8042 THE BUCKINGHAM PALACE CENTRE TABLE ATTRIBUTED TO GEORGE MORANT AND SONS English. Circa 1840. Measurements: Height: 29″ (74 cm) Diameter: 47 1/2″ (120.5 cm)
Of giltwood. The circular restored figured mahogany top with gilt molded edge and shaped undermolding raised on three winged female monopodiae with acanthine molding, set on a shaped triform base with stylized foliate molded edge above a plain plinth. Possibly originally with marble top.
Stamped VR (Victoria Regina) under the top frame.
The Octagon, the Garden Pavilion, Buckingham Palace, London.
Grüner, Ludwig. The Decoration of the Garden Pavilion in the Grounds of Buckingham Palace. London, 1846.
This table formerly stood in the Octagon of the Garden Pavilion, built in 1843-5, in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and seems certain to be the work of the celebrated firm of royal decorators George Morant and Sons.
The Garden Pavilion of Buckingham Palace, sadly destroyed in 1928, was designed as a showcase for the achievements of the leading designers and decorators of the day and was in particular intended to promote the great Victorian revival of fresco painting. The project was undertaken with the support of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who was closely involved in the enterprise with the assistance of Ludwig Grüner, his advisor in artistic matters. It is through Grüner’s 1846 publication of The Decorations of the Garden Pavilion in the grounds of Buckingham Palace that the appearance, plan and decoration of the Garden Pavilion are known to us.
The interior was conceived as a series of daringly original rooms, each in a different style, including a room decorated with frescoes drawn from the novels of Walter Scott and a Pompeiian Room adorned by the painter and lithographer, Agostino Aglio (1777-1857). However, it was in the fabulous domed Octagon, the centerpiece of the building, that the present table stood, providing the main focus of the room and facing visitors upon their entry into the Pavilion. Grüner’s publication includes a depiction both of the Octagon (figure 1), with its intricate, brightly colored frescoes, and of the present table, arranged with other items from the royal collection which furnished the pavilion (figure 2).1
The decoration of the Garden Pavilion was greatly informed by the ongoing excavations of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae, which were first discovered in the mid-18th century. From the wall murals to the floor mosaics, the building recalled the interiors of ancient villas, and was furnished with pieces based on, or including elements from, classical examples.
Some of the decorative motifs of this center table are taken from ancient Greek and Roman prototypes, which often appeared first as architectural elements that were then incorporated into decorative objects. These include the winged sphinxes with claw foot monopodiae, the acanthus leaves, the egg and tongue molding surrounding the tabletop and the waterleaf and tongue molding of the plinth. A Greek basin with striking similarities to the table is illustrated in Recueil des monumens les plus intéressans du Musée Royal-Bourbon et de plusieurs autres collections particulières (1845) by Raffaele Gargiulo, which formed part of the collection of the Farnese museum at the time of publication. In this piece, three winged female monopodiae with acanthine decoration support a basin, with similar moldings to the rim and triform base (figure 3).
The present table is closely related to two circular center tables from Great Tew Park in Oxfordshire by George Morant sold at Christies in 1987, along with surviving designs in the house’s archives2 (figure 4). This comparison, together with Morant’s status as a Royal cabinet-maker, suggests Morant as the figure most likely to have been responsible for its execution.
As befitted the context of a country house, the Great Tew tables are of walnut, rather than the giltwood of the present royal piece and lack some of the refinement of this table’s design and construction. We know from the date of 1847 that appears on the mosaic top of one of the Great Tew tables that they are somewhat later than the royal example. This explains their more ponderous character, compared to the Buckingham Palace table, which is still imbued with a lightness that more recalls late 18th century prototypes. Nevertheless, the conception is very similar, with the striking decorative form of three female monopodiae joined by their outstretched wings, which support the circular table top. The treatment of these figures is also closely related, with scrolling acanthine carving along the body of the figure, running into the muscular form of the single zoomorphic upright terminating in a powerful claw foot. These monopodiae stand on a shaped triform base with concave sides. Rare surviving designs from the archive of Great Tew show Morant experimenting in the arrangement of these elements into the form of a circular center table with triform base.
Morant’s work at Great Tew was one of a number of private commissions undertaken by the firm for some of the grandest private residences in England, including work for the Dukes of Devonshire, Norfolk and Sutherland. However, it was as a royal maker that Morant achieved a position of preeminence among the decorators and furniture-makers of the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1822 George Morant (1790-1839) described himself as “Ornamental Painter and Paper Hanging Manufacturer to their Royal Highnesses the Dukes of Sussex and Cambridge” and on the accession of Queen Victoria his royal work continued at various palaces. His business was continued after his death by his sons and by the 1840s the firm was well established as furniture makers on Bond Street.3
The center table is an unusually pure exercise in neoclassicism for an item made during the reign of Queen Victoria. However, its époque is visible in the somewhat smiling and romanticized expressions of the three female faces. Furthermore, the egg and tongue motif to the rim of the top has been interestingly stylized to render the tongues rather square and angular. The latter feature can also be seen on the Great Tew table that bears the green marble top in figure 4.
1. Grüner, Ludwig. The Decorations of the Garden Pavilion in the Grounds of Buckingham Palace, 1846. Illustrations pp. 3, 15.
2. Tew Park, Great Tew, Oxfordshire. 27- 29 May 1987, Lot 201-2. Christie, Manson & Woods, London.
3. Beard, Geoffrey W, and Christopher Gilbert. Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840. Leeds: Furniture History Society, 1986. Print. 622-3.