Near Pair of Regency Writing Tables attributed to John McLean
An extremely fine, rare and important matched pair of late George III - early Regency period ormolu and brass mounted small writing tables, firmly attributed to John McLean,
Circa 1800 and 1810.
One in mahogany, the other one in rosewood, inlaid overall with boxwood and ebonised lines; each with a crossbanded adjustable ratcheted top, with gilt brass bound edge and tooled black leather lined writing surface, over a cedar-lined frieze side drawer and a leather lined writing slide to the front, the corners mounted with recessed reeded brass panels, over the turned, chased ormolu collars mounted tapering legs, terminating in original brass-capped castors. Both tables have silk-lined sliding screens at the reverse; the one in mahogany has a detachable book-rest and an inverted serpentine-fronted, pierced brass galleried lower tier. Minor variations in dimensions and decoration.
A writing and reading screen table identical to the present one in mahogany, but executed in rosewood, formerly with H. Blairman and Sons Ltd, bearing John McLean’s trade label for 1798-1805, is illustrated in Margaret Jourdain, English Furniture: the Georgian Period, 1953, p. 103, figs 70, 71; and Simon Redburn, 'John McLean and Son', Furniture History, 1978, vol. XIV, pl. 31b and 36a; subsequently sold Christie’s London, 14 November 1996, lot 160 (£34,500). McLean's firm generally favoured dark rosewood, and the present table is possibly a unique example known to have been made in mahogany.
Being designed in a more restrained ‘Franglais’ manner after Jean-Henri Riesener's original, supplied in 1780 for Marie-Antoinette's cabinet intérieur at Versailles, these elegant tables epitomise the finest work of the London cabinet-maker John McLean. McLean’s firm is notable for its regular use of trade labels, several versions of which are recorded, bearing the firm’s name and various addresses. One of such labels reads: ‘Elegant / PARISIAN FURNITURE / WAREROOMS ‘. The mention of 'Parisian Furniture' is particularly interesting as the design of the firm's earlier furniture, of which the present tables are finest examples, displays lightness and delicacy, inspired by French prototypes. An announcement in The Times of January 31, 1806 declared that the firm ‘have re-opened their Warerooms with a new and elegant assemblage of Parisian furniture’, further advertising on February 11, 1811 that they wished to ‘acquaint the Nobility, gentry and Public in general, they have in their Ware rooms a new and elegant assortment of every article of useful and ornamental furniture….’.
The group of labelled furniture displays such a distinctive artistic personality that many similar unlabelled items can be confidently attributed to their workshops. The pieces owe much to French influence, not only in their design but in their lavish use of delicate finely chased gilt bronze mounts. They favoured dark rosewood, often combined with boxwood strings and satinwood crossbanding. Their use of a unique repertoire of gilt mounts, not encountered on other furniture of the period is a valuable aid to attribution.
Having workshops in Upper Marylebone High Street from 1783 to 1825, John Mclean seems to have had a broad operation, supplying patrons such as the Earl of Jersey at Middleton Park, Oxfordshire, and Edward Lascelles for Harewood House. Sheraton praised his work for its finish “in the neatest manner” in the Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book, 1793, where a similar type of leather-lined hinged-top table, was entitled 'Lady's Cabinet and Writing Table'.
Furniture History, The Journal of the Furniture History Society, 1978, vol. XIV, ‘John McLean and Son’, Simon Redburn, pp. 31-37. pls. 31b, 36a;
Margaret Jourdain, English Furniture: the Georgian Period, 1953, p. 103, figs 70, 71;
Mallett, The Age of Matthew Boulton: Masterpieces of Neo-classicism, London, 2003, pp.97-98;
Edward Lennox Boyd, Ed., Masterpieces of English Furniture – The Gerstenfeld Collection, 1998, p.204;
Country Life, 28 May 1964, p. 1337; 16 July, p. 110 and 3 September, p. 430; 12 June 1969; 20 January 1983, p. 139;
The Connoisseur, vol. 132 (1953), p. 187; March 1974; March 1976;
C. Musgrave, Regency Furniture, pl. 76;
G. Wills, English Furniture 1760–1900, p. 183;
Sotheby's, 12 November 1982, lot 84;
Christie’s London, 14 November 1996, lot 160;
D. Alcouffe, Le mobilier du Louvre, Dijon, Editions Faton,1993, tome 1, pp. 270-271;
C. Baulez, "Le grand cabinet intérieur de Marie-Antoinette. Décor , mobilier et collections", in Les laques du Japon, collections de Marie-Antoinette, musée national du château de Versailles 15 octobre 2001 - 7 janvier 2002;
P. Verlet, "Notes on eighteenth century French Objets d'Art", in The Art Quarterly, volume XXXI, n 4, 1968, p. 361 et pp. 374-376, fig. 9.