9437 A VERY FINE BOULLE MARQUETRY WRITING TABLE POSSIBLY BY THOMAS PARKER English. First Quarter Of The Nineteenth Century. Measurements: Height: 28 1/4″ (72 cm) Width: 48 1/2″ (123 cm) Depth: 26 1/2″ (67 cm)
Of red tortoiseshell and finely engraved brass. The rectangular top with rounded corners with elaborate brass inlaid decoration centred by figures of musicians in a fantastic stylized setting surrounded by scrolling arabesque and strapwork decoration interspersed with birds, flowers and figures, the top set above a shaped frieze set to front and reverse with three drawers, fully dummied to the reverse, decorated with scrolling arabesque and strapwork decoration, featuring jesters and monkeys, the drawers with stylized foliate escutcheons, those to either side issuing handles, the drawers divided by c-scroll gilt mounts, the corners with stylized foliate mounts, the whole raised on four cabriole legs with stylized foliate mounts with boulle marquetry, each leg terminating in stylized gilt mounts.
The present table is an exceptional example of English Boulle marquetry from the Regency period. Of an intricacy and delicacy seldom seen, the table exemplifies the aristocratic taste for Boulle at the beginning of the nineteenth century which made it a feature in the most exclusive and opulent interiors.
Boulle marquetry, the technique of inlay in brass and tortoiseshell, had been perfected in France by the celebrated ébéniste to Louis XIV André Charles Boulle (1642 –1732), and its use continued throughout the eighteenth century on some of the finest French furniture. The appreciation of Boulle, or ‘Bhul’ as English examples were called, among fashionable Regency society was largely due to the patronage of the foremost collector of that period, the Prince Regent, later George IV, and the coterie of connoisseurs that surrounded him.
The Prince was one of a number of notable collectors of ancien régime furniture, and the opulent French style of Boulle marquetry appealed to this sensibility. The Prince’s Carlton House residence contained a number of ‘Buhl’ pieces, as did the interiors of other celebrated Regency tastemakers such as those of the 2nd Marquess of Bath at Longleat.1
The ornament of the top of the present table draws directly on French designs. The monkeys, jesters and other grotesques of which the design is composed were typical of French boulle-work of the first part of the eighteenth century, and drew on the designs of Jean Bérain, (1640 – 1711), dessignateur de la chambre et du cabinet du roi, whose style of ornament was highly influential from the later part of the reign of Louis XIV.2
Not only is the marquetry employed in the present table indicative of this English francophile passion, its form is based on French prototypes. The table draws upon designs by Boulle himself for bureau plats such as those now in the collections at Versailles and the Getty.3 However the heavy baroque poise and bold mounts of these pieces are abandoned by the present designer in favour of a lighter Louis XV feel with delicate scrolling rococo mounts. This combination of Louis XIV and Louis XV ideas typifies the creative approach to historical influence among Regency designers.
In quality and design, the present table is characteristic of the work of Thomas Parker of 19 Air Street, Piccadilly, ‘Cabinet & Buhl Manufacturer to H.R.H. the Prince Regent & Royal Family’.4 One of the foremost cabinet makers in England during this period, Parker was patronised by the Duke of Bedford and the Marquess of Bath, and is known to have supplied furniture for the royal residences.5 The historicism of the present table is a feature of many of his commissions, for example he employed berainesque decoration on the side panel of a folio stand made for Longleat, while the level of workmanship and the richness of the present table are all in agreement with such a prestigious maker.6
1 C. Cator, ‘Thomas Parker at Longleat’, Furniture History, 1997, p. 225. Carlton House: The Past Glories of George IV’s Palace, London, 1991, No. 62 108-9.
2 G. Savage, Dictionary of Antiques, London, Book Club Associates, 1973, p. 30.
3 A. Pradère, French Furniture Makers, London, Sotheby’s Publications, 1989, fig. 27, 35.
4 Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (eds.), Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, London, Furniture History Society, 1986, p. 675.
5 Paul Van Duin, ‘Two Pairs of Boulle Caskets on Stands by Thomas Parker’, Furniture History, 1989, pp. 214-17. C. Cator, ‘Thomas Parker at Longleat’, Furniture History, 1997, p. 225
6 C. Cator, ‘Thomas Parker at Longleat’, Furniture History, 1997, p. 226.