9710

A RARE AMBOYNA AND EBONY BUREAU CABINET FROM THE PETER MILLER GROUP

Anglo-German. Circa 1720.

Measurements

Height: 8' 1/2" (2.45 m);
Width [closed]: 43" (1.09 m);
Depth: 25" (64 cm).

Research

Of amboyna, ebony and kingwood. The shaped, molded ebony cornice rising to a pinnacle set with three turned finials. Below the central finial is an incurved lozenge-shaped panel containing an original engraved and beveled glass panel. The pair of domed doors containing old, but not original, conforming mirror plates, flanked and centered by protruding pilasters. The doors open to reveal a fully fitted interior with columns of drawers mounted with later brass handles and centered by a pair of central cupboard doors flanked by columnar bible boxes headed by turned finials. The midsection is centered by a domed door with an old, but later, conforming beveled plate flanked by two doors, which are in turn flanked by projecting corbels. The bureau section with inlaid fall, which opens to reveal a fitted interior, the drawers of which are mounted with later brass knobs. The fall above a frieze conceived as a well. The three long drawers of inverted breakfront pattern are set with old, but later, oval brass drop handles and escutcheons. The whole raised on six bulbous ebonized bun feet.

Provenance:
Private collection, Camarillo, California.

The design of the present bureau cabinet closely relates to another piece, now in a private collection, which is signed behind the central lower mirror panel Peter Miller Cabenet Macker in the Savoy in London the 13 June A[nn]o 1724 (figure 2). The similarities between the present piece and its signed counterpart are so exact as to suggest that both must be attributable to the same designer. However, it is interesting to note that while Miller’s signed cabinet is unequivocally English in materials and construction, the woods and mode of manufacture used on the present cabinet suggest it was almost certainly made in northwest Germany. Certain of its decorative details also support a Continental origin; it extensively features ebony moldings, rarely seen in England at this date, and its pilasters are supported by “smooth” Germanic-style inlaid corbels that are distinct from the typically English foliate carvings on the corbels of the signed example. Furthermore, the feet of the “English” Miller cabinet have a lightness of appearance, in line with other English turned-foot profiles, whilst the feet on the present piece have a “weight” more typically associated with German examples. These design elements also seem to indicate that the present model is of an earlier date than its English counterpart, which adds considerable interest to the piece and leads to some fascinating conclusions on its origin, maker and the international nature of the cabinet making industry in early eighteenth century London.

While no records of Peter Miller’s early years and training have yet come to light, some documents relating to his life and career in London have been preserved. A marriage allegation dated 28 May 1715 announced the intention of Peter Miller, of the Parish of St Mary le Savoy, to marry Anne Klug (or Clark) of the nearby parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields. He was then about fifty years old. It appears that Miller shared a workshop and possibly a house with a relative, John Miller, who was also a cabinet-maker.  On 17th April 1723 he took out a Sun Insurance policy for £500 on goods and merchandise in his home.1 When Peter died in October 1729 he was far from rich, having little but his workshop and tools to leave to his two young daughters. This picture is at odds with his peerless furniture, which is undoubtedly among the finest produced in London during this period.

A third example of the present model was bought in 1957 with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund for the Red Lodge Museum in Bristol England. This, like the signed piece, is English in its materials and construction. A fourth, sold at Christie’s, London in 1974, is closely related to the present example and therefore assumed also to have been made on the Continent. All four have the distinctive three-part design lower case with central niche and baroque cornice with central mirror.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.