‘2 of the same sort were Bot, and Sent to the Empress of Russia’ in a letter to Lord Delaval in connection with the suite he was storing for Carrack (NRO 2DE/34/2/30).
Cobb himself supplied a commode to Paul Methuen at Corsham Court in 1772, which employed identical mounts and a similarly marbled top (illustrated Wood, op. cit., 1994, p. 91). It is tempting to attribute the Delaval and Windsor suites to his workshop on the basis of the Corsham commode, but it is more likely the above group were the work of an émigré cabinet-maker who had assimilated English practices, and Cobb was borrowing from and/or employing the services and skills of our anonymous émigré.
For a detailed discussion of the construction of the Lever commode see Wood, op. cit., 1994, pp. 79-87. For an Italianate commode with a similarly marbleised top and closely related mounts, see that sold Christie's New York, 13 June 1987.
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