9604 A MAGNIFICENT RED AND WHITE LACQUERED CABINET ON ORIGINAL SILVER GILT STAND English. Circa 1690. Measurements: Height: 67″ (171 cm) Width: 40″ (102 cm) Depth: 20″ ( 51 cm)
Of red and white lacquer. Oak and deal carcass. With two cupboard doors decorated with chinoiserie figures and foliage and variously shaped panels decorated as blue and white Delft porcelain with landscapes and figures mounted with shaped, pierced and engraved lock-plate, hinges and angles enclosing ten various-sized drawers similarly decorated with chinoiserie figures and scenes, vases of flowers, foliage and utensils, the original silver gilt stand with deep pierced frieze carved with a putto, eagle and scrolling acanthus foliage on scrolled feet. Some areas conserved.
Robert Coe, Cannes, France
Coe Estate, Planting Fields, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York
Lacquer cabinets-on-stand were highly prestigious and costly objects, which adorned some of England’s greatest houses of the late 17th century. Indeed, an example of similar form to the present cabinet still exists in situ at Ham House, perhaps the most iconic of all of these buildings.
In the later part of the 17th century the number and variety of lacquered objects imported to England from China and Japan expanded from small items like boxes and trays to include cabinets and screens. By the late 17th century, the vogue for lacquered furniture was widespread amongst the highest echelons of society and European craftsmen began to create their own version of lacquerwork. ‘Japanning,’ as it was called, was addressed in detail in the 1688 Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing by George Parker and John Stalker, and provided instruction to the Englishman on how to execute the technique with lacquer recipes, processes, and designs using Western materials.
While most of the English lacquer produced was of black ground with gold decoration, “occasionally the ground was an intense red, being composed of Spanish vermillion and Venice lacquer.”1 The rarest and most sumptuous in the genre of English lacquer cabinets are perhaps those decorated in red, combined with shaped blue and white lacquer reserves to resemble chinoiserie plaques from Delft. The present piece is one of a very small group of these scarlet lacquered cabinets with such shaped faux porcelain panels. Other known pieces in this group include a cabinet from the collection of Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, K.G., sold at Christie’s June 25, 1931, Lot 31 (figure 1), a cabinet from the collection of the Viscount Rothermere, sold at Sotheby’s &Co., December 9, 1960, Lot 129 (figure 2), a cabinet from North Mymms Park sold by Christie’s on September 25, 1979, Lot 335 (figure 3) and an example in the collection of Consuelo Vanderbilt, at Casa Alva in Palm Beach (figure 4). Lastly, another of the group on a silvered stand was recently discovered in the private family quarters at Blenheim Palace (figure 5).
Chinese porcelain had been exported to Europe since the 16th century, particularly through the Dutch East India Company. However, in 1657, political rebellion within China resulted in the destruction of kilns and a trade embargo against the Dutch that lasted until 1695. To meet the European demand for Chinese porcelain during this period, Dutch potters began imitating the blue and white porcelain, giving rise to the creation of ‘Delft blue’ tiles and pottery. In England, to protect the trade of their own potters, an Order in Council was issued in 1672 banning “any kind or sort of Painted Earthen Wares whatsoever” with an addendum added four years later to include “painted Earthen Wares…as well white and Blew or any other colours.”2 This directive was not repealed until 1775, however, in 1684 Dutch potters, particularly Samuel Van Eenhoorn of the celebrated De Grieksche A factory, went to England to protest the embargo on Delft imports. As a result, several pieces were commissioned from De Grieksche A by William II of Orange, the King of England and his wife Mary Stuart for ceremonial rooms at Hampton Court.
From the 17th century, the blue and white Delft tiles were initially rectangular and intended to be hung in wooden frames. Following this, “Delft potters began to create plaques with self- framing borders…The shapes became more stylish, more varied and creative.”3 These included oval, lozenge and cartouche shapes with molded edges. Figure 6 depicts a group of blue and white Delft tiles decorated with chinoiserie motifs dating from the late 17th/early 18th century, whose varying lozenge forms are closely related to the depictions of tiles of the present cabinet.
The present example is rare in retaining its original stand. The design of the stand is unusual, at this date, for being centered by a displayed eagle, a possible allusion to the heraldic device of its original owner. Not only is the carved stand original, but so is its silver leaf decoration. Such decoration enjoyed a brief fashion in England during the latter part of the 17th century and may have been driven by the taste for furniture actually made from silver in the late Stuart court, of which there were once extensive holdings. Parallel to this was the much-celebrated silver furniture by Ballin and Delaunay for Louis XIV, which was, of course, extremely influential to fashionable taste in England and throughout Europe. A lacquer cabinet with very similar brass mounts and stand, circa 1685, is in the collection of The Vyne, Hants (figure 7). Like the present cabinet base, its deep pierced frieze is carved with scrolled acanthus foliage, putto and scrolled feet.
It is known that the present cabinet came from the Coe Estate, Planting Fields, Oyster Bay, a former Gold Coast Estate of over four hundred acres. Coe Hall was commissioned by William Roberts Coe (1869 -1955), who employed the New York architectural firm of Walker & Gillette to design the family’s vast new country home in the Tudor Revival style between 1918-1921 (figure 8). Several of the interiors of the main house, including the Great Hall and the Dining Room, were decorated by antiques dealer Charles of London (Charles Duveen), a specialist in “Olde English” period rooms. Elsie de Wolfe’s participation in at least some of the schemes is evident from the records of Walker and Gilette.4
Coe’s wife, the strikingly beautiful Mai Huttleston Rogers Coe, was the daughter of Henry Huttleston Rogers, a founder of the Standard Oil Company and one of America’s richest men. “She had a sophisticated education, wore couture clothes and had traveled extensively in Europe.”5 Mai took a close interest in all aspects of the design of house and gardens and “… was particularly known for her love of European culture, evident in her involvement in the Louis XVI Reception Room, the final form of the Blue Pool Garden…and her collection of books about European court life.”6 The Coes “owned a book of English country houses and used those images to inspire their architectural team. Moynes Park, Atholhampton and Saint Catherine’s Court were the three Tudor manor houses that influenced Coe Hall’s design.”7 Mai personally “commissioned a number of exotic interiors in the main house”8 and it is possible that the present cabinet was part of her own bedroom, which overlooked the elaborate gardens and “had a chinoiserie theme.”9
The cabinet is mentioned in a 1981 Sotheby Parke Bernet Group valuation done by of the Cannes estate of William and Mai’s son, Robert Coe, who grew up at Planting Fields. He became a diplomat and traveled widely, building the family’s collection of antiques, particularly Chinese objects. The cabinet is listed in the inventory as follows: “A scarlet lacquer Chinese cabinet, the doors enclosing drawers with reserve panels painted with figures in landscapes in blue and white, the scarlet ground with flowers and foliage, the original gold-gilt metal hinges and lock plates resting on the original seventeenth century gold wood stand, carved with cupids and scrolling foliage; 40 in. wide x 67 in. high.” A handwritten notation of the valuation, “Back to PFF,” (Planting Fields Foundation) supports the proposition that the cabinet came from Mai Huttleston Rogers’ estate, rather than having been acquired by her son.
The 65-room Coe Hall, with its greenhouses, gardens, woodland parks and outstanding plant collection were deeded to New York State in 1949 and now form the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park.
1. Macquoid, Percy. A History of English Furniture: Including the Age of Oak, the Age of Walnut, the Age of Mahogany, the Age of Satinwood. London: Bracken, 1988. 159.
2. . Noël, Hume I. Pottery and Porcelain in Colonial Williamsburg’s Archaeological Collections. Williamsburg, Va: Colonial Williamsburg, 1969. Print. 12.
3. Aronson, Robert, Suzanne M. R. Lambooy, and Letitia Roberts. Dutch Delftware: Plaques : a Blueprint of Delft. Amsterdam: Aronson Antiquairs of Amsterdam, 2009. Print. 6
4. Sparke, Penny, Wolfe E. De, and Mitchell Owens. Elsie De Wolfe: The Birth of Modern Interior Decoration. New York: Acanthus Press, 2005. 193.
5. Ibid. 188.
8. Sparke, 193.
9. Ibid., 188.