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John webb the hertford jewel cabinet, commissioned by john rutter

About the item

Acajou flamée, faux lapis lazuli-painted tôle, the cupboard beneath three spring-loaded secret drawers, opening to reveal eighteen small drawers, three spring released frieze drawers, the cresting bearing the coat-of-arms of Marie-Josephine-Louise of Savoy who married Louis XVI's younger brother, the comte de Provence, the future Louis XVIII, in 1771. The pair of vases on the cresting replaced with castings made from the original cabinet by kind permission of Her Majesty The Queen.\nThe present lot is shown without the pair of gilt-bronze, faux lapis vases on the cornice, presumed lost between 1912 and 1957 when the photograph, fig.1 of the three-volume Wallace Collection catalogue, was taken by Connaissance des Arts. While the Riesener cabinet was being restored at The Royal Workshops at Malborough House on The Mall in London, Christopher Payne, acting as agent on behalf of the present owner, obtained permission from Her Majesty The Queen through the offices of the Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art to have copies of the vases on the cresting of the cabinet made from the Riesener original. Thus, the vases on the present lot were replaced between 2002 and 2003. Castings of the foliate details were taken from molds in London, the socles and vase bodies were made in Paris from detailed measurements. The fine chasing and the lapis coloring were also done in Paris prior to assembly in London to join the cabinet, by then on loan at the Wallace Collection. During the restoration of the original at Marlborough House, the present lot was restored in a nearby workshop, enabling a detailed examination of the two cabinets by conservators from the Royal Workshops, the Wallace Collection, and Christopher Payne. Upon examination, it was evident that the carcass was made by an English-trained cabinetmaker. The exquisite gilt-bronze mounts have no markings on the reverse, and so it is only speculation as to where, or by whom, they were cast. Precise measurements were taken with a Vernier scale using a digital readout, and the difference between the originals and the copy was infinitesimal, often a tolerance of only 0.01 mm. It was generally accepted that it was barely possible to distinguish the original mounts from the copies once disassembled, not only for size, but for the quality of chasing and gilding. It is not certain how the bronze mounts were made on the Webb cabinet. While the construction of the cabinet shows that it is clearly of English origin, the country of origin of the extraordinary workmanship of the cast brass and gilded mounts is less clear.  Of the various methods available at the time for casting mounts, no satisfactory answer has yet been found as to how the mounts on the copy are so exact, sizes from original to copy differing by less than one percent. The quality of the chasing and burnishing is exemplary and the gilding in near-perfect condition. Side by side comparison with mounts from the original showed virtually no difference, and it is not readily possible to identify which were made in the 1780s from those of 1853-55. Although there had only been less than seventy years between making the original and the present lot, it is unlikely that any master models were available from Riesener's workshops. Indeed, in his May 1769 description of his bureau du Roi, Riesener describes how he made the models for the bronze mounts in wax 'fait en cire tous les differents objects de bronzes.' These wax models would have been lost during pouring of the molten bronze; thus, the mounts may have been surmoulé, however this does not allow for the unavoidable shrinkage that occurs with this technique, shrinkage clearly not evident upon measuring. It was noted that the carcass of the upper part of the cabinet had been slightly raised in height, allowing speculation that the bronze mounts were indeed cast in Paris, sent to London with an error in measurement by the English cabinetmakers which needed to be corrected. Observers have further speculated that possibly only the house of Beurdeley was capable of such castings at the time, but without archival proof this cannot be substantiated. Also from Paris, the firm of Grohé was capable of making such castings; their standing barometer made to match the Riesener regulator (and now in the Louvre) is an outstanding tour de force of bronze casting and chasing. Ledoux-Lebard records a commentary in the 1867 Exposition Universelle that the furniture and bronzes of Grohé are “superieurs a ceux de Riesener et Gouthière." Others such as Winckelsen, Denière or Millet père were also more than capable of such work if the client had deep enough pockets. However, it is probable that the celebrated London firm of Hatfield may have carried out the castings. The records of H. J. Hatfield & Sons Ltd. were unfortunately destroyed; however, Geoffrey de Bellaigue noted that he had been shown a photograph of a set of four four-light candelabra made by Hatfield's for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1882. As with the present lot, the originals were, and still are, in the Royal Collection, with permission to copy them granted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria (illustrated, ‘Buckingham Palace’ by John Harris, Geoffery de Bellaigue and Oliver Millar, London, 1968, p. 154). Verlet (p. 364) notes a remark written by (Victor de) Champeaux, undated but probably circa 1880: “Hatfield, fondeur et ciseleur du XIXe Siecle. Etait très habile dans la reproduction des oeuvres françaises de l’époque de Louis XVI. Il eut un neuveu qui herita de la delicatesse de son burin." The Franco-British connection would have facilitated the casting, chasing and gilding and would have appealed to Lord Hertford, who was in Paris at the time of the commission. If the bronzes were indeed cast in Paris, it might even explain the slight adjustment apparently made to the carcass on the cornice when the bronzes were fitted. However, with the political unrest in Paris at the time -- an unrest that later in 1870 caused Sir Richard Wallace to return to live in London -- there were a number of highly skilled French craftsmen working in London, with one influx after the July Revolution of 1830 and later, more relevant to the present lot, the 1848 revolution which unseated Louis-Philippe. \nThe mahogany veneers on the present lot are also extraordinary for their close comparison with the original panels. The cabinetmaker is clearly not familiar with Riesener's box-like construction and either ignored it or did not have intimate access to the original. The easiest guide to it being an English craftsman is the quarter or dust moldings in the small drawers of the interior. Slight differences in the dovetailing are a further but not obvious clue.\nLord Hertford’s Commission \nThe impetus for making this cabinet appears to have come from the exhibition held in 1853 at Gore House, South Kensington, titled Specimens of Cabinet Work. It was the first retrospective exhibition of French furniture held in England in the 19th century. The loans, recorded in an unillustrated catalogue of one hundred and twelve items, were sourced from eminent collections, such as those of the Elector of Bavaria and the Dukes of Buccleuch, Northumberland and Hamilton, as well as Queen Victoria.\nAlthough Lord Hertford did not travel to London to see the exhibition, he was clearly aware of some of the exhibits, possibly aided by photographs taken by the Victoria & Albert Museum’s photographer, Charles Thurston. The exhibition preamble states ‘Persons are privileged to make Drawings and Sketches’ and on June 11, 1853, Lord Hertford wrote to the London picture dealer Samuel Mawson: ‘I should very much like to have drawings made of some of the principal & the most beautiful articles of furniture not of the middle ages, but of the times of Louis XIV, XV & XVI, especially the fine Cabinet by Gouthières sent by the Queen. I should like these drawings to be most accurately made, with sides & backs, with exact dimensions & plans of the shapes. The ornaments very carefully copied as well as other details.'\nIn a significant letter on December 11, 1853, Lord Hertford again wrote to Mawson: ‘Many thanks for having had the drawings completed…I hope that it [the cost] will not be very considerable for I find, between you & I, that some dealers we know, have had the fine things of this collection surmoulé so they will be able to obtain perfect copies & from drawings it is impossible.'  To make such furniture from accurate drawings alone would seem an improbable task, and five days later Lord Hertford again writes to Mawson: ‘By what I have heard, between you & I, I am certain that complete casts have been taken of some of the things, shape & all.'  Had John Webb, the Bond Street dealer who had helped to organize the Gore House exhibition, been able to take squeezes of the mounts, thus accounting for the extraordinary accuracy of the present lot compared to the original at Windsor?\nBy October 1853, Lord Hertford had commissioned Edward Rutter, an English dealer working from 10 rue Louis-Grand in Paris, to make copies of some of the Gore House exhibits. Rutter writes to Lord Hertford on January 20, 1854: ‘I had the pleasure of addressing you respecting your copies of Her Majesty’s cabinet…I now beg to offer for your inspection 4 Photographs taken very cleverly from each of the originals,…one from Her Majesty’s Cabinet …and I am happy to inform you that they are progressing. I expect…Her Majesty’s Cabinet about the end of this year, there being [in the latter] a tremendous quantity of most difficult work,.' It appears that Lord Hertford commissioned these elaborate pieces without an estimate, possibly with no idea as to the eventual costs, as Rutter continues his sentence ‘I expect to be able shortly to inform you of what will be about the cost of the five pieces of Furniture.’\nThe order appears to have then been passed to John Webb; an account of December 1855, from Webb to ‘The most Honble. The Marquis of Hertford KG’ lists seven copies from the Gore House exhibition. Webb describes the present lot ‘To a magnificent cabinet of Mahogany with stand & stretcher, elegantly and elaborately ornamented with or-mat decoration after as the one at Windsor Castle…2500.’ The group of four replicas, including a pair of commodes, on this invoice, sent in 1857, totalled £6,270 and appear to have been more expensive to make than the cost of buying second-hand 18th century furniture on the market at this time, the most expensive being the so called ‘Artois’ cabinet, the present lot, at £2,500, just over three times the cost per item of the other copies. [The relative value calculated by at £1,958,130.54 using the per-capita Gross Domestic Product (a staggering £4,261,894.32 using the economy’s total output or GDP).] An interesting comparison is the cost of making the large bell for ‘Big Ben’ at the palace of Westminster, £2,401 four years later in 1848. By way of comparison, in 1868 Lord Hertford paid ‘only’ the equivalent of £400 for the Riesener secretaire supplied to Marie-Antoinette at the Petit Trianon in 1783 (Wallace Collection no. 199 (F302)).\nJohn Webb (b. circa 1800 - 1872) had, by 1825, a business at 8 Old Bond Street, London, until circa 1853. Litchfield writes that ‘he employed a considerable number of workmen and carried on a very successful business.' He purchased objects for both the South Kensington and British Museums and became a friend of Henry Cole, first director of the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria & Albert Museum. In his will, Webb left the museum the considerable sum of £10,000 to establish the John Webb Trust Fund. He enjoyed an English country house and a villa near Cannes in the south of France. It is possible that, at the age of 53, the wealthy Webb left his Mayfair business to devote himself to helping to organize the Gore House exhibition in which the Prince Consort, Queen Victoria’s husband, was actively involved. Certainly his involvement in the exhibition would have given him an unrestricted access to the furniture on display. There can be no one better placed to receive the commission from Rutter on behalf of the Marquess of Hertford.\nSixteen copies appear to have been commissioned for the Lord Hertford, of which seven were made through John Webb, the remainder in France.  During this period the Marquess’ acquisitions of 18th century furniture continued unabated.  Lord Hertford was evidently content to possess a copy if the original was not available, and saw the replicas as an addition to his collection to show an even wider diversity of furniture than would otherwise have been open to him. The negative attitude towards fine quality copies that grew out of academic disdain in the 1920s clearly did not trouble one of the most important collectors of the 19th century. Hughes notes in ‘Replicas,' p. 60, that according to Webb’s bill, ‘all the replicas were delivered to Manchester House, the present-day Hertford House, they were all in fact kept in the Parisian collections of Lord Hertford, as though he did not wish to be parted from them.'\nOnly three of these important replicas remain on permanent display in the Wallace Collection today. One, the copy of the writing-table made in circa 1715 for the Elector of Bavaria, number 170, was delivered with its pair in August 1857 at a cost £1,650; as with the present lot, the carcass work is of English construction.  Between 1855 and 1860, the copy of the bureau du Roi, number 204, was made in Paris, attributed to Henry Dasson, almost certainly the first copy of this celebrated model made originally by Oeben and Riesener and an encoignure, number 186, made between circa 1864 and 1870 to match an 18th century original by Riesener, number 185.\nLord Hertford’s son, Sir Richard Wallace left the bulk of the collection to his widow, who in turn left the contents still at 2 rue Laffitte to her residuary legatee, Sir John Murray Scott. At the death of Sir John in 1912, the present lot was listed as being in the Bureau in the inventory taken at rue Laffitte for probate purposes between February 16, 1912 and November 11, 1913, described in the session of February 20, 1912 as "Grand meuble à bijoux en acajou richement garni de bronzes dorés.....- prisé cinq mille francs" (Wallace Collection archives, carbon copy given by M. G. Seligman, p. 56). These contents were bequeathed to Lady Sackville, who sold them to the dealer Jacques Seligman, becoming therefore available again on the open market.\nJohn Ayres Hatfield founded his company in 1844, referring to himself as a 'bronzist.'  His workshop was at 20 Cumberland Street in the London parish of St. Pancras and he lived next door at number 21. His brother Henry Charles, eight years younger, worked as John's bronze chaser, and it was his son Henry John who continued the business in 1881, being granted a Royal Warrent by Queen Victoria in 1882. However, Hatfield's had been working at Windsor Castle from November 1850. Among hundreds of invoices in the Windsor Archives, one letter-heading of the 1850s, the time that the present lot was made, serves to underline the company's capabilities: 'J. Hatfield, Bronze & Ormolu Manufacturer, Groups-Statues...and all kinds of Works of Art from Models, Designs or Originals cast and executed to the Antique.' Probably coincidentally, Hatfield's were employed to restore metalwork at the Wallace Collection when it was opened to the public in 1901.\nHistory of the Riesener cabinet \nThe original cabinet is described by The Royal Collection (RCIN 31207) as 'one of the greatest masterpieces of furniture in the Louis XVI style, this object de luxe combines cabinet-making virtuosity of a high order with quite exceptional gilt-bronze mounts. The well-figured, plain mahogany veneers, characteristic of Riesener's output in the later 1780s, provide a deliberate foil to the mounts, jewel-like on the doors (as befits the purpose of the cabinet) and treated as sculpture-in-the-round at the front angles and on the cresting.' It was made in circa 1785 for Marie-Josephe-Louise de Savoie, daughter of Victor Amadeus III of Savoy. The cabinet represents a belated celebration of her marriage to Louis XVI’s younger brother, the comte de Provence, the three gilt-bronze cherubs on the cresting holding a princess’s crown above the combined arms of France and Savoy. The hymeneal crown, doves on the doors, and quivers of Cupid’s arrows forming the legs are further emblems of love and union. The original cabinet stood in the countesses’ apartment in the Petit-Luxembourg in Paris. Confiscated in 1793 by the Revolutionary Government and intended for the new Republic’s museum, it was sold in 1796 to the femme Aumont. She offered it to Napoleon in 1809 and again in 1811, the second time receiving the famous reproach from the Emperor ‘S. M. veut faire du neuf et non acheter du vieux.' Napoleon wanted new, not old and second-hand, furniture from the deposed regime. At some time after hostilities finally ended between France and England in 1815, the cabinet was purchased by George Watson Taylor, whose wife had inherited a fortune from the West Indies trade. In London, the cabinet was housed on the corner of Cavendish Square and Harley Street, not far from Lord Hertford’s house in Manchester Square. Facing bankruptcy, Taylor sold much of his vast collection at Christie, Manson & Woods in 1825. Six pieces were purchased by Robert Fogg on behalf of King George IV, including the Riesener cabinet which alone cost £420. The king described his new purchases in a letter to the Duke of Wellington as ‘quite suitable for Windsor Castle’ but the jewel cabinet was sent to the Riding House Store near Carlton House. It was sent to Windsor for Queen Victoria’s enjoyment and to this day is in the White Drawing Room at the castle. The official wedding photograph of His Royal Highness Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, was taken in front of the Riesener cabinet at Windsor Castle, June 19, 1999.\nMorris, writing of the present lot in 1911, states ‘It is very representative of the development of taste towards the end of the eighteenth century. The severe form, the admixture of classicism and purely French decoration, are very characteristic.' He adds the amusing anecdote that a scantily clad portrait by Vestier of the Comte de Provence's mistress, Madame Duthé, hung in the state bedroom at Bagatelle, next to the study in which the original cabinet was housed. He further records a play on words popular in circa 1790 that, on seeing the comte's coach leaving the Royal palace on the way to Bagatelle, "Il en a assez de son Gateau de Savoie; il va prendre Duthé."\nLoans\nThe original cabinet was lent by Queen Victoria to the ‘Specimens of Cabinet Work’ exhibition at Gore House, Kensington between May and July, 1853. One hundred and fifty years later it was further exhibited in ‘Royal Collection: A Golden Jubilee Celebration’, May 22, 2002 to January 12, 2003. The present owner loaned the present lot to the Wallace Collection from May 2002 to 2005, coinciding in part with the exhibition of the Riesener example in the newly-built Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace.  The original cabinet was also exhibited at The Queen's Gallery, in 'The Age of Neo-Classicism,' 1972, no. 1619, pl. 138.\nConservation \nPrior to 1996, the present lot had been stored for some years in a garage in Trouville, near Deauville, in northern France. Although generally in very good condition, it needed cleaning and conservation. The carcass and doors had moved and split, with some lifting and cracking of the mahogany veneers that were very dry in appearance. The gilt-bronze was dirty and had oxidized in some places. The cabinet was carefully dismantled in London and a re-hydration technique used to re-lay the veneer on the doors. A vacuum pump was used to draw air out of a specially-tailored plastic bag laid over a polycarbonate covering which acted as a clamp to reglue lifting areas of veneer. Polished surfaces were cleaned with an aqueous solution and non-ionic detergent to remove surface dirt. The shellac polish was rebuilt where the veneer repairs were carried out, and finally the whole cabinet was waxed with beeswax and Carnuba polish. The gilt-bronze mounts were washed with a non-ionic detergent, the oxidisation removed using Bioax. Once dried, they were given a coating of micro-crystalline wax.


John Webb


Height 8 ft. 1 3/4 in.; length 58 in.; width 20 5/8 in.


The original cabinet exhibited: Redgrave, Richard, Catalogue of Specimens of Cabinet Work, Exhibited at Gore House, London: George E. Eyre & William Spottiswoode, 1853; Catalogue of the Art Treasures of the United Kingdom Collected at Manchester in 1857, Manchester: Bradbury & Evans, 1857 (in keeping with other furniture, only the Gore House photographs of 1853 by Charles Thurston were exhibited). The present lot was loaned to the Wallace Collection by the present owner from 2002-2005.


Antologia di Belle Arti, 'Replicas of French Furniture made for the 4th Marquess of Hertford,' article by P. Hughes, Furniture Curator, Wallace Collection, no. 31-32, 1987, pp. 50-61; F. Litchfield, Illustrated History of Furniture, Tuslove & Hanson, London, (1922 ed.), illus., p. 394; Verlet, Pierre, Les Bronzes Dorés Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Picard, Paris, 1987, p. 345; Wainright, Clive, The Romantic Interior, Yale University, New Haven, 1989, pps. 45-46, for a discussion on John Webb; The Connoisseur, Vol. XXIX, no. 116, April 1911, Sir John Murray Scott's Collection in the Rue Lafitte, Paris, Part I, A. F. Morris, p. 216; Wallace Collection Catalogue, P. Hughes, The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, 1996, Vol. I, p. 33, fig. 1; Vol. III, Appendix VII, p. 1555, fig. 14; G. de Bellaigue, The James A De Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: Furniture Clocks and Gilt Bronzes, Vol. 1, p. 37.


Commissioned in 1853 by Richard Seymour-Conway, Viscount Beauchamp 1800, Earl of Yarmouth 1822, 4th Marquess of Hertford 1842; Thence by decent to his son Sir Richard Wallace (1818-1890), Lady Wallace (1819-1897), Sir John Murray Scott (1847-1912), bequeathed to Lady Sackville who sold the cabinet to Seligman; Hotel Drouot, Paris, March 18, 1957 (un-catalogued); Madame Marcel Tardieu; Etude Tajan, Hotel George V, Paris, May 25, 1996, Lot 160

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.