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Frederic Clay Bartlett (1873 - 1953)



April 9, 2003
New York, NY, US

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Mid-18th century, originally part of a larger table The later rectangular verde antico marble tops above an interlaced Greek-key, foliate and ribbon-twist frieze raised on griffin supports with a sanded plinth on further stepped Vitruvian-scrolled plinth base, each lower plinth with a vertical cut to one opposing side 171/2 in. from the back edge which was filled with a section in gilt-mahogany in the later 18th or early 19th Century, suggesting that the griffins originally formed part of larger table and were re-used in the later 18th or early 19th Century when the friezes were added, the present gilding first half 19th Century and with traces of an earlier water-gilding to the griffins 35 in. (90 cm.) high, 401/2 in. (103 cm.) wide, 211/2 in. (54.5 cm.) deep (2) PROVENANCE Acquired by the American painter Frederick Clay Bartlett (d.1953) and his wife Evelyn Fortune Bartlett (d.1997) for Whitehall, Beverly, Massachusetts circa 1925, where they remained until 1997. NOTES The introduction of the marble-topped console-table with plinth-supported Roman eagle is generally credited to the artist/architect William Kent (d. 1748), who was appointed Master Mason of King George II's Board of Works in 1726. Fighting eagles, perched on a console table, featured in his illustrations for Pope's 1727 translation of Homer's Iliad. However, the earliest surviving illustration of such a table, accompanying a sconce or pier-glass, featured on the 1739 printed bill-head of Francis Brodie (d. 1782), cabinet-maker of Edinburgh (see: Furniture History Journal, Leeds, 1983, pl. 24a). These tables - with their chimerical winged 'griffon' or 'opinicus couchant' supports (a beast with the body and fore legs of a lion, the head, neck and wings of an eagle and the tail of a camel) are apparently unique in English furniture and almost certainly have heraldic references, the beast being the supporters of the Arms of the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers and the Worshipful Company of Barber Surgeons. Emblematic of courage and wisdom and a reference to those that guarded the goldmines of the Scythians in classical antiquity, such paired 'griffins' only started to appear in the vocabulary of neoclassical ornament in the late 1750's, Sir William Chambers' assistant John Yenn for instance producing a presentation drawing for a griffin candlestick in the 1760's (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London). This type of mythical beast was a fundamental part of the classical revolution brought about by Richard, 3rd Earl of Burlington and his circle, and can be seen most clearly at Chiswick House, where the Italian sculptor Giovanni-Battista Guelfi supplied a pair of Portland stone sphinxes, which were subsequently copied in lead by John Cheere circa 1748 (illustrated in J. Davis, Antique Garden Ornament, Woodbridge, 1991, p. 95). Chiswick also lends credence to the theory that the 'Opinicus' on these tables are a heraldic reference, as the carver John Boson (d.1743) supplied a pair of pier-glasses and matching tables with owl supports around 1735 for the Countess of Burlington's Dressing Room at Chiswick (G. Jackson-Stops, ed., 'The Treasure Houses of Britain', Exhibition Catalogue, Washington D.C., 1986, p. 220, no. 142). The owl was a direct reference to the Countess' family, the Saviles, as well as being an attribute of Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom. Interestingly, this 'corrupted' form of 'griffin' (a griffins should, technically, have eagle talon feet) featured on the frieze of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in Rome, which was illustrated by Desgodetz in Les Edifices Antiques de Rome of 1682. This engraved source in turn served as the template for the griffin 'passant' frieze in the Palm Room at Spencer House, introduced by John Vardy in 1757 as a play on the Spencer family crest (illustrated in J. Friedman, Spencer House, London, 1993, p.115). One opposing side of the lowest tier of each 'altar' plinth on these tables has been later enclosed by a section of mahogany, suggesting that these 'opinicus' 'griffon' supports were originally joined at the back by some form of stretcher, and were altered into their present form in the later 18th or early 19th Century. Although the original form of the table is conjecture, an interesting parallel can be drawn with the sphinx-supported table at Badminton House, Gloucestershire, which was almost certainly introduced by William Kent himself, as he has designed Worcester Lodge for the Duke of Beaufort in the 1740's. The Badminton table is illustrated in P. Macquoid, A History of English Furniture, The Age of Mahogany, London, 1906, p. 17, fig. 15. A comparable Regency 'antiquarian' re-use of George II elements is displayed on the pair of side tables which originally formed part of the furnishings of the Georgian mansion at Highclere, Hampshire, which was inherited in 1811 by Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Carnarvon (d. 1833). Of these, one was sold from the collection of the late Michael Behrens, Esq, Christie's London, 9 July 1998, lot 29. Almost certainly enlarged around 1811, these latter tables displayed eagles and elements of the plinths which no doubt originated as pier-tables commissioned by The Hon. William Herbert (d. 1757), whose brother Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke, was King George II's 'First Lord of the Bedchamber'. Lord Pembroke shared the passion of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, for Palladian architecture, and commissioned the celebrated 'sphynx' furniture (now at Wilton House) which was executed to the designs of the architect William Kent (d. 1748), Master Carpenter at the Royal Board of Works ('The Treasure Houses of Britain', Exhibition Catalogue, Washington, 1985, no. 162). Further animals employed to support such 'Kentian' pier tables include entwined dolphins (such as those at Boughton House, Northamptonshire and in Queen Caroline's Drawing Room at Kensington Palace, illustrated in situ in W.H. Pyne's Royal Residences, 1817-20) and foxes, as on the pair attributed to Henry Flitcroft at Firle Place, Sussex, the sideboard table from Coleshill House, Wiltshire and now in The Victoria and Albert Museum, and those at Longford Castle, Wiltshire. THE PROVENENCE Although the 'opinicus' supports are probably heraldic, the only records at the College of Arms that have so far come to light for these beasts prior to the 20th Century are as supporters for the Arms of the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers and the Worshipful Company of Barber Surgeons. Incorporated in 1556 and 1561 respectively, these two City Livery Companies are apparently unrelated, and it is certainly a possibility that these tables could have been commissioned by either Guild (or a member thereof). In the early 20th Century, the tables were acquired by the celebrated American art collector and painter Frederick Clay Bartlett (1873-1953). An artist who studied at the Royal Academy in Munich in 1894 before attending James McNeil Whistler's Academie Carmen in Paris, Bartlett was greatly influenced by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. With his second wife, Helen Birch Bartlett (d.1925), he collected a superb group of Impressionist paintings, bought almost exclusively in Europe, including Georges Seurat's masterpiece Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte, which he bequeathed along with twenty-five works in her memory to the Art Institute of Chicago. These tables were acquired by Bartlett and his third wife Evelyn Fortune Bartlett for Whitehall, Massachusetts, shortly after they bought the Little & Browne House in the Spring of 1925 from Francis I. Armory. Their house in Florida, Bonnet House, was given by Mrs. Bartlett to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation in 1983 and is now a historic house museum reflecting the lifestyle, interests and aesthetic sensibilities of these two philanthropists.

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April 9, 2003, 12:00 AM EST

New York, NY, US