Christopher Gilbert, “The Life & Work of Thomas Chippendale”, 1978, vol. I, pp. 169, 175 & 185; vol. II, pp. 240-1, pls. 440-1, illustrating and describing Chippendale’s original library desk of which this is a copy.
A very fine quality English mid Twentieth Century carved mahogany partners’ pedestal desk, attributed to Arthur Brett, after the original designed and made by Thomas Chippendale for Nostell Priory, Yorkshire. Of double-sided form, the rectangular top with a brown leather writing surface above a shaped kneehole drawer flanked by a pair of pedestals enclosing four drawers to either side. The pedestal doors headed by a frieze with carved husk swags above an oval wreath of husks between flanking upright pilasters headed by a scroll above a lion mask and pendant husk chains and terminated by a lion paw foot, with an arched apron centred by a carved acanthus leaf between each foot. The sides similarly decorated as the front and back with conforming husk garlands above beaded reserves and flanking lion headed pilasters
English, mid twentieth century
Height 75.5 cm, width 183 cm, depth 103 cm.
This fine quality desk is a direct copy of the celebrated library table made by Thomas Chippendale (1718-79) for Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet (1739-85) for his Palladian mansion Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, where it remains today as part of the National Trust Collection. Chippendale supplied nearly all the contents to Nostell Priory, of which the desk was the most expensive piece. It was installed in the library sometime between 27th December 1766, at which date Chippendale wrote to Sir Rowland saying that it had been completed, and 30th June 1767, when an invoice was submitted. The invoice described it as: “a large mahogany library table of very fine wood with doors on each side of the bottom part and drawers within on one side and partitions on the other, with terms of ditto carv’d and ornamented with Lions’ heads and paws with carv’d ovals in the pannels of the doors and the top cover’d with black leather, and the whole completely finish’d in the most elegant taste...£72 0s 0d”. Sir Rowland was obviously delighted with it for shortly after its arrival, he commissioned a portrait from Hugh Douglas Hamilton showing himself and his wife Sabine standing in front of the desk in their library at Nostell.
Considered England’s best known furniture makers, Chippendale was a leader of fashion who produced the first comprehensive book on furniture designs. While ostensibly Neo-classical in design, his library desk also looked back to the earlier Palladian style, most notably in the inclusion of the carved architectural lion mask and lion paw pilasters, with the more Neo-classical ornament being reserved for the rosettes or paterae as well as the swags of husks.
Chippendale’s library desk was described in “The Dictionary of English Furniture” by P. Macquoid & R. Edwards (1986, p. 250, illustrated pl. 24) as “generally regarded as the finest piece of mahogany furniture Chippendale ever made.” Therefore, it is not surprising that it was often copied by later furniture makers. The present example may well have been made by Arthur Brett of Norfolk who made a number of high quality copies of this desk and are the attributed makers of another comparable example from the Robert de Balkany Collection sold by Christie’s London, 22nd-23rd March 2017, lot 126.