11416 AN EXQUISITE PAIR OF DIRECTOIRE TASTE PARTRIDGEWOOD AND PARCEL GILT CABINETS SET WITH CHINESE BLACK LACQUER PANELS English. Circa 1795. Measurements: Width: 48 1/8″ (122.2 cm) Height: 34″ (86.4 cm) Depth: 15 3/4″ (40 cm).

Of partridgewood, parcel gilt and black lacquer. Each with a shaped old but later nero belgio marble top resting on a conforming base set with two slightly bowfronted cupboard doors flanked by incurved ends, all set with 18th century Chinese black lacquer panels with flowers, censers, butterflies, insects and frogs depicted. Bordered by partridgewood crossbanding. With a finely cast band of gilt composition molding long the lower frieze. Each raised on four parcel gilt tapering fluted styles terminating in four toupie feet. Minor old repairs. Old refreshing to gilding.

A Massachusetts Estate

The present pair of cabinets can be defined stylistically as being in the English Directoire taste, which drew down on overt French influences of the 1780s and 1790s. It remained constant throughout the Napoleonic wars as enthusiasm in England for French 18th century furniture was spurred when pieces were made available for import after the Revolution. In 1815 Ackermann noted that “the interchange of feelings between this country and France, as it related to matters of taste, has not been wholly suspended… the taste of both has been improved…”1 Pieces were collected by the aristocracy and nobility, including the Duke of Wellington and the Prince Regent, who, as king, George IV, was heavily responsible for the popularization of the style.

The designer most credited with bringing this style to Great Britain was the neoclassicist architect Henry Holland. His keynote was always toward the subtle and restrained; consequently the style chimed well with his aesthetic. Holland’s notable building and remodeling projects include Berrington Hall, Woburn Abbey and Southill Park. In these interiors Holland established a style that drew on the restrained richness of the Louis XVI manner, assimilating the latest developments of French taste into the more sober tradition of English design.2 

He also famously worked for the Prince of Wales, later George IV, at Carlton House in the years between 1783 and circa 1795, and it was here that he likely honed his Frenchified decorative taste, due to the Prince’s well-known Francophile leanings. Holland was directly involved with such notable French craftsmen, suppliers and designers as Francis Hervé, L.A. Delabrière, William Gaubert and Dominique Daguerre. It is likely that Holland made a special visit to Paris in 1787 concerning the Carlton House project and “it is from this point that the decidedly French aspects of the project begin to impress so strongly.”3

Holland is thought to have designed the Frenchified furniture for his project at Southill Park, Bedforshire, seat of the Whitbread family, undertaken initially for Samuel Whitbread I and then for his son from 1795.4 This iconic decorative program is remarkable for being almost entirely intact to this day. Within the scheme one can witness furniture of similar character to the present cabinets, such as similarly-shaped pier bookcases in the library of Southill (figure 1). The form was introduced in England by great Georgian designers such as George Hepplewhite, who published designs for pier tables with similar incurved sides (figure 2).

Details on the present cabinets such as the toupie feet, parcel gilt tapering fluted legs, and variation on the Arc-en-Arbalette shape were carried over from the French decorative arts, which, during the late 18th and early 19th century, was more sober and marked by a restrained use of materials.

The doors of the present cabinet have been mounted with Oriental lacquer panels, probably taken from a dismantled screen. The English revival in chinoiserie at the turn of the century renewed the interest in lacquered furniture, particularly black lacquer5 enhanced with shimmering metallic powder and gilded frames around the panels. European craftsmen developed a multitude of techniques for emulating Asian lacquerwork, however, a steady demand for authentic lacquer specimens persisted for throughout the trading period. This type of work was very costly, used on pieces of the highest technical merit by leading ébénistes.

As early as the 1770s Thomas Chippendale produced furniture that incorporated Chinese lacquer panels alongside English japanning on pieces made for Osterley Park and Harewood House. A commode attributed to Chippendale in the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley is also constructed with incurved ends (figure 3); to conform to this shape, “the straight lacquer panels were gently heated and painstakingly bent by Chippendale’s craftsmen to fit the curves of the commodes.”6

Two examples of the French equivalent of this type of work are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: a corner cabinet by Bernard II van Risenburgh, circa 1745-49, veneered with Coromandel lacquer (figure 4), and a commode by Adam Weisweiler circa 1790, that incorporates Japanese lacquer panels (figure 5). In the following century Frederick Crace produced furniture for the Prince Regent at Brighton Pavilion that incorporated Chinese lacquer-work.

1. Frances Collard, Regency Furniture, Antique Collector’s Club (1987 ed.), p132.
2. A.E. Richardson et al., Southill: A Regency House, London: Faber and Faber (1951), p.21.
3. Collard, 33.
4. Ibid., 44.
5. Musgrave, Clifford. Regency Furniture 1800-1830. London: Faber and Faber, 1970. 132.


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