11169 AN EXQUISITE CABINET ON STAND DECORATED WITH HAND-MADE PAPER FILIGREE AND SET WITH OVAL HAIRWORK PANELS, DECORATED BY MARY ANNE HARVEY BONNELL OF PELLING PLACE, BERKSHIRE English. Completed Circa 1789. Measurements: Height: 41 1/2″ (105.4 cm) Width: 23″ (58.4 cm) Depth: 15 1/2″ (39.4 cm).
Of deal substrate, paper filigree and hair work. Lid with lock centered by circular colored engraving, rising to reveal a paper-lined well. Meandering floral pattern at the top of the front and sides in paper filigree. Filigree decorated double doors at front, each with keyholes and a central ovoid hair-work panel, that open to reveal an interior with single shelf, sides decorated with swags. The whole of the stand with elaborate paper filigree decoration of a floral and naturalistic design, guilloché detailing around its top edge and the serpentine front with swags. The whole raised on four tapering legs.
Label on inside door reads:
worked in 1789
Pelling Place, Old Windsor, Berkshire
Then by descent,
Grosvenor House Antiques Fair 1986, Edric van Vredenburgh
Florian Papp, New York
Grosvenor House Antiques Fair Handbook, 1986
Papp, Melinda F, and William J. Papp. Rolled, Scrolled, Crimped and Folded: The Lost Art of Filigree Paperwork. New York, 1988.
Reif, Rita. “PAPER FILIGREE: AN ART FOR LEISURE.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 May 1988.
Riley, Noël. The Accomplished Lady – A History Of Genteel Pursuits c. 1660-1860. Wetherby, Oblong Creative Ltd, 2017.
This cabinet is a fine example of late eighteenth century cabinetwork, but perhaps more importantly, it is one of only a group of six known pieces of full-sized furniture decorated with paper filigree or ‘quilling’ to have survived. The piece was originally placed in Pelling Place in Old Windsor, home to Mary Anne Harvey Bonnell (1763-1853) who appears to have been one of the most consummate exponents of artistic, so-called eighteenth century “ladies’ pastimes,” which included paper filigree, shellwork, embroidery, painted textiles, silhouette-making and decoupage.
The house and its gardens received attention in the fashionable press of the time, like in Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts, where it was stated in 1824 “the house … now consists of a handsome suite of apartments: but their principle charm consists in the admirable decorations both of the pencil and the needle, chiefly the works of Mrs Bonnell”, the upstairs apartments of the house were “decorated with equal taste and Ingenuity by the same Lady.”1
Like Emma Hamilton and the Royal Family, Mary Anne Harvey Bonnell had her portrait painted by the leading society artist of the period George Romney, now in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, dated 1779-80 (figure 1). Although the house does not survive, alongside the present cabinet a number of other items related to the house have, such as a magnificent chimneypiece, on the art market in 2000, mounted with painted panels by the great specialist in multicolored painted furniture of the late eighteenth century, George Brookshaw.2 Related objects are also to be found in museum collections around the world; in the Victoria and Albert Museum is a magnificent shellwork vase, also made by Miss Mary Anne Harvey Bonnell (figure 2). By family tradition the vase was one of a pair, the other being presented to Queen Adelaide, the consort of king William IV. The National Gallery of Victoria in Australia has a Wedgwood ice pail from the Gothic Dairy at Pelling Place in its collection. Paperwork and records also thankfully survive; a book entitled A catalogue of paintings and engravings now in Pelling Place still in the possession of the family includes a note:
May 23rd 1787 – Two worked landscapes completed for Fillagree [sic] Cabinet
The two worked landscapes named here appear to be the very finely embroidered hairwork landscapes on the front doors of the present cabinet, confirming that the cabinet was in production by 1787. Other pieces of furniture with fine painted scenes are mentioned in the inventory, including a suit of seat furniture, which was sold in the 1950s, now in a private American collection.3
Paper filigree has a long history; Samuel Pepys mentioned a paper filigree basket as early as 1683.4 By the eighteenth century it was confirmed as an ideal ladies’ pastime; in 1786-7 the New Ladies Magazine published sixty patterns for paper filigree, and lauded its ability to “afford an amusement to the female mind capable of the most pleasing and extensive variety” and claimed it “may be readily acquired and pursued at a very trifling expense.”5 It makes appearances in the literature of the period, in Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility of 1811, Elinor Dashwood offers ‘to roll the papers’ for Lucy Steele’s ‘filigree basket.’ The art of “cutting ornaments out of coloured paper” was taken to new heights, especially by ‘Mrs Delany,’ or Mary Delany (1700-1788) one of the great English “bluestockings”, who was known equally for her witty letters and “paper-mosaicks” of flowers of astonishing complexity (Figure 3). Delany received the direct patronage of George III and Queen Charlotte, who gave her an allowance and a house close to Windsor Castle.
In 1791 George III and Queen Charlotte’s eldest daughter Princess Elizabeth, perhaps under the influence of Mrs. Delany, is recorded as having purchased a box from the “royal upholsterer and cabinet maker” Charles Elliott, to be decorated with paper filigree. It was lined inside and out, embellished with ebony moldings, a lock and key, and came with the requisite paper, specifically fifteen ounces of different colored filigree papers and an ounce of gold paper.6 Alongside the furniture makers involved in this industry were stationers such as William Heath of Well Court, Queen Street, who advertised widely as selling paper “Fillagree in Colours, Plain, Gilt and white” and “frosting of different Fine colors for filigree work, a strong cement for ditto” as well as “tea caddies” and “bottle stands” that could be bought to be decorated by the amateur enthusiast.7 Like Princess Elizabeth’s box, and other examples that are to be found in museum collections, the substructure of the present piece was almost certainly made by a professional cabinetmaker for the specific purpose of being decorated in this style. Cabinets decorated in the same way and of a similar complexity and scale are rare; one can be found in the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery (Figure 4) and another in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
As mentioned previously, the beautiful landscapes on the front of the present cabinet are of a type of embroidery that employs threads that are so fine, it is referred to as “hairwork.” Frequently such embroideries did utilize threads of actual human hair; another hairwork embroidery to have survived from Pelling Place consists of a self-portrait of Mary Anne Harvey Bonnell, who claims on an inscription on its reverse to have integrated hair taken from the skull of the medieval English king Edward IV, when his tomb in St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle was opened by antiquarians in 1789 (Figure 5). The coloured engraving presented on the top of the cabinet is after an engraving by Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), one of the two female founding members of the Royal Academy of Art, of The Muses Crowning a Bust of Pope, a literary theme perhaps suggesting that the cabinet was used for the storage of books, perhaps specifically poetry (Figure 6). Aside from being an extraordinary example of an item of Drawing Room or Library furniture all rendered in quillwork, the motifs of its decoration are notable in that they represent neo-Classical wood marquetry subject matter such as borders of complex guioché patterns, swags and pendants. It is therefore possible that Bonnell was taking her design cues from extant pieces of marquetry already at Pelling.
Another publication to describe Pelling Place closely is William Bernard Cooke’s Views of the Thames of 1818, which describes entry to the house; “You enter a veranda, ten feet wide, and thirty-two in length, with large looking-glass doors at each end, chintz sophas, and brackets which hold twenty vases of flowers. A friend, on first sight of this, in the month of May, exclaimed, “Here indeed! Flora holds her court.” The veranda opens with five glass folding doors.”8 Aside from the house, the family created a beautiful Arcadian rustic retreat, complete with a Hermitage, a gothic dairy with its own Wedgwood creamware equipage, and a grotto.
The Bonnell family traditionally traced their origins to the Bonelli family that came from Italy to serve Charles II as his treasurer after the restoration in 1660 and maintained excellent relations with the royal court.9 Pelling Place, in Old Windsor, was geographically close to Windsor Castle, but even closer to Frogmore House, which was in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries a residence especially favored by Queen Charlotte and the princesses, the Queen describing it as “mon petit Paradis Terrestre”.10 From descriptions at the time, the Arcadian design of the grounds of Frogmore and Pelling Place sound remarkably similar, and were probably both devised with previous French examples in mind, most famously the Petit Hameau built for Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles. Both houses had a hermitage, garden buildings in the gothic style and a grotto. However perhaps of additional relevance to the present piece, is that the two locations appear to have been similar in their style of decoration. As has been previously mentioned, Princess Elizabeth was especially famed for her skills in this regard; a 1804 portrait of the princess by Henry Edridge shows her busy cutting up paper for one of her creations (Figure 7). At Buckingham House the white satin of the seat furniture in the Saloon was painted with floral decorations by the princess, and the Queen’s Breakfast Room had brown and maroon painted curtains, painted in imitation of cut velvet.11 However at Frogmore the Princess was even more active, as recorded in Pyne’s Royal Residences of 1819, which included illustrations of the no-longer extant Red and Black Japanned Rooms at the house, both of which were the handiwork of the Princess, and clearly demonstrate her skill and dedication in this field. However many other examples of the Princess’s handiwork do survive, such as a pair of tables with painted tops, made for the Green Pavilion of the house. It is recorded that the great flower artist, the other female founding member of the Royal Academy, Mary Moser (1744-1819), came to assist the Princess in the floral painted decoration of the house with the aim of creating a “Temple of Flora”, some of which survives to this day.
There are repeated references of contact between the Royal Family and the Bonnells at Pelling Place, suggesting strongly that their shared passions were rooted in friendship. The journal of the Pelling sisters mention a visit from the Queen Charlotte to the house; “a screen, freshly mounted, in the center of which, was a group of Roses painted on velvet, by Miss Harvey Bonnell, was greatly admired by Queen Charlotte on the occasion of her visit to Pelling on the 10th July 1797 … if you have not heard from any other channel, I think you will be pleased to know that the Queen, Princesses and Ladies in Waiting to the number of nine breakfasted at Pelling Place about three weeks since and as by a mistake we had no notice … the Royal Party comprised with her majesty Queen Charlotte, the Princesses Augusta, Elizabeth and Mary with Princess Sophia of Gloucester, Lady Charlotte Finch, Lady Cathcart, Lady Charlotte Bruce and Viscountess Bulkeley.”12 It goes on to confirm closeness between the two great female artists of the two houses; “Miss Harvey Bonnell used to assist Princess Elizabeth in her painting on velvet, mixing her colours etc.” There are repeated mentions elsewhere of exchanges between the Bonnells and the royal ladies of Frogmore.13 As suggested by the purchase of the required equipment mentioned above, the Princess also indulged in decorating objects in paper filligree, in a style which is close to that seen on the cabinet. A fire screen that survives in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (Figure 8) is thought to have been made by the Princess to be gifted to her physician, Dr Alexander Fothergill, in 1787; it was the doctor’s descendants who presented the screen to the Museum in 1984.
Despite its famed beauty and charm, Pelling Place did not survive into the modern age. It was rebuilt in the 1880s, and the whole estate was sold in 1929, at which stage it was demolished. Perhaps the only way we can gain some impression of its Arcadian appeal is by visiting its nearby sister, Frogmore House, which still proudly displays many decorative features from this era, or by enjoying its surviving contents, such as this remarkable cabinet.
- Simon Jervis, “Furniture in Eighteenth-Century House Guides” in Furniture History Vol XLII, 2006
- Sotheby’s Bond Street, 7th July 2000
- Above catalog entry, p. 102
- June Field, Collecting Georgian and Victorian Crafts, London 1973, p. 12
- New Ladies Magazine February, March, April 1787
- G. Bernard Hughes, ‘English Filigree Paperwork’, Country Life, Sept 21 1951
- Bernard William Cooke, Views of the Thames, London 1818
- Family documents
- Clarissa Campbell Orr et al, Queenship in Britain 1660-1837 Royal Patronage, Court Culture, and Dynastic Politics, Manchester 2002, p. 241
- George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, Ex. Cat., The Queen’s Gallery London, 2004
- Family documents