Today’s Flora & Fauna catalogue highlight is a George II secretaire cabinet attributed to John Channon with a brilliant panther mask engraved escutcheon. Like William Gomm, John Channon was not known in the cannon of furniture history until the second half of the twentieth century. Noted furniture historians, including R. W. Symonds, identified the incredible quality of a group of, specifically brass-inlaid, furniture, but identifying a cabinetmaker eluded them at the time. John Hayward, the Deputy Keeper of the Department of Furniture at the Victoria and Albert Museum can be credited with the discovery of Channon’s workshop and production as published in the Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin in 1965-66.
Possibly of Huguenot origin, Channon came from a family of cabinet-makers from Essex. He established his business in London in 1737 in St Martin’s Lane and achieved great popularity during the reign of George II with prominent patrons. Channon is the attributed maker of the ‘Murray’ bureau at Temple Newsam House, Leeds and the ‘Beckford’ bureau-dressing-table, one of a pair, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In his research, Hayward explored the possibility that the brass mounts could have been supplied by other craftsmen, particularly those with Continental training. Broadly speaking, brass-inlaid furniture tends to display Continental characteristics and a particular resemblance to Germanic decoration of the time. This association suggests the involvement of German immigrant craftsmen, and Abraham Roentegen, famed for his brass-inlaid work, is a leading contender as he was working in London in the 1730s.
Designs for such detailed brass ornamentation would have been published in London and readily available in print shops in Great Newport Street and the Strand, adjacent to St Martin’s Lane. Notable examples include Gaetano Brunetti’s Sixty Different Sorts of Ornament (1732), B. Toro’s Masks and Other Ornaments (1745), and P. Babel’s A New Book of Ornaments (1752)
One of the notable features of this cabinet is the scrolled cartouche-escutcheon, which is elaborately engraved with a fabulous panther mask surrounded, fountain-like, by scrolling Roman-acanthus foliage, which recalls the engraved ‘arabesque’ ornament published by French ornamentalists such as Jean Berain and Daniel Marot. This escutcheon features a hinged hidden key-hole cover, which can be released by a concealed spring. This feature can also be seen on some of Channon’s other sophisticated pieces.