Welcome to our first post of 2014, where continuing on from our post on Paktong, as part of last year’s ‘The Trappings of Trade’ exhibition, we now turn our attention to lacquer and the items at Osterley that fall into this category, starting with the lacquer secrétaire that normally resides in the Etruscan Room.
This lacquer secrétaire – a French term for a writing desk – would have been used by Mrs Child when composing letters or for housing private papers and keep-sakes.
Despite extensive and sometimes amateur repairs, it remains one of the most eye-catching lacquer objects in Osterley Park House.
From East to West
The lacquer present on this secrétaire and the commode accompanying it in the Etruscan Room would almost certainly have travelled from China in the form of large screens and it is possible that the same screens were used to create both. These were then cut down and assembled into furniture on arrival.
This ‘jigsaw puzzle’ approach to the making of lacquer furniture can often be seen in the difference of scale in the various panels making up the object. The commode (which dates from 1770-75) in the Etruscan Room is a particularly good example of this as the concave panels are English japanning – an attempt to match the lacquer they accompany.
Chippendale employed ‘japanners’ to augment the panels and screens provided by his clients.
There is some confusion as to when the secrétaire arrived at Osterley. It has previously been thought to be the same as that supplied to Harewood House near Leeds, by Thomas Chippendale in 1773, for the State Bedchamber. If so, it was almost certainly at Osterley by 1782, although the process by which it arrived is unclear.
Osterley’s 1782 inventory lists “a japanned Secretaire with pictures and books” in Mrs Child’s Dressing Room on the upper floor. By 1922, it had moved to the Etruscan Room which was then being used as a school room.
This secrétaire appeared at auction in the North of England in February 1993.
If you would like to see inside the secrétaire, we may be running more open cabinet days in the new season, but check on the website to see if and when this is happening.
In the Etruscan Room, there is also a Pembroke table – or writing table – by Henry Clay, which is a fantastic example of an English attempt to imitate lacquer. Clay patented a new technique which involved the layering and varnishing of papier-mâché. These layers were then glued to a wooden frame.
This table, like the paktong fire grate in the Drawing Room, is a fantastic example of the amalgamation of eastern and western design. While attempting to faithfully imitate Chinese lacquer, Clay has incorporated classical images into the design.
In 1782, “a Pembroke table Japanned by Clay” is listed in the Etruscan Room and interestingly, it is Clay and not Adam, Linnell or Chippendale, who is the craftsman/designer mentioned in the inventory.