An Important George II Mahogany Bookcase From Langley Park, Norfolk

Height: 99” 251.5cm
Width: 152 ½” 387.5cm
Depth: 17” 43cm
Origination: English
Circa: 1750

The bookcase is of slight breakfront form and has a leaf and flower-head carved cornice above the cabinet section which has four doors carved with egg-and-dart mullions, and lettered A, B, C and D. The base with lacquered rocaille brass handles within leaf and rosette-carved molded borders on a conforming plinth.

One of a suite of four library bookcases supplied to Sir William Beauchamp-Proctor, 1st Bt. For Langley Park, Norfolk, who inherited the house in 1744-5.
By descent to Sir Christopher R.P. Beauchamp-Proctor and sold in London, Christies, 10 April 1975, lots 135 (a pair, including the present lot), and 136 (the smaller pair).

Langley Park, ten miles east of Norwich, was bought by George Proctor (d. 1744) from the Berney family in 1742. Proctor, a connoisseur and collector who had until then lived in Venice, employed the Norwich architect Matthew Brettingham (d. 1769), to build him a Palladian villa. Upon his death two years later, Langley passed to his twenty-two year old nephew and heir, Sir William Beauchamp, who assumed the name Beauchamp-Proctor when he inherited the estate and was awarded the Baronetcy. He completed and enlarged the mansion and was largely responsible for building up the notable art collection at Langley. Works by artists such as Canaletto, Poussin and Van Dyck, some of them now in public collections, were complemented by equally refined interiors with furniture from London’s leading cabinet-makers.

Records at the Norfolk County Records office indicate that several notable workshops supplied furnishings to Langley Park, including William Hallett, his disciple William Vile and his partner John Cobb. The magnificent suite of bookcases, including the present example, lettered A-D, was supplied for the library. They are likely either the work of William Hallett or Vile and Cobb.

An existing 1748 bill from Hallett as well as two 1754 bills from Vile and Cobb (Norfolk Country Records Office, BEA 305/71, 305/79 and 305/45) provide the strongest case for the authorship of the bookcases. The bills detail extensive work for William Proctor, and the dates on the invoices, as well as several shared distinct stylistic elements, could place the library bookcase in either workshop.

William Hallett (d. 1781), established his business at Great Newport Street, Long Acre, in 1730 and became the pre-eminent cabinet-maker in London. It not known when Hallett hired William Vile (d. 1767) as a journeyman but in 1751, Vile started his own business with the cabinet-maker John Cobb as his partner. Hallett initially help support them financially and the workshops remained close; by 1753 Hallett had moved his business next to Vile and Cobb on St Martin’s Lane. (G. Beard and C.Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, London, 1986, p. 924).

The strong relationships between the two firms make it difficult to distinguish between the early work attributed to Vile and Cobb and that of William Hallett. Both firms repeatedly used the same motifs in crisply carved borders that clearly outline a piece’s general form as well as drawer or cabinet doors moldings. Other furniture at Langley Park features these borders and could suggest a more involved relationship than what is detailed on the currently known invoices. The egg and dart borders on an impressive pair of mid-Georgian side tables and the delicate flower-head borders outlining three pairs of armchairs from the Dining Room sold by Sir Christopher Proctor-Beauchamp, Bt., in London, 6 July 1995 appears again on the library bookcases. Further archival images from a 4 November 1926 Country Life article, some of which were unpublished, include two additional cabinets with these borders as well as a card table with a bead and reel motif that appears on the edges of the library bookcase’s central doors.

Blickling Hall, Norfolk, 1969-1975

O. Brackett, Thomas Chippendale, (Hodder & Stoughton,