The Art of the Lacquer Cabinet

An early/mid-18th century Japanese lacquer cabinet with an English silvered, carved wood and gesso Baroque stand
An early/mid-18th century Japanese lacquer cabinet with an English silvered, carved wood and gesso Baroque stand

In the late 17th century and first half of the 18th century lacquer cabinets were highly prized by English collectors who were captivated by their flawless finish and exotic decoration. Such cabinets commanded very high prices and they remained beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest.

The lacquered furniture which remains in English collections today include Oriental examples like the early/mid-18th century cabinet you see here.

The two door cabinet enclosing small drawers was easily accommodated in European collections. The clarity of line and decoration would have a profound effect on English cabinet making.

In China and Japan these cupboards stood on or near the floor. However, in Europe they were raised on elaborately carved stands to create centrepieces for important rooms.

Unlike the Dutch the English did not trade directly with Japan at this date. It was traditionally thought that Japanese Lacquer was imported to England from Holland. But given the British East India Company’s monopoly to import Oriental goods to England this seems unlikely. More probable is that Japanese lacquer pieces were bought by the British East India Company at Dutch trading stations like Batvia which is now part of Indonesia.

The principle component of Oriental lacquer is the sap of the Laq tree, Rhus verniciflua, which hardens to form a transparent coating. The lacquer was applied in thin coats with each layer being allowed to harden before the next was applied. Coloured pigment, powdered metals, clay and sawdust were added to create colour and the decorative motifs.

18th century collectors, antiquaries and travellers brought together, but also sought to classify, objects from the world around them. Many of these objects were categorised according to the seven major new areas of enquiry during the Enlightenment. These included: natural history, art and civilisation, religion and ritual, the birth of archaeology, discovery and trade, the translation of ancient scripts and classification. It was objects like these which might have once been curated in this cabinet.

The cabinet illustrated is an example of Japanese lacquer and is decorated with exotic birds and flowers.

The stand is most likely English. It is the right period for the cabinet and fits it perfectly which gives a good indication that it was probably made for it. The stand is profusely decorated in the Baroque taste, elaborately carved with cherubs and flower and leaf swags supported by naturalistic cabriole legs.

It will be auctioned at Toovey’s next fine furniture sale on Friday 24th May 2019

Japanese lacquer cabinets with English baroque stands continue to fascinate wealthy English collectors in the 21st century as they did in the 18th.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

A Georgian Bureau Makes the Perfect Home Office

Rupert’s virtual study – a Georgian bureau

Fine English antique furniture still represents remarkable value for money and provides the opportunity to own something made of the finest materials, combining beauty with practicality. With rising interest in traditional furniture the time has come to reassess how it can work in our contemporary homes where space is so often at a premium.

The bureau is amongst my favourite pieces.

The famous Georgian furniture designer Thomas Sheraton in his Cabinet Dictionary of 1803 stated that in England the term bureau has ‘generally been applied to common desks with drawers under them, such as are made very frequently in country towns.’

There is such delight in a bureau. As you open it, the fall flap hinges downwards to form a writing surface. It reveals pigeonholes, drawers, a cupboard and sometimes even secret compartments. The sloping sides gather you as you sit at it, whether reading, working or just taking time to imagine.

Good vernacular examples from the 18th century are a real pleasure to own. Indeed, my own bureau is a typical example of this type. Crafted in precious mahogany it lives in the corner of our spare room – a virtual study for our virtual age.

It was made in England around 1770, during the reign of George III. As the world’s first industrial revolution gained its head of steam, a skilled country cabinetmaker set about making it. The drawer interiors are of cedar, the dovetails cut by hand. His eye was good and the proportions are just right. It is layered with prompts to fond memories; a family photograph, a drawer full of pebbles from a favourite beach, a little cupboard for my communion set, books and the odd column all vie for space with my laptop. Best of all I can shut the flap on it all when I’ve done enough or if Aunt Enid comes to stay!

The personal computer with its bulky boxes, screens, cables and keyboard could not be accommodated by the gracious bureau and values were undermined.

But the pleasures of a bureau are finding renewed favour in our wireless age of clouds, ‘iThings’ and laptops. They are once again proving to be the perfect home office or virtual study earning their space in the modern home.

A good George III mahogany bureau like mine can still be bought for a hundred or two at auction. This bureau is almost two hundred and fifty years old and will grace any sitting room, or spare bedroom! It makes no demands on our world’s finite resources and will continue to be a pleasure to generations to come. Perhaps, in the end, antique furniture is green, not brown. You should be buying a bureau for your children and grandchildren whilst you still can – the perfect 21st birthday present!

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Enduring Appeal of English Country Furniture

A mid-17th century oak six plank coffer, the edges with chip carving and the lid retaining its original wire hinges
A mid-17th century oak six plank coffer, the edges with chip carving and the lid retaining its original wire hinges

I have always loved the comfort and grace afforded by English country furniture dating from the mid-1600s to the mid-1700s. It was handmade by artisans who understood the importance of proportion, use and the materials they worked in.

We live in an age of conservation rather than restoration. Today’s collectors value originality, colour and rarity.

There is perfection in the imperfection of these handmade pieces. The combination of the subtle undulations of hand cut and finished timber with countless layers of beeswax causes light to be reflected with a softness and depth. Over time the application of beeswax to furniture changes its colour; polished in soot and dust add to the patina and value of a piece.

A late 17th/early 18th century Wainscot chair with rare wing back and box seat
A late 17th/early 18th century Wainscot chair with rare wing back and box seat

I discovered the oak Wainscot armchair illustrated in a collection of country furniture in Richmond. It dates from the late 17th or early 18th century and its construction is incredibly original. Chairs from this period, particularly armchairs, were symbols of status. Its colour and proportions are superb. The box base and wing back are rare. You more commonly find this type of chair without wings. When they have a drawer to the base they are often referred to as Lambing chairs. The demand for regional vernacular furniture reaches across the country and this one was sold to a Yorkshire collector.

A late 17th Century oak dresser base with geometric moulded decoration
A late 17th Century oak dresser base with geometric moulded decoration

The plating and presentation of food was as important in the 17th and 18th centuries as it is today and was known as ‘dressing’. The piece of furniture where this took place was referred to as the dresser. The fine late 17th century oak ‘formal’ dresser seen here with its geometric moulded decoration would have been used in a dining room to put the finishing touches to food as it was arranged on the plates before they were placed on the dining table.

The mid-17th century six plank coffer is small and of fine proportion with a beautiful patina. Where furniture is made by pinning the edges of wooden planks together by means of nails or pegs it is known as boarded or plank construction. The chip carving on the sides, moulded decoration to the apron and original wire hinges are also rare and it is subtle details like these that draw the attention of the connoisseur. This example was bought by a Sussex collector.

Prices for fine examples like these remain strong and they realised thousands.

Country furniture combines quality with informality and a sense of joie de vivre. More typical 17th and 18th century Wainscot chairs, dressers and coffers, still of lovely quality, can be acquired for hundreds of pounds representing a wonderful opportunity to furnish in the English country house taste.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Timeless Appeal of Boulle Marquetry

A mid-19th century French Louis XVI revival Boulle marquetry cabinet
A mid-19th century French Louis XVI revival Boulle marquetry cabinet

Boulle marquetry is named after the French ébéniste André-Charles Boulle who perfected the use of brass and tortoiseshell marquetry.

Detail of a mid-19th century French Louis XVI revival red tortoiseshell Boulle marquetry cabinet door
Detail of a mid-19th century French Louis XVI revival red tortoiseshell Boulle marquetry cabinet door

André-Charles Boulle was the most celebrated of Louis XVI’s furniture-makers and designers. Today, only a very few attributable examples of his work survive. The costly magnificence of his furniture perfectly matched the court at Versailles and he was appointed ‘ébéneste et marqueteur du roi’ in 1672. The term ébéniste’ refers to a French cabinet maker, as distinct from a Menuisier or joiner.

To create Boulle marquetry, sheets of brass and tortoiseshell are glued together. These sheets are then cut into fretwork designs. The cut layers can then be combined like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. Where the decorative ground is tortoiseshell inlaid with brass it is termed ‘first-part’; whereas a brass ground with tortoiseshell inlay is known as ‘counter-part’.

To increase the richness of effect the brass was often engraved. The surfaces of such a piece of furniture, where it is not decorated with Boulle marquetry, are typically veneered in ebony. Mother-of-pearl and pewter were sometimes employed in these decorative designs.

In the 19th century Boulle marquetry furniture was widely manufactured in France and England. It was Napoléon III’s consort, the Empress Eugénie, who inspired a revival in Louis XVI taste. This Neoclassical style was expressed in furniture of the very highest quality. The mid-19th century French side-cabinet illustrated is a fine example. Its elaborate ‘first-part’ red tortoiseshell and brass Boulle marquetry and gilt-bronze mounts are typical of the period. The sumptuous door has a gilt-bronze oval plaque beautifully cast with a chariot, classical maidens and cherubs which is framed by a stiff leaf and berry border beneath a delicate ribbon surmount. The English call bronze gilded with ground gold Ormolu, the term is derived from the French ‘bronze doré d’or moulu’. The elegant flower and leaf brass inlay is delicately engraved – resplendent against the red tortoiseshell ground. The cabinet with this rich panel was beautifully crafted and realised £4400 at Toovey’s.

A mid-19th century French Louis XVI revival Boulle marquetry centre table
A mid-19th century French Louis XVI revival Boulle marquetry centre table

The large mid-19th century French Louis XVI revival Boulle marquetry centre table was of unusually large proportion, measuring over 7½ feet in length. Its rare size ensured that despite its poor condition the hammer fell at £11,500 in a Toovey’s specialist auction of furniture.

These prices confirm the timeless appeal of the finest examples of Boulle marquetry furniture. If you would like advice or to learn more contact Toovey’s furniture specialist, William Rowsell on 01903 891955.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Collection of the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles

Angmering Park House, home to the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles
Angmering Park House, home to the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles

Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers are offering the principal contents of Angmering Park House, the home of the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles, as a single-owner collection at their Washington salerooms on Monday 7th December 2015.

Baroness Herries of Terregles (1938-2014) was the 14th holder of the barony. She inherited the title from her late father, the 16th Duke of Norfolk and 13th Lord Herries of Terregles, upon his death in 1975. Born Anne Elizabeth Fitzalan-Howard, she was the eldest of four daughters and grew up at Arundel Castle, the Norfolk’s family seat in West Sussex.

Lady Anne shared her family’s love of horses from a young age and would become a well-known racehorse trainer and the second wife of Colin Cowdrey, later Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge, one of England’s most celebrated cricketers.

In 1970 she moved to her paternal grandmother’s home, Everingham, in East Yorkshire. There she became Master of the Middleton Hounds. In 1979 she returned to Sussex, making her home at Angmering Park House on the Angmering Park Estate, close to her childhood roots at Arundel. Horse-racing was in Lady Anne’s blood and she set about training racehorses with notable success.

Lady Anne’s life was always rooted in the countryside and most especially in the folds of the Sussex Downs. Her home, too, reflected the best of traditional English country house taste.

Alfred Bennett – ‘Arundel Castle and the Arun Valley’, late 19th Century oil on canvas
Alfred Bennett – ‘Arundel Castle and the Arun Valley’, oil on canvas

The delightful oil painting by Alfred Bennett (1861-1923) is one of the lots entered from the collection. It captures a familiar view of Lady Anne’s childhood home, Arundel Castle, and is expected to realise £800-1200.

A set of four George II cast silver Rococo candlesticks by Alexander Johnston
A set of four George II cast silver Rococo candlesticks by Alexander Johnston

Amongst the silver is a beautiful set of four George II candlesticks by the London maker Alexander Johnston. They date from 1751 and 1752. The Rococo taste is reflected in their decoration with foliate nozzles, shell moulded sconces, waisted baluster stems and leaf scroll bases. They are estimated at £3000-5000.

A Regency rosewood writing table attributed to Gillows of Lancaster
A Regency rosewood writing table attributed to Gillows of Lancaster

The Regency rosewood and gilt metal mounted writing table has been attributed to the famous cabinet makers Gillows of Lancaster. The familiar anthemion key escutcheon and six-point star handles are to be found on other examples of Gillows furniture. It carries a pre-sale auction estimate of £1500-2500. It is one of several pieces of furniture which have been attributed to Gillows of Lancaster in this sale.

I have always held a fond admiration for Lady Anne and her family. They have made such a remarkable and generous contribution to our community in Sussex. It has been my privilege to accompany them over many years through their charitable activities and, like so many others, I have valued their friendship and support. I am, therefore, delighted that Toovey’s are offering the principal contents of Angmering Park House at our salerooms at Spring Gardens, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 3BS. The sale provides an extraordinary insight into the life of a remarkable family.

Viewing for the sale of the Collection of the Late Baroness Herries of Terregles, and Toovey’s series of other Christmas auctions, begins this Saturday morning, 28th November 2015. For more details and to preview the auction go to www.tooveys.com or telephone 01903 891955. I look forward to seeing you there!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 25th November 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.