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Pier table, English, circle of William Kent, early 18th century, painted softwood

Carved and painted softwood

Height: 72cm
Width: 112cm
Depth: 63cm

Museum number: H23

Curatorial note

This table is made of ornately carved painted softwood. The frieze is a rich egg and dart pattern incorporating scallop shells; the apron features a large central shell motif flanked by festoons of oak leaves and acorns, acanthus foliage and drapery drops; the ends have the same oak festoons, acanthus and drapes while the console (‘truss’) legs are enriched with acanthus leaves and on stepped square plinths.

The table is one of a pair with H22. These two tables seem to have been acquired without their original tops. They appear in an 1812 view of Soane's new drawing office at the back of 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, disassembled and stored beneath the office desks. They were later installed, stacked one on top of another, in a recess in the front hall, the lower one of the two being shown with what seems to be a grey marble top. They have now (2015) been put back in their original location in the Hall.

The provenance of these tables is first noted in the 1837 Inventory: ‘…formerly in Lord Yarborough’s House at Chelsea taken down in the Year 1810, to form a site for a new infirmary for the Royal Hospital’.

The new infirmary for the Royal Hospital at Chelsea was designed by Soane. There is no precise record of the acquisition of the tables but in a parliamentary publication, Further papers presented to the House of Commons relating to the Building of the New Infirmary, there is a copy of a report prepared by Soane and dated 24 April 1809 which mentions his seeing items for sale at Yarborough House:
To the Right honourable the Lords and others, Commissioners of the Chelsea Board ...
... All I knew before the 2d February last, respecting the premises belonging to Lord Yarborough and which formerly made a part of Chelsea Hospital, was from public report which stated that Government [sic] were about to purchase the premises for a residence for the Princess Charlotte of Wales. I once went into some of the rooms, to view some statues and vases, &c. that Lord Yarborough had left for sale...


In April 1809 Soane acquired through a Mr. Walker some statues and other items from Lord Yarborough's sale for £9.2s 6d.

The house at Chelsea had been Sir Robert Walpole’s residence in his capacity as Paymaster General of the Royal Hospital, between 1714 and his death in 1745, and there are grounds for suspecting that these tables were designed for him by William Kent (he was Kent’s great patron). Yet they do not appear in the recently discovered inventory of Walpole’s property. Their scale, reminiscent of the furniture made for Chiswick Villa, suggests that they were intended for a correspondingly small-scale room or rooms.

Dr Ian Bristow’s examination in 1994-95 concluded that both tables had originally been painted white over a red primer, typical of the early eighteenth century. At the time of their restoration by Spink Restoration in 1994-95 both tables were almost black, having been painted with a layer of ‘varnish’ to give the effect of a rich dark mahogany. This could have been done by Soane: the 1812 view is in monotone but shows them light grey rather than black and the view of the front hall in 1825 seems to show them a dark stone colour. A reference in the chronology in the New Description has been found which records that in 1893 ‘The three ‘carved wood tables’ (in the style of William Kent) were ordered to be painted’ [H22 and H23 and the third table on the north side of the Monk’s Parlour MP63]. MP63 has been left with its black surface (but with an area of green paint revealed on one side), while H22 had the top layer of varnish and later coats of paint removed to reveal the original stone colour with areas of loss touched in as necessary using suitable lead-based paint (1994-95). In 2015 Arlington Conservation (formerly Spink Restoration) examined both tables again, re-fixed loose elements and painted H22 to lose the black 1890s paint put on to make it more appropriate for display in the Monk's Parlour.

Soane displayed a third table from Yarborough House in the Monk’s Parlour (MP63).

In 2015 H22 and H23 were returned to the front hall stacked one on top of another.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Yarborough House (formerly Walpole House), Chelsea; in Soane’s collection by 1812.

Literature

R.W. Symonds, ‘Furniture in the Soane Museum’, Country Life, January 27 1950, pp. 220-23
Thornton and H. Dorey, A Miscellany of Objects from Sir John Soane’s Museum, 1992, p. 81, Figure 82
P. Thornton, ‘Soane’s Kent Tables,’ Furniture History, 1993, pp.59-65


If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk