Provenance & Patina: Important English Furniture from a West Coast Collection

Provenance & Patina: Important English Furniture from a West Coast Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 1012. A Queen Anne Scarlet and Gilt-Japanned Bureau Cabinet, Circa 1715.

A Queen Anne Scarlet and Gilt-Japanned Bureau Cabinet, Circa 1715

Auction Closed

June 18, 08:33 PM GMT


100,000 - 150,000 USD

Lot Details


the double arched cornice with silvered finials; decorated overall with landscape scenes of Chinese figures and pavilions amidst foliage, flowers and birds; the upper section with two mirrored doors opening to an interior arrangement of a central cupboard flanked by half-column fronted secret compartments and surrounded by pigeonholes, folio slides and small drawers; the lower section with a pair of candle slides above a slant-front and similarly fitted interior with a later inset panel of pale blue silk velvet, above three tiers of two shorter and two longer drawers; on later bun feet

height 94 ¾ in.; width 41 in.; depth 24 ½ in.

240.7 cm; 104.1 cm; 62.2 cm

Private Collection, London;

Rolleston, London

This lot skilfully illustrates two of the most significant innovations in English furniture design of the early 18th century: the decorative process known as japanning and the introduction of the bureau cabinet or bureau bookcase as an important model of luxury furniture.

Like Asian porcelain, Japanese and Chinese lacquer screens, cabinets, chests and small objects imported to the West by European trading companies founded in the early 17th century quickly became highly prized by aristocratic collectors and wealthy connoisseurs. Their high cost and relative rarity encouraged the development of local workshops dedicated to decorating European furniture in a manner emulating Asian lacquer, a technique referred to in England as japanning. By the late 1600s London had become a leading centre for the production of lacquer furniture and objects, and 1688 saw the publication of John Stalker and George Parker's seminal Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing, a highly detailed compendium of instructions for mixing different coloured varnishes, creating and gilding raised work and staining wood, ivory and horn, along with a section of over one hundred ornamental patterns for 'Japan work in imitation of the Indians, for tables, stands, frames, cabinets, boxes, etc...'. In the introduction the authors extol Japanning as a method 'for the splendor and preservation of our Furniture and Houses', resistant to 'the injuries of time and weather [...] almost impregnable against both: no damp air, no mouldring worm, or corroding time, can possibly deface it', and even optimistically averring that japanning is inflammable: 'True, genuine Japan, like the Salamander, lives in the flames and stands unalterable.'1

During the first decade of the 18th century a new form of prestigious case furniture appeared, essentially combining three existing types of furniture - chest of drawers, desk, and bookcase - and was described in contemporary documents as a 'desk and bookcase'. Possibly the earliest reference in royal accounts to the new category is a 1698 payment to the royal cabinetmaker Gerrit Jensen for 'new varnishing and mending the Desk and bookcase' in the gallery at Kensington Palace, and a 1711 advertisement in the Spectator of the deceased cabinetmaker Thomas Pistor's stock included 'one wainscott Desk and Bookcase on Drawers'.2 Inventories from the period reveal such pieces were often placed in bedchambers or dressing rooms, used for both storage of clothes and linen and writing and also as dressing tables, with the upper doors serving the same function as pier mirrors. The model became part of the standard cabinetmaking repertory in England and was soon enthusiastically embraced in much of Continental Europe apart from France, particularly in the German-speaking states, as well as in Ireland and the North American colonies.

Early bureau-cabinets normally incorporated double mirrored doors with either a flat cornice or a more costly and labour-intensive double arched cornice that paralleled the arched tops of the mirror plates, reflecting the shape of contemporary pier glasses. The earliest dated example of a double arched bureau cabinet is a black and gold japanned example unusually signed W Price 1713,3 and the offered lot likely dates from shortly thereafter. An extremely similar double-arched scarlet and gold japanned bureau cabinet with comparable decoration and almost identical interior arrangements was supplied in c.1720 to John Meller at Erdigg Hall near Wrexham, North Wales.4 This is still in situ in the State Bedroom and has been attributed to the maker John Belchier (fl.1699-d.1753) of 'The Sun', St Paul's Churchyard, London. Although no specific bill for the cabinet survives, Belchier is recorded as supplying other important furniture for the house between 1722 and 1726, including a gilt gesso State Bed, pier mirrors and girandoles and a silvered gesso side table with glass top. Belchier is known to have produced japanned work as his trade label is found on two surviving lacquer bureau cabinets, one with green and the other with scarlet ground and gold decoration,5 and similar scarlet japanned bureau bookcases attributed to or in the manner of Belchier have periodically appeared on the market, including the example sold Sotheby's London, Monte Alverno - An Irish Private Collection, 26 May 2022, lot 37 (151,200 GBP).

1 J. Stalker and G. Parker, A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing, Oxford, 1688, preface p.2.

2 A. Bowett, English Furniture 1660-1714 From Charles II to Queen Anne, Woodbridge, 2002, p.220.

3 Sold Sotheby's New York, 24 October 1992, lot 400 and again 7 April 2004, lot 250; illustrated in Bowett, op. cit., p. 221, pl. 7:53, and also A. Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture 1715-1740, Woodbridge, 2009, p.60, pl. 2:15.

4 Illustrated in Bowett, 2009, p.61 pl. 2:16 and R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, Woodbridge, 1954, vol. I, p.135, fig. 24.

5 Reproduced in C. Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840, Leeds, 1996, p.82, fig. 57-59 and p.86, fig. 68.