An unusual George IV specimen marble backgammon table attributed to Gillows. This rectangular table is strongly attributed to Gillows. It has a rectangular top inlaid with a central chess board flanked by two backgammon fields, all inlaid with a multitude of specimen marbles. One edge carved and gilded with the Latin motto ‘Turpe est in patria vivere et patriam ignorare’. The oak base has a drawer for cards and playing pieces, all raised on a square section support with four splayed legs and the original brass castors. English, circa 1830.
Provenance: Geoffrey Bennison Ltd, London, November 1983
The Mermaid House Collection, St. John’s Wood, London
Property of a gentleman
Private American collection
The form of the base of this table is related to several known Gillows commissions from the late Regency period and the quality of the cabinet work also suggests that firm attribution to the firm. Backgammon tables, rather than more general games tables, are unusual at this date and the use of inlaid specimen marbles in the top suggests a client of wealth. Additionally, the Latin text on the edge of the table provides further clues. The text, Turpe est in patria vivere et patriam ignorare, translates as “it is shameful to live in your homeland and not know it”. This phrase dates back to antiquity but rose to prominence once again in the mid-18th century when used by the botanist and key Enlightenment figure Carl Linnaeus in his work on the native flora of Sweden. The combination of this phrase and the use of native English timbers and marbles is promoting English raw materials and craftsmanship at a time when the noble and the wealthy were focussed on European pietra dura tables.
Mermaid House in St John’s Wood was re-designed by Chester Jones, at that time at Colefax and Fowler the famous firm of interior decorators, from 1980 onwards. An artist’s impression of the client’s library shows the present table at the far right of the image. The table was purchased, from the highly respected decorative dealer Geoffrey Bennison in 1983.