An extremely fine, rare and important matched pair of late George III – early Regency period ormolu and brass mounted small writing tables, firmly attributed to John McLean,
Circa 1800 and 1810.
One in mahogany, the other one in rosewood, inlaid overall with boxwood and ebonised lines; each with a crossbanded adjustable ratcheted top, with gilt brass bound edge and tooled black leather lined writing surface, over a cedar-lined frieze side drawer and a leather lined writing slide to the front, the corners mounted with recessed reeded brass panels, over the turned, chased ormolu collars mounted tapering legs, terminating in original brass-capped castors. Both tables have silk-lined sliding screens at the reverse; the one in mahogany has a detachable book-rest and an inverted serpentine-fronted, pierced brass galleried lower tier. Minor variations in dimensions and decoration.
Table 1 (in mahogany):
Width: 23.6 in / 60 cm
Depth: 17.3 in / 44 cm
Height: 30.7 in / 78 cm
Table 2 (in rosewood):
Width: 23.4 in / 59.5 cm
Depth: 17.3 in / 44 cm
Height: 31.5 in / 80 cm
Being designed in a more restrained ‘Franglais’ manner after Jean-Henri Riesener’s original, supplied in 1780 for Marie-Antoinette’s cabinet intérieur at Versailles, these elegant tables epitomise the finest work of the London cabinet-maker John McLean. McLean’s firm is notable for its regular use of trade labels, several versions of which are recorded, bearing the firm’s name and various addresses. One of such labels reads: ‘Elegant / PARISIAN FURNITURE / WAREROOMS ‘. The mention of ‘Parisian Furniture’ is particularly interesting as the design of the firm’s earlier furniture, of which the present tables are finest examples, displays lightness and delicacy, inspired by French prototypes. An announcement in The Times of January 31, 1806 declared that the firm ‘have re-opened their Warerooms with a new and elegant assemblage of Parisian furniture’, further advertising on February 11, 1811 that they wished to ‘acquaint the Nobility, gentry and Public in general, they have in their Ware rooms a new and elegant assortment of every article of useful and ornamental furniture….’.
The group of labelled furniture displays such a distinctive artistic personality that many similar unlabelled items can be confidently attributed to their workshops. The pieces owe much to French influence, not only in their design but in their lavish use of delicate finely chased gilt bronze mounts. They favoured dark rosewood, often combined with boxwood strings and satinwood crossbanding. Their use of a unique repertoire of gilt mounts, not encountered on other furniture of the period is a valuable aid to attribution.
Having workshops in Upper Marylebone High Street from 1783 to 1825, John Mclean seems to have had a broad operation, supplying patrons such as the Earl of Jersey at Middleton Park, Oxfordshire, and Edward Lascelles for Harewood House. Sheraton praised his work for its finish “in the neatest manner” in the Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book, 1793, where a similar type of leather-lined hinged-top table, was entitled ‘Lady’s Cabinet and Writing Table’.