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William Vile (c. 1700–67)

Secretaire cabinet c.1762-7

Mahogany, thuya, oak, gilt bronze | 213.4 x 94.0 x 45.7 cm (whole object) | RCIN 2571

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  • This highly distinctive piece of furniture has traditionally been identified with an entry in William Vile’s bill of 1762 for ‘an Exceeding fine Mohogany Secretary . . . a Sett of Shelves at Top with a Crown Carv.d at Top’, supplied in 1762 for Queen Charlotte’s Dressing Room at St James’s Palace for the considerable sum of £72. Assuming the identification to be correct, this piece was originally differently configured, with open shelves in the upper section: the present cupboards, with Chinese fretwork doors and sides backed with panels of glass, were added by John Bradburn five years later, by which time the secretaire had been moved to the Queen’s apartments at Richmond Lodge. Bradburn’s bill, which includes the cost of making a drawing of the new element to show to the Queen at Richmond for her approval, as well as the manufacture of the ‘Neat Mahogany Glass Case . . . with Neat frett Work Doors in front, and Ends, and 8 Squares of plate Glass to Ditto’, cost £22. Although no mention is made of it, Bradburn evidently reused the carved upper section of Vile’s cabinet with the crown finial. This transformation, which was carried out extremely neatly, is just perceptible from the back of the cabinet. With this piece, notably in the most unusual commode-shaped base, Vile departed some way from the conventional form of a ‘Lady’s Secretary’ of the kind popularised by leading makers of the period, for example Mayhew and Ince in their pattern-book of 1762, the Universal System. Other features, such as the choice of glamorously flared mahogany veneers, exotic thuya-wood decoration for the interior of the writing drawer and elaborately scrolling crowned cornice, all suggest an attempt by the cabinet-maker to develop a distinctive vocabulary for the Queen’s furniture. Bradburn’s skilful alteration, in which Queen Charlotte evidently played a decisive role, added a further exotic strand to the rich vocabulary already present, while also providing two lockable glazed cabinets to contain and protect valuable books. Catalogue entry adapted from George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, London, 2004
    Provenance

    Made for Queen Charlotte (#71; PRO LC9/307, no.21, qtr to Lady Day). Altered by John Bradburn in 1767

  • Medium and techniques

    Mahogany, thuya, oak, gilt bronze

    Measurements

    213.4 x 94.0 x 45.7 cm (whole object)