We are continuing our series ‘Friday Finds’ looking at some archival material related to the exceptional pair of Stowe card tables in our collection. This very fine pair of George III kingwood and brass-inlaid card tables is attributed to John Cobb. The table tops are quarter-veneered with a mounted edge, and the tops enclose a sliding tray with a container for cards. The tables feature a shaped frieze and stand on cabriole legs with ormolu sabots. Each table boasts outstanding ormolu mounts to the knees.
The tables were presumably supplied to George Grenville, Marquess of Buckingham (1755-1813) for Stowe House, Buckinghamshire.
Stowe House, Buckinghamshire is one of the largest and grandest of England’s stately homes. The first house on the site was built for Sir Richard Temple, 3rd Baronet (1634-1697) between 1677 and 1683. Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham (1675-1749) commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) to significantly expand the house in the early 18th century to a span of almost 1,000 feet. The house and the surrounding grounds were continually updated and developed by later generations who hired notable architects and landscape designers including William Kent, Capability Brown, James Gibbs, Robert Adam, and John Soane.
The present tables were almost certainly commissioned by Viscount Cobham’s grandson, George Grenville, Marquess of Buckingham, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1755-1813). Grenville attended Oxford before embarking on a Grand Tour through Italy and Austria in 1774. During his tenure, the Marquess of Buckingham expanded the family’s collection and focused his attentions on enhancing both Stowe and his London residence, Buckingham House (later to become of course Buckingham Palace). He commissioned John Soane (1753-1837) to carry out both of these projects. At Stowe, the Marquess of Buckingham acquired fantastic quantities of fine furniture, paintings and works of art to compliment the grandeur and magnificence of the interiors
The Temple-Grenville family hosted a number of notable guests throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, including Prince Frederick, the Prince of Wales, King Christian VII of Denmark, Horae Walpole, The Prince Regent, and King Louis XVIII amongst many others.
Richard Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham (1797-1861) accrued a great number of debts, so much so that he became known as the Greatest Debtor in the world. After the sale of Buckingham House in 1847, the family sold much of the contents of Stowe, including paintings, furniture, wine, and other assets through Christie’s landmark forty-day auction in 1848.
These tables can be attributed to the workshop of John Cobb (1715-1780). The son-in-law of Giles Grendey, Cobb became a Royal cabinetmaker in partnership with William Vile (1700-1767) from 1751 until Vile’s retirement in 1764.
The English fascination and appreciation of French design was well established in 18th century England. Despite the curtailment of trade during The Seven Years War of 1756-1763 the appetite for French fashions in England did not subside. Due to the trade restrictions, English craftsmen sought to emulate French designs for their patrons who wanted their furniture and art to reflect contemporary leading French taste. These tables with their quarter-veneered tops of exotic kingwood, elegant serpentine feminine form together with graceful cabriole legs, the friezes similarly veneered and inlaid with brass, and exuberant ormolu mounts epitomize this French taste.
The present tables relate both in profile and construction to a further pair of card tables with the same Stowe provenance (offered Sotheby’s New York, Tom Devenish: The Collection, Highly Important Furniture, 24th April 2008, lot 115). Both pairs share the same form of frieze and concertina action, and the other pair is shown illustrated in situ in Stowe, circa 1920 in the Green Drawing Room.
Stowe remained in the family until 1921. The house became Stowe School in 1923, and it still operates, with its magnificent interiors, as such today.