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English, circa 1795 - 1810
Height 31” (79cm) (Max.) Width 20.5” (52cm) Depth 16.5” (42cm)
Stock No. 8354
The two official architects of the court of Napoleon were Pierre Francois Leonard Fontaine (1762 – 1853) and Charles Percier (1764 – 1838), who were both important and influential architects, designers and interior decorators, proponents of the rich, grand and archaeological style known as Empire. This style was to become immensely popular in all the major courts of the world and, with his frequent visits to Paris, the wealthy Englishman Thomas Hope (1769 – 1831), was to befriend them. With his passion for classical civilization, architecture and sculpture and his large collection of artefacts, the influence of the two Frenchmen was to prove considerable. It was in his authoritative ‘Household Furniture and Interior Decoration’ of 1807 that he published the results of his research and interest in neoclassical interiors and furniture, illustrated by settings in his London home in Duchess Street. Although Hope showed a partiality for some ostentation, in keeping with the elaborate detail and sumptuousness of the Empire style of furniture, his work demonstrated a thorough grasp of the clean lines and refinement of the classical ideology, showing a scholarly gift for adapting Greek and Egyptian elements into his furniture designs. His use of classical ornament was detailed and precise, illustrating, amongst other things, a variety of lotus forms as part of vertical supports and at the intersection of cross members of stools.
Hope and his designs were subsequently to have a powerful influence on other designers and cabinetmakers of the period, especially through the medium of pattern and design books, such as those by George Smith, P. and M. A. Nicholson, John Taylor and Ackermann’s ‘Repository of the Arts’. One of the most significant cabinetmakers was George Oakley (1773 – 1840). This craftsman also developed a reputation as one of the most original designers of the period, receiving, in 1799, a Royal Warrant, following a visit from Queen Charlotte. It was noted in the Morning Chronicle of May 1799, that ‘her Majesty, the Duke and Duchess of York and the Princesses…highly approved of the splendid variety which has justly attracted the notice of the fashionable world’, following a visit by the royal party to his New Bond Street Furniture Warehouse. In 1804, the London correspondent of Journal der Luxus und der Moden (Weimar), wrote ‘all people with taste buy their furniture at Oakeley’s, the most tasteful of the London cabinet makers.’ Oakley worked for the Prince Regent at Carlton House and also supplied furniture and upholstery for the Mansion House and the Bank of England, with one of his best-known commissions being for Papworth Hall in Cambridgeshire.
This ladies’ writing desk demonstrates the fine classical elements attributable to Oakley and often seen in his work. Choosing to use fashionable and valuable woods for his furniture, kingwood, in this instance, implies an item of considerable stature and value. The parcel-gilt plinths with the gilt brass banding, the finely cast brass ornamentation of the stylised lotus flower on the support brackets, along with that on the stretcher, the pierced gallery and the flower head paterae all demonstrate the work of a master craftsman. The cast brass banding to the bottom of the desk is also a hallmark of Oakley’s work. The plinths with feet of reverse acroter form and are further evidence of the classical Greek influence, as are the Corinthian pillar heads seen at each end of the stretcher. Further evidence of Oakley’s attributed work can be seen in the Regency Brass-Inlaid Rosewood Occasional Table in the ‘Dealing in Excellence: A Celebration of Hotspur and Jeremy’ sale by Christie’s, 20 November 2008. The high stretcher is of similar form and the flower head paterae as well as the lotus flower motif are all to be seen on both desk and occasional table alike.
Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660 – 1840, edit. Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert, (Furniture History Society) Pub’d W.S.Maney and Son Ltd 1986
Regency Furniture, Frances Collard, Antique Collectors Club, 1985
The Shorter Dictionary of English Furniture, Ralph Edwards, Country Life Books, 1964.
Further references to George Oakley’s furniture:
Bonham’s ‘Fine English Furniture and Works of Art’ auction 18857, 15th June 2011, lot no. 121 – A fine Regency rosewood and crossbanded, ebony and brass inlaid and mounted parcel gilt library table, design attributed to Thomas Hope and manufacture attributed to George Oakley.
Bonham’s ‘Fine English Furniture and Works of Art’ auction 19957, 7th March 2012, lot no. 227 – Regency Tulipwood, gilt brass mounted and silver inlaid library table, in the manner of Thomas Hope and manufacture possibly attributed to George Oakley.