An Exciting Discovery: From England to America and Back Again

Red Bookcase Met Osborne

A George II red japanned bureau bookcase Metropolitan Museum of Art

While doing research for our current exhibition, Looking East: Japanned Furniture of Georgian England, we were delighted to make a discovery that links a piece from our collection with the fantastic red japanned bureau bookcase at the Metropolitan Museum  of Art in New York.  To start with the bureau: This exceptional red japanned piece of furniture exemplifies the early Georgian interest in Asian lacquer and other imports from the Far East.

interior bookcase osborne met

Detail of the interior of a George II red japanned bureau bookcase 
Metropolitan Museum of Art

The form of the bureau is classically English with its shaped top, mirrored twin doors, and graduated drawers on the lower half.  The red japanned surface features gilt highlights with decorations of birds, dragons, flowers, and landscapes.

met bookcase

An archival photograph of the red japanned bureau bookcase 
Metropolitan Museum of Art

The bureau came to the Met in 1939 as a gift of James De Lancey Verplanck and John Bayard Rodgers Verplanck.  Their ancestor, Lieutenant Governor James De Lancey, acquired the bureau in 1753 at an auction.  The auction featured the contents of the collection of Sir Danvers Osborn, the royal governor of the State of New York.

Osborn had served in Parliament in in England before taking up the post as Royal Governor in 1753.  He arrived in New York on October 6 of that year and brought with him his furniture and possessions to set up life in New York.  Tragically, Osborn died on October 12, just six days later, by committing suicide.

M07.62

John Hoppner, Sir John Osborn
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection 

We have a portrait in our collection of Sir John Osborn painted by John Hopper.  The sitter of this portrait, Sir John Osborn, was the son of General Sir George Osborn, BT (1742-1818), who fought in the American Revolutionary War and served as the Groom of the Bedchamber to George III.  Osborn’s grandfather was the aforementioned Sir Danvers Osborn.  Therefore, Sir John Osborn’s grandfather was the owner of the red japanned bureau bookcase at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

M07.62

John Hoppner, Sir John Osborn
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection 

Sir John attended Oxford University and received a Doctorate of Civil Law. He married August Frederica Louis Valentia, daughter of Sir Charles Davers, BT, in 1809. He succeeded his father as fifth baronet in 1818, and he served as Colonel of the Bedfordshire Militia. He served as a member of parliament for various districts between 1807 and 1824.  You can read more about Sir John and his portrait by John Hoppner in our previous blog post here.

We are delighted to have made this connection and look forward to seeing the bureau in New York during our next visit to the Met.

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