Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
The wording of William Vile’s bill for the bookcase traditionally identified with this piece - ‘a very handsome Mohogany Bookcase . . . the whole very handsomely Carv’d . . . £107 4s’ - implies that it was made for Queen Charlotte (rather than the King) at Buckingham House. First, there is a reference to the fact that the carving on the bookcase was to match another piece of the Queen’s furniture, in her ‘Buro Closet’ at St James’s - perhaps the unidentified ‘Exceeding neat Mahogany Glass Case . . . Carved Exceeding Rich and neat & Exquisite fine Wood’, charged at £100. Second, the bill mentions that the bookcase was constructed so as to conceal a door into an adjacent water closet - a configuration that only fits Queen Charlotte’s Bedroom, which lay in the north-west corner of the first floor of Buckingham House overlooking the garden. That there is now no sign of such a door is probably due to an alteration executed five years later at a cost of £31 by John Bradburn, Vile’s successor, at which point ‘the Whole Front’ was ‘made into one Press’. This work was carried out to coincide with the creation of a new bedroom for the Queen, overlooking the east front of Buckingham House, and the addition of a new wing which included a library for the Queen. The bookcase was probably the one recorded in the Queen’s Blue Closet in the 1825 inventory of Buckingham House among the considerable quantity of old-fashioned furniture considered not worth keeping.
The strong architectural character of the bookcase - suggestive of the influence of Sir William Chambers and on the face of it perhaps more likely to appeal to the King’s taste than the Queen’s - is considerably tempered by the lavish carved decoration, which includes vividly and minutely rendered flower-swags and drops, oval laurel wreaths and rococo scrollwork and clasps. These embellishments may have been carried out by the specialist carver Sefferin Alken (fl.1744-83), who is known to have worked for Vile (and Chambers) on other occasions.
Catalogue entry adapted from George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, London, 2004