Hill & Millard Campaign Furniture at Toovey’s Auction

Lot 2001 Victorian campaign secretaire chest
Lot 2001 at Toovey's, a Victorian campaign secretaire chest

Two hundred and ninety Lots of Antique and Period Furniture will be offered at Toovey’s auction on Friday 25th April. Starting the sale is Lot 2001, a Victorian burr walnut and mahogany campaign secrétaire chest with recessed brass handles and mounts. This wonderful quality item bears the inset maker’s label marked ‘Hill & Millard, 7 Duncannon St. London. Patentees’ and is fitted with two short and four long drawers, the secrétaire drawer with leather writing surface, hidden compartments and letter rack, raised on later fitted squat feet. Height approx 104cm, width approx 100cm.

Hill & Millard were recorded in London commercial directories from the mid-19th Century as ‘military outfitters and trunk makers,’ describing themselves in advertisements as ‘Manufacturers of Portable Military Furniture.’ The firm are regarded by many as one of the best manufacturers of campaign furniture in this period.

Lot 2001 Victorian campaign secretaire chestCampaign furniture was produced at a time when military personnel were required to provide their own furniture for tours of duty,” says Toovey’s furniture expert, Will Rowsell, who continues “the furniture needed to be robust for travel, and compact to fit within small cabins, tents, or if they were lucky, a billet. It is quite unusual to find an example with the luxurious burr walnut drawer fronts, perhaps indicating this was once the property of a wealthy military gentleman of high rank – we will never know for certain, and we can only speculate as to what action this lovely piece of furniture might have seen.

Because of its compact size and clean lines, campaign furniture fits within the modern home. This secrétaire chest carries a pre-sale estimate of £2000-3000 reflecting its quality. It will be offered for sale at 10am on Friday 25th April at Toovey’s Spring Gardens rooms.

Antique Furniture for the Sustainable Consumer

Thomas Faed oil sketch
Thomas Faed - Interior Scene with Two Mothers in Conversation beside Two Coy Children, oil sketch over pencil traces on board, signed

The news seems to be increasingly focused on climate change and the World’s resources. In the West decades of cheap imports from emerging economies have given us a false sense of the price of things. With ever growing international demand for finite resources raw materials must, overtime, continue to rise inexorably. Things will become ever more expensive and once again items will have to be built to last and be repairable. Our sense of value should of course take account of pay and conditions for the workers in the factories and workshops which can sell their wares for so little.

George III figured mahogany chest of drawers
A fine George III figured mahogany serpentine front chest of drawers
George III mahogany chest of drawers
A George III mahogany chest of drawers with brushing slide

When I started out as an Antique and Fine Art Auctioneer and Valuer some thirty years I can remember driving across a field to a cottage outside Horsham to be met by an elderly gentleman with a snow white beard. There was no electricity and the water for our tea came from a hand pump well. Victorian oil lamps filled the corners of his room and the house smelt comfortingly of wood smoke. I felt that I had stepped into a 19th century painting like the one illustrated by the 19th century Royal Scottish Academician, Thomas Faed. This small oil sketch with pencil traces depicts a comfortable interior scene with two mothers in conversation as the children shyly glance awkwardly at each other. This delightful painting was auctioned at Toovey’s for £1700.

At that time a phrase you often heard amongst the well to do middle class was “we’re too poor to buy rubbish.” There was something so practical and sensible in buying good quality items that would last. For a generation who had married and set up home before and after the wars antique furniture, both from their families and bought, provided the opportunity to have beautiful things in an age of austerity, rationing and a shortage of raw materials.

Fine examples of English furniture still command good prices like this George III mahogany serpentine front chest of drawers with its beautiful figured mahogany. The timber seems to be alive in the way that it reflects the light. It realised £3200 at Toovey’s. But a well-proportioned George III mahogany chest of drawers with a brushing slide like the one illustrated can be purchased at auction for about £400 and will give pleasure and utility to your family over generations to come, with no impact on the World’s diminishing resources.

The time has come for us to reassess brown furniture. Prices can only rise for these pieces which combine the aesthetic with quality and longevity. Perhaps once again we will be heard to say “we’re too poor to buy rubbish.” Toovey’s next sale of fine furniture will be held on Friday 25th April 2014.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th April 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Rococo ~ a Genre Pittoresque

A George III Rococo gilt-framed wall mirror with shell surmount and fabulous birds.
A George III Rococo gilt-framed wall mirror with shell surmount and fabulous birds.

Fashion in our own times often seems to be driven in a reactionary way, as one style supplants another. It is perhaps surprising to reflect that this is not just a modern phenomenon. In early 18th century France the style which was to become known as ‘Rococo’ developed in reaction to the Baroque that preceded it. There is a playful quality to the Rococo. Here the classical gives way to decorative motifs drawn from nature and in England even the influences of Chinese and Gothic taste are sometimes incorporated.

The Edict of Nantes was passed by Henry IV of France in 1598 to bring to an end the French Wars of Religion, which had raged between Catholics and Protestants in the second half of the 16th century. It granted French Protestants, often known as Huguenots, far-reaching rights to work in all spheres of civil and state life. Although it brought a form of peace to France, Huguenots continued to face hostility and prejudice in what remained a predominantly Catholic country. The edict also had a weakening effect on the French monarchy. In 1685 Louis XIV, the Sun King, famous for his extravagant court at Versailles, revoked the Edict of Nantes and later sought to force Huguenots to convert to Catholicism. Huguenot craftsmen left France in large numbers, taking refuge in Protestant countries like England, Holland and Switzerland. In this country they had a profound effect on the life of our nation. For example, the first Governor of the Bank of England, Sir John Houblon, and several of his directors were of Huguenot origin. They also brought the influence of French tastes and styles.

It is difficult to determine where the weighty Renaissance Baroque of Louis XIV’s reign ends and the Rococo begins in France, as one grew out of the other. The term ‘Rococo’ is a 19th century creation, a combination of ‘rocaille’, referring to shellwork, and ‘barocco’, a term first used in a rather disparaging way to describe the outmoded Baroque style in the early 18th century. It was not until the 1940s that Rococo assumed its present association with this style.

In 1715 Louis XIV died, leaving his five-year-old great-grandson as heir to the French throne. He would later become Louis XV, when he had reached maturity. The French Regency under Philippe, the Duc d’Orléans, lasted until 1723. The Régence style marked a new phase in the development of the French Rococo and by the 1730s it had developed into the ‘genre pittoresque’, which saw rocky caves, dragons and waterfalls, embellished by shells, bocages and putti, employed in romantic compositions which delight in their playful and spirited designs. Major exponents included Nicolas Pineau (1684-1754) and Juste-Aurèle Meissonier (1695-1750).

By the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714), England’s furniture-making industry had found its own and particular voice. By the 1720s in London, it was concentrated around St. Paul’s Churchyard and Palladianism was the predominant taste. Its restrained classical lines and proportions were inspired by the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), who himself was influenced by Greek and Roman architecture from classical antiquity. Palladianism was expressed beautifully in this country by the extraordinary architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652). William Kent (1685-1748), under the patronage of Lord Burlington at Chiswick House and British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole at Holkham Hall in Norfolk, continued in the Palladian style. Indeed, Holkham Hall is perhaps Kent’s most complete expression of the Palladian taste and, to my eye, one of the finest houses in England. In 1735 William Hogarth founded the St. Martin’s Lane Academy in London. Influenced by the French Régence and in reaction to the restraint of Palladianism, the Academy was chiefly responsible for the promotion of the Rococo style in London. The importance of nature in ornament and the beauty of the serpentine line were inculcated in a generation of furniture makers by teachers like Louis-François Roubiliac. As the furniture-making industry in London gravitated towards St. Martin’s Lane from St. Paul’s Churchyard, it increasingly brought cabinetmakers into the sphere of influence of the Academy and the Rococo style was quickly assimilated. Anti-French sentiments in the mid-18th century led to an anglicising of the Rococo taste. The English Rococo taste is typified by its use of asymmetrical ‘C’ scrolls, cartouches and acanthus leaf foliage in combination with rockwork, animals and naturalistic trees. The George III Rococo giltwood and gesso-framed wall mirror illustrated, with its shell surmount, rockwork frieze, scrolls, foliage and fabulous birds, captures much of this taste. By the 1750s, both Chinese and Gothic influences had been added to the Rococo decorative vocabulary. The Gothic taste was popularised by Sir Robert Walpole’s son Horace and his famous Strawberry Hill Gothic villa, which he built at Twickenham between 1749 and 1776.

Pierre Langlois commode
An early George III kingwood parquetry and marquetry commode of serpentine bombé form, attributed to Pierre Langlois, auctioned at Toovey’s for £160,000.

The influence of French taste is clearly evident in the early George III kingwood parquetry and marquetry commode illustrated, attributed to the celebrated French cabinetmaker Pierre Langlois. The commode is very similar to a pair of commodes commissioned by William Craven, 6th Baron Craven (1738-91) for Benham Park. The Craven commodes were attributed to Pierre Langlois, in association with the bronze-caster and gilder Dominique Jean, in a series of articles published in ‘Connoisseur’ magazine by Peter Thornton and William Reider, 1971-72. Pierre Langlois established himself as one of the leading cabinetmakers in London while trading from his premises at 39 Tottenham Court Road between 1759 and 1781. His clients included many important figures of the time, including the 4th Earl of Bedford for Woburn Abbey and Horace Walpole. The commode was banded in palisander, the top inlaid with ribbon-tied summer flowers within a stiff-leaf cartouche, flanked by two flower sprays. The sides and two doors were inlaid with swagged summer flowers, ribbon bows and moths, while the front projecting corners, apron and feet were decorated with ormolu shell and acanthus-leaf scroll mounts and sabots. The interior was fitted with three palisander-fronted drawers and Rococo-shell handles. The carcass and shaped apron were supported by outswept tapering bracket feet. The commode was auctioned at Toovey’s for £160,000.

George III giltwood wall mirror
A George III giltwood and gesso-framed wall mirror, auctioned on Friday 11th October 2013

In the October Specialist Furniture Auction Toovey’s offered a collection of fine 18th century English furniture, consigned for sale by The Royal College of Radiologists in London. Highlights includes a number of gilt-framed Rococo wall mirrors. The example illustrated sold within estimate for £1200.

For more information on Toovey’s specialist furniture sales click here.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th October 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Perfect 21st Century Home Office

William & Mary bureau bookcase
William and Mary walnut bureau bookcase, circa 1690

The famous Georgian furniture designer Thomas Sheraton in his Cabinet Dictionary of 1803 states 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 opens 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.

There is nothing common or everyday about this William and Mary bureau bookcase. Veneered in the finest walnut, it formed part of a wonderful collection of 17th and 18th century furniture, which I auctioned as The Bolney Lodge Collection some years ago. Its elegant, tall proportions reflect the architectural fashion for higher ceilings as the 18th century approached. It has inlaid herringbone banding and the carved hairy paw feet are a lovely detail. The fine interior you see illustrated is enclosed by two arched doors, inset with exterior plate glass panels above candle slides. Candlelight reflected in mirrors like these is amplified in the most extraordinary way. It would have allowed the owner to use their bureau in comfort, even as the dark evenings drew in. Such fine examples continue to attract a strong collector’s premium and this one would realise in excess of £25,000 at auction today.

A good vernacular example from the 18th century, though, will still bring its owner a great deal of pleasure and can be purchased much more reasonably. Indeed, my own bureau is a typical example of this type. 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 sermon all vie for space with my tablet computer. Best of all, I can shut the flap on it all when I’ve done enough, or if Aunt Enid comes to stay!

Rupert Toovey's Home Office
Rupert Toovey's Home Office

The personal computer with its bulky boxes, screens, cables and keyboard could not be accommodated by the gracious bureau and values were undermined. After all, furniture is unusual among collectors’ fields in that it must not only be beautiful but also practical. Furniture must earn its space, especially in the modern home. The pleasures of a bureau, however, are finding renewed favour in our new wireless age of clouds, laptops and tablet PCs. They are once again proving to be the perfect home office and prices are set to rise. A good George III bureau in mahogany, like mine, can still be bought for about £300 at auction today. This bureau is almost two hundred and fifty years old, would grace any sitting room and is practical. 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!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 4th April 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.