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Erdigg's 'Red Japan Cabinate' - circa 1720

possibly John Belchier (fl. 1717-53)

Category

Furniture

Date

circa 1720

Materials

Scarlet japanning on an oak and deal carcase, mercury-backed glass, brass, silk, gilt, silver gilt, iron, velvet

Measurements

217 x 103 x 58 cm

Place of origin

London

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Collection

Erddig, Wrexham (Accredited Museum)

NT 1147081

Summary

A scarlet-japanned desk-and-bookcase, or bureau bookcase, English, circa 1720, possibly by John Belchier (fl. 1717 - 1753). The cabinet section topped by a double-arched cornice above a pair of doors each fitted with a pair of shaped and arched mercury-backed and beveled mirror plates. The doors enclosing seven pigeonholes above a central pair of concave cupboard doors between stop-fluted Doric columns and four flanking tall pigeonholes with ogee-fronted divisions. These above an arrangement of eight small drawers of various sizes, some of them concave. The bureau with hinged fall lined to the inside with a (velvet?) writing surface before pigeonholes and drawers. The fall supported on lopers and above two short and two graduated long drawers within double bead carcase mouldings. With a base moulding and four bun feet. Decorated all over in silver and silver gilt with Chinoiserie motifs, scenes, birds and flowers and foliage. With brass locks, handles and door catches. Iron hinges. Stamped 'RF' on the leading edge of the top of the bureau section.

Full description

This remarkable cabinet, with original brasses, feet and mirror glass, has been at Erddig since at least 1726, when it was listed in the 'Blew Mohair Room', one of the bedrooms at Erddig, furnished with furniture covered in blue mohair. It is one of four known pieces of japanned furniture stamped with the initials 'RF'. Bowett points out that since this stamp sits beneath a black wash, it was probably the mark of the joiner or cabinet-maker who made the carcase, and not the japanner who decorated it. The craftsman with the initials 'RF' has not yet been identified. One of the other pieces stamped by the same maker is also at Erddig - NT 1147114 - a very similar piece of furniture, japanned in black rather than scarlet. Several examples of this type of desk-and-bookcase are known to carry the trade label of John Belchier (fl. 1717-1753) and, whilst the examples at Erddig do not, they seem so closely related that they have always been tentatively attributed to him. The fact that Belchier also supplied mirrors and other pieces of furniture to John Meller (d. 1733) of Erddig, makes this attribution more compelling. It should be noted, however, that neither of Erdigg's japanned desk-and-bookcases appear on Belchier's surviving bills. This scarlet-japanned bureau bookcase is one of the most iconic pieces of early 18th century furniture to survive, and is remarkable in that it remains in the house for which it was made. (Megan Wheeler, February 2019)

Provenance

Listed in the 1726 Inventory as part of the contents of the 'Blew Mohair Room'. Thence by descent, and given by Phillip Yorke III (1905-1978) along with the estate, house and contents to the National Trust in 1973.

Marks and inscriptions

On leading edge of lower half top: RF

Makers and roles

possibly John Belchier (fl. 1717-53), cabinet maker

References

Bowett 2009, Early Georgian Furniture 1715 - 1740 (2009), Illustrated and discussed pp. 60 - 61, Plate 2:16 Drury, 1978: Martin Drury. “Early eighteenth-century furniture at Erddig.” Apollo 108 July (1978): pp.46-55., p. 52

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