This remarkable painted and parcel-gilt japanned side cabinet is thought to be the work of Royal decorator and designer Frederick Crace (1779-1859), who worked alongside his father John (d. 1819) on decorative schemes for the Prince of Wales, later George IV, at Carlton House and later Brighton Pavilion.
Frederick Crace (1779-1859) was the grandson of Edward Crace (1729-1799) the founder of the prominent firm of interior decorators, who was later Keeper of the Pictures for George III. Both his and his father’s work reflects the fascination with the Orient that featured so prominently in English taste from the second half of the 18th century, but unlike most of their contemporaries they took great care in replicating original Chinese designs found in porcelain, textiles and enamelwork, rather than imagining them. Their chinoiserie designs have refinement and authenticity, as demonstrated by this side cabinet. One gets the sense that they understood the architecture of the buildings they reproduced and felt the texture of the fabrics they depicted. It is interesting to note that John Crace’s personal collection of Chinese curiosities and library was sold by Sotheby’s upon his death in 1819, adding weight to the suggestion amongst their papers that they also supplied Chinese works of art. Frederick Crace also had a clear proficiency as a gilder as well as a decorator, which is demonstrated in the great variety and weight of line and texture achieved in the gilding on this cabinet. M. Aldrich considers trellis work ‘typical of Frederick Crace’s work…the use of small-scale trellis or diaper background against which the larger motifs are placed’ (M. Aldrich, The Craces: Royal Decorators 1768-1899, 1990, p. 24)
In the 18th century Pontypool, South Wales was a metalworking centre where the Allgood family developed a unique tinplating technique that was to revolutionise the manufacture of domestic tinware in England. This technique then allowed multiple thin layers of decoration to be applied, and fired at low temperatures for long periods of time, to create an imitation lacquer or japanned surface with a more convincing lustre and texture to genuine Chinese or Japanese lacquer. Whilst thousands of domestic items such as kettles and trays were produced in this way, allowing the Allgoods to expand their workshops to London and Birmingham, it is quite rare to find the Pontypool technique used in luxury cabinet furniture. A similar cabinet was exhibited by Partridge at the Summer Exhibition in 1989, and another with Jonathan Harris, London. A further example was sold from the Estate of Andrew Gordon; Sotheby’s, New York, 22 October 2014, lot 123.
CHATSWORTH HOUSE, DERBYSHIRE
This striking side cabinet was formerly in the Duke of Devonshire’s impressive collection at Chatsworth, Derbyshire, however very little is known about how it came into the collection. Exotic wares and goods from the Orient played an important role in the furnishing of the Cavendish family's palatial Derbyshire home from as early as 1697, but there is little evidence of a Regency interest in chinoiserie or imitation lacquer, which left Sotheby’s to speculate in 2010 that that this was a gift to or single purchase by the 5th Duke (1748-1811). His close relationship with the Prince Regent meant he would have been familiar with the extravagant Chinoiserie decorative schemes at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and indeed the 6th Duke (1790-1858) also knew the Prince and had a residence nearby in the town. Perhaps the cabinet was a purchase for this Brighton residence, which later made its way to Chatsworth. Where exactly this cabinet was located at Chatsworth is unknown but Sotheby’s mention that it was photographed at the end of the 19th century in the State Closet.