11496 A LARGE AND UNUSUAL CARVED WALNUT CENTER TABLE BY C. MELLIER & CO. LONDON WITH ILLUSIONISTIC PARQUETRY TOP English. Second Half Of The Nineteenth Century. Measurements: Height: 30 1/2″ (76.8 cm) Diameter: 63 1/4″ (160.7 cm).
Of walnut. The circular top with hexagonal parquetry motif centered by a flowerhead, above a frieze with alternating flutes and carved acanthine rosettes. The cruciform base with pierced alternating small and large ovals, the latter containing carved foliate decoration, terminating to the edges in lion monopodiae, the whole raised on a molded plinth and four bun feet.
Struck twice to underside of plinths:
C. MELLIER LONDON
The present table was made by Charles Mellier & Co. of London, an Anglo-French company that ranked among the top late nineteenth century cabinetmakers. Charles Mellier was born in France and, on moving to England, began his career with the firm of Georges-Alphones Monbro, eventually taking over the company in 1868 and establishing it as his own with premises at 60 Margaret Street and Cavendish Square. The firm worked closely with contemporary architects and interior designers in outfitting prestigious residences of the day, including 14, 27, and 45 Grosvenor Square and Farmleigh House and Estate in Dublin. They were also responsible for furnishing the cross-Atlantic ocean liner the Mauritania, and were perhaps the premier English furniture manufacture to exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, where they won multiple medals.
The top of the present table is an extraordinary study in illusionistic marquetry using polyhedra. A polyhedron is a three-dimensional solid comprised of multiple adjacent flat faces, straight edges and sharp corners. “Polyhedra have been a source of intellectual and aesthetic stimulation since ancient times,”1 with the first written records of these shapes appearing in Ancient Greece. According to Plato’s teachings, these unreal objects represented the very structure of reality: in Timaios he outlined a view of the world that presents the five regular polyhedra as the fundamental structure of the four elements and of heaven.
Experimentation with geometry and perspective in the decorative arts began in earnest during the Renaissance, with the theories of 15th century Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi inspiring contemporary Italian artists to produce a multitude of perspectival geometric patterns and stereometric bodies in painting and marquetry. Albrecht Dürer brought these concepts to South Germany with his publication Underweysung der Messung (1525), aimed at teaching artists the science of geometry, followed some decades later with pattern books by Lorenz Stoer, Hans Lencker and Wenzel Jamnitzer. As the study and practice of perspectival geometry developed throughout Europe, so did elaborate geometric designs in wood marquetry.
The present tabletop employs hexagonal prism polyhedra, which are composed of two hexagonal bases and six rectangular sides, resulting in 8 faces, 18 edges, and 12 vertices in total. An intriguing consequence of this perspectival geometry is the optical illusion that the pattern and properties of the shapes change as one moves around the perimeter of the table.
The finely carved walnut base of the present table is no less impressive than the top. In line with some of the most celebrated pieces from the mid to late nineteenth century, and particularly items made for the great exhibitions of the day, it employs a highly inventive, eclectic approach to design.
The cruciform structure of the base is in itself unusual, cleverly promoting a light, see-through tracery effect. Each outer support is carved a lion monopod emerging from leafy forms, in line with sixteenth century French prototypes as found at François I’s Château de Fontainebleau. The tracery design that connects the monopodia to the faceted central column are of elongated guilloche form, a classical motif most notably found on furniture and architecture during the reign of Louis XVI.
This highly successful synthesis marks the table as an important example of Anglo-Gallic eclecticism made by one of the leading cabinet makers of the time.
The table formerly belonged to the collection at Minley Manor (figure 1), a French Renaissance style mansion, part of which was copied from the Louis XII portion of the Château de Blois,1 built between 1858-60 by the architect Henry Clutton for Mr. Raikes Currie (1801-1881). Currie was a Member of Parliament for Northampton and a partner in the banking firm of Curries & Co., and later Glyn, Mills, Currie & Co.
The majority of the collection at Minley was formed by Raikes’s son, Bertram Wodehouse Currie (1827-1896) between 1866 and 1896, with many pieces moved there from Bertram’s other residences, Coombe Warren and 1 Richmond Terrace. Bertram was also a banker and held the office of High Sheriff of the County of London from 1892 to 1893. After Bertram inherited the house, he made extensive alterations and additions, and “practically all the existing decorations in the principal rooms were carried out by Messrs. Mellier.”2 The present table stood in the drawing room, where it was illustrated in a privately published catalog of the collections at Minley Manor (figure 2).3
1. Humphreys, Arthur L. Catalogue of the Collection of Works of Art at Minley Manor. London: Printed for private circulation by Arthur L. Humphreys, 1908.