A Regency Period Bookcase

Height: 83" 211cm
Width: 35" 89cm
Depth: 16 1/4" 41.5cm
Origination: English
Circa: 1815

A highly refined Regency period bookcase incorporating numerous design elements from the work of one of the most significant designers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the connoisseur, collector, designer, and author Thomas Hope (1769-1831).

Thomas Hope was part of a rich banking family from Amsterdam who spent seven years travelling about the Mediterranean on his Grand Tour.  Having settled in London to escape the French invasion of Holland, he set about enlarging, designing and furnishing his mansion on Duchess Street in a neo-classic style.

Having completed the work to his house he sent out tickets to 60 members of the Royal Academy which were to admit the bearer and three friends to the house. Some of the members resented these unsolicited invitations. However, despite this approach people did come and on the whole they were extremely impressed.

Hardly surprising then that his furniture started to be replicated.  However, unimpressed by the lack of accuracy, he published his designs in Household Furniture & Interior Decoration to improve the copies.

As mentioned above, there are a number of design features on this bookcase which may be found in Hope’s designs, including the rather idiosyncratic scale-pattern grilles at the top and bottom of the upper section doors.  The list of motifs and their source is below.

The bookcase is also unusual in being glazed to the bottom as well as the top. It is far more typical for glazed upper-door cabinets to have solid doors below. The nearest parallel for this form is a bookcase by George Bullock (perhaps one of the pair supplied by Bullock for Napoleon on St Helena; see George Bullock exhibition catalogue 1988, cat. No. 39). However, this cabinet is far too light and refined to have been made by Bullock.

Another possible maker might have been John McClean.  Although there are parallels in the form, construction and quality of this piece and McClain’s work, there is not enough evidence to attribute it to him.  This is also the case with another major cabinet maker of this period, James Newton.  Newton was certainly influenced by Hope and produced a design for a klismos chair and another chair with the same crossed bars centred on a disc seen in this cabinet.  He further alluded to Hope in surviving accounts, notably ‘2 Hope Canopy Testers’ supplied to the Earl of Breadalbane in 1812.

Despite these comparisons, it is not possible to attribute this cabinet to a particular maker. What can be said is that it is of such a quality that it would certainly have been made in London and that its cost of manufacture precludes all but the wealthiest clients from having commissioned it.

Design Motif Sources
–    For the scale-pattern grilles: Thomas Hope, Household Furniture (1807), plate XI, No. 2
–    For the crossed bars centred on a disc of some sort, ibid., plate XII, No. 5, and plate XVII, No. 5
–    For the moulding pattern in the top cornice : ibid., plate XXXIX
–    Laurel Wreaths : Thomas Hope, ibid., plate II.
–    Mounts flanking drawer : ibid., plate XII, No.1, Plate XLI, No. 13
–    The scrolls to the cornice : ibid., plate XLIII, No.2


Nearest parallel for this form is a bookcase by George Bullock (perhaps one of the pair supplied by Bullock for Napoleon on St Helena; see George Bullock exhibition catalogue 1988, cat. No. 39). Richard Brown published a derivation of this design in The Rudiments of Drawing Cabinet and Upholstery Furniture (1822), pl. XVIII (see Frances Collard, Regency Furniture (1985), pp. 116–17).
James Newton By Giles Ellwood, FHS Journal Vol XXXI, p.129

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