In the later part of the 17th century the number and variety of lacquered objects imported to England from China and Japan expanded to include cabinets and screens. By the late 17th century, the vogue for lacquered furniture was widespread European craftsmen began to create their own version of lacquerwork. Japanning, as it was called, was addressed in detail in the 1688 Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing by George Parker and John Stalker, and provided instruction to the Englishman on how to execute the technique with lacquer recipes, processes, and designs using Western materials. Though most of the English lacquer produced was of black ground with gold decoration, "occasionally the ground was an intense red, being composed of Spanish vermillion and Venice lacquer."1
"From these years we get square cabinets on carved gilt stands, ornate pieces which...suited the large architectural interiors of the time."2 The most rare and sumptuous in the genre of English lacquer cabinets are perhaps those decorated in red with shaped white lacquer reserves to resemble Chinese porcelain. The present piece is one of a very small group of such examples.
A scarlet lacquered cabinet with blue and white shaped panels similarly imitating oriental porcelain was sold from the collection of Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, K.G., Christie's June 25, 1931, Lot 31(figure 1). Another, the panels painted in blue on a white ground from the collection of the Viscount Rothermere, was sold at Sotheby's &Co., December 9, 1960, Lot 129 (figure 2). Another scarlet cabinet with blue and white panels from North Mymms Park was sold by Christie's on September 25, 1979, Lot 335 (figure 3). In the possession of Consuelo Vanderbilt, at Casa Alva in Palm Beach, remains the last exquisite example of a red lacquer cabinet with beautifully shaped white lacquer reserves (figure 4).
Lacquer cabinets on stand were highly prestigious objects which adorned some of England's greatest houses of the late 17th century. Indeed, an example of similar form still exists in situ at Ham House, perhaps the most iconic of all of these buildings.
1. Macquoid, Percy. A History of English Furniture: Including the Age of Oak, the Age of Walnut, the Age of Mahogany, the Age of Satinwood. London: Bracken, 1988. 159.
2. Cescinsky, Herbert, and George Leland Hunter. English and American Furniture; A Pictorial Handbook of Fine Furniture Made in Great Britain and in the American Colonies, Some in the Sixteenth Century, but Principally in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Pub. Co, 1929. 75.