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William Vile (c. 1700–67)

William Vile was an eighteenth century English cabinet-maker. He was born in 1715, likely in Somerset. In 1750 he entered into a partnership with John Cobb. From 1761 to 1764, they held the Royal Warrant as 'Cabinet makers and Upholsterers to His Majesty King George III'. During this period a great deal of new furniture was supplied for King George III and Queen Charlotte (1744–1818) at St James's Palace and for The Queen's House (now Buckingham Palace). Vile's workshop mastered current fashions very quickly, especially when supplying Queen Charlotte, whose personal taste seems to have been more adventurous than the king's.

Many of Vile's pieces demonstrate an effort to develop a distinctive vocabulary for the queen's furniture. For example, his secretaire cabinet demonstrates an intentional departure from the conventional form of a 'Lady's Secretary'. The unusual shape of the base, exotic thuya-wood veneers for the interior of the writing drawer, and elaborately scrolling crowned cornice all showcase Vile's skills and intuition as a designer. Also in the Royal Collection is a commode attributed to Vile. This elaborately shaped commode, veneered with lustrous padouk, inlaid on the top with engraved brass, and fitted with exuberant mounts of lacquered brass, expresses the manner in which French rococo design of the 1740s and 1750s was adapted to suit the personal taste of the queen.

Vile's Jewel Cabinet, which was placed in the queen's private apartments at St James's Palace, is considered by many to be his masterpiece. It was by far the single most costly piece of furniture Vile made for the king and queen. Vile's bill for the cabinet describes it as, 'very handsome […] made of many different kinds of fine Woods'. Queen Charlotte's coat of arms appears in ivory inlay on the hinged top while trophies emblematic of Fame or Victory and Plenty adorn its doors. Vile's skilful use of ivory inlay suggests a familiarity with continental European practice, either Italian or German. The cabinet was later moved to the queen's new bedchamber at Buckingham House and was given a marbled leather cover.

Following Vile's death in 1764 his partner, John Cobb, was not invited to supply any further pieces to the royal family. Vile was succeeded by John Bradburn as cabinet-maker to the Great Wardrobe in 1764.


Objects associated with William Vile (c. 1700–67)