Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Home Beautiful: The Duke of Beaufort’s Dressing Table, 1754

Dressing Table, 1754
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Designed by John Linnell (1729 - 1796) and supplied by his father, William (1703 - 1763), this dressing table is made of gilded, painted and japanned pinewood and mahogany, with lattice doors in the Chinese style. It was made around 1754 for Noel Somerset, 4th Duke of Beaufort (1709 - 1756). The Duke used the table at his home, Badminton House, Gloucestershire. The Duke of Beaufort was considered the leading authority on Shakespeare at the time.

John Linnell, the designer, had been a pupil of St. Martin's Lane Academy, and was celebrated for his Chinese-inspired furnishings. Another of his pieces, a lovely chair, is housed in the V&A. This chair is very similar to a group of eight made for Duke's bedchamber at Badminton House.

This style was all the rage in the mid Eighteenth Century. William Halfpenny's “New Designs for Chinese Temples” (1750) and Thomas Chippendale's “Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director” (1754) helped incite the fashion for all things Chinese. Wealthy home-owners, always eager to stay in fashion, commissioned many Chinese-inspired pieces.

This dressing table is an excellent example of the fashion. This japanned (a technique which arose in the Seventeenth Century to replicate costly oriental lacquers wherein layers of shellac are built up and dried before being polished to a high sheen) and parcel-gilt pinewood and mahogany cabinet is decorated with Chinese landscapes and figures, pagodas and animals as well as a complicated lattice-work pattern on the face and a fretted gallery.

When Dr. Richard Pococke visited Badminton in 1754 he wrote of the “Bedchamber finished and furnished very elegantly in the Chinese Manner” (Travels through England, II, p.31). An inventory of Badminton House from 1835 mentions “a Chinese sideboard with Drawers” which was then located in the South Breakfast Room. It is called a “Wide Queen Anne Lac Cabinet fitted three drawers in centre at six ditto at sides the latter enclosed by trellis doors, decorated Chinese landscapes river scenes pagodas set in gilt top with pierced gallery shaped from on square legs.”

The table was sold at Christie's on June 20, 1921, later passing through the ownership of Sir Philip Fandel Philips, Lady Ludlow and Mrs. James Rank before finally being purchased by the V & A in 1952.

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