This monumental and highly crafted mahogany desk with its bronze enrichments and ebony-and-brass inlay has been described as 'One of the most stunning pieces of furniture produced in the pure Greek phase through which English furniture design passed around the year 1800' (see: D. Watkin, op. cit.)
It was commissioned by the celebrated soldier-statesman Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854) for Uxbridge House, Burlington Gardens; and is likely to have been supplied around the time he succeeded as 2nd Earl of Uxbridge in 1812. In 1815 the Prince Regent created him a Marquess for his services as Commander of the United British Cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo and he was described as 'his best officer and his best subject'. He acted as the King's Champion at George IV's Coronation Banquet of 1821.
The desk's design reflects the Regency architectonic 'antique' style promoted by the connoisseur Thomas Hope (d.1831). An influential member of the Society of Dilettanti, the furnishings of his mansion/museum in Duchess Street, were illustrated in its guide, entitled Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1807. While reflecting a debt to his friend Charles Percier's Receuil de Decoration Interieures, 1801, Hope aimed to promote Grecian decoration and the symbolic language of ancient ornament with his publication, which is so well represented by the Anglesey desk.
Conceived like an altar dedicated to study and standing on an unmoulded plinth, in the manner of the stylobate of a Grecian temple, its pedestal-facades are dedicated to the goddess Athena, from whom all productions of intellectual gifts of wisdom and understanding and every art and science, whether of war or of peace, were thought to derive. Her solemn 'owl' badge, flanked by the Greek letters of her name, Alpha and Theta, are encircled within flowered wreaths of the olive that was sacred to her. According to the ancient poets, it was Dionysus (Bacchus) son of Zeus, who was responsible for educating and civilising the Greeks as their first legislator; and in his other role as God of Festivities, the lion became associated with his Triumphs. So the desk's carrying-handles, which emerge from acanthus rosettes, and are framed by Grecian palmettes. A festive Grecian ribbon-fret of golden brass is inlaid in the 'Etruscan' black frieze, while the lozenged compartments of the central tablets display conjoined rings, ancient symbol of long life and an everlasting bond. Bacchic lion-paws terminate the pedestals' pilasters, whose lotus capitals, echoing those of the Grecian Temple of the Winds, are endebted to that icon of the Greek Revival, Stuart and Revett's Antiquities of Athens, 1762-95. Athena's olive-wreathed owl, as featured on Greek medals, also appeared as furniture embellishment.
The desk's form and ornament, such as the carrying-handles, correspond to the magnificent desk provided in 1811 for the Prince Regent and which featured as the centrepiece of his Blue Velvet Drawing Room in W.H. Pyne's publication Carlton House, 1817. The Royal desk was supplied by Thomas Tatham, (d.1818) of Messrs. Tatham, Bailey and Saunders, cabinet-makers of Mount Street, Mayfair; and, no doubt, his brother Charles Heathcote Tatham (d.1842), played a part in its design. The Tatham brothers can also be credited with a third desk, which once furnished Hothfield Place, Kent. It was supplied for the 9th Earl of Thanet and combines elements from both the Royal and the Anglesey desks (sold in these Rooms, 27 November 1969, lot 142).
C.H. Tatham, an architect, had been employed by the 1st Earl of Uxbridge before visiting Rome in the mid-1790's to study antiquities and assist with the decoration and furnishings of Carlton House. The bronze lion-heads on both the Prince's and the Anglesey desk typify Tatham's interest in such ornament, as represented in his publication of Etchings representing Fragments of Grecian and Roman Architectural Ornaments, 1806. The heads may have been provided by Alexis Decaix (d.1811) of Old Bond Street, the French bronze-founder and modeller who served as the Prince's bronze-founder and whose work was praised by Hope.
Since the Anglesey desk's first appearance at auction in 1945 it has featured in the most important publications on furniture and is perhaps best described by Dr Watkin:'Produced in the early years of the industrial revolution, at the moment when the Elgin Marbles were first on display in London, it is the out-come of a rare confluence of skills in technology, craftsmanship, architecture, and classical scholarship. Nowhere on the continent could such a piece of furniture have been produced at this moment. Its uncompromising and aggressive form gives it a reforming character: away with frippery, and forward to truth and antique purity, it seems to say. Royal in quality and association, it has a remarkable air of authority, both physical and intellectual'.
A REGENCY BRONZE-MOUNTED AND BRASS-INLAID EBONY AND MAHOGANY LIBRARY PEDESTAL DESK attributed to Marsh & Tatham, the rectangular gilt-tooled green leather-lined top crossbanded overall and banded by a brass-reeded border, the brass-inlaid ebony key-pattern frieze with four mahogany-lined drawers to the front and back flanking a central double-sided mahogany drawer inlaid with a quatrefoil-centred lozenge flanked by stylised scrolling flowerheads, the pedestals each with a panelled door mounted with the Owl of Wisdom flanked by A (alpha) and (Theta) within a bifurcated laurel wreath with central floral rosettes, one pedestal enclosing a fitted interior with four adjustable folio slides, the other with plain interior, with lotus-leaf capped pilaster monopodiae headed by lotus-leaf and patera panels, the triple-panelled sides mounted with a tamed lioness mask with ring-handle, with anthemion quadrant angles flanked by anthemion and lotus-enriched clasps, upon a breakfront H-shaped plinth base, the locks stamped CROWN PATENT above a crown, minor restorations
The Property of the late Sir John Musker
Sold by Order of the Executors
R. Edwards and P. Macquoid, The Dictionary of English Furniture, London, rev. ed., 1954, vol. III, p.259, fig. 46
R. Edwards, The Shorter Dictionary of English Furniture, London, 1964, p.564, fig. 33
M. Jourdain, Regency Furniture, London, rev. ed., 1965, p.74
D. Watkin, 'The Anglesey Desk', Christie's International Magazine, June/July 1993, pp. 18-20
Almost certainly supplied to Lieutenant-General Lord Uxbridge, created Marquess of Anglesey in 1815, for Uxbridge House, Burlington Gardens
Thence by descent to the 6th Marquess of Anglesey, sold Sotheby's London, 30 November 1945, lot 144 (700 guineas to Partridge)
Sir John Musker, Shadwell Park, Norfolk