The upper cabinet with a molded swan-neck pediment termination in gilt flowerheads over two rectangular beveled mirrored doors opening to a fitted interior of small drawers, shelves, pigeonholes, and marbleized pilasters surrounding a central mirrored cupboard door, the insides with nashiji ground decoration, also with a secret compartment, each of the interior panels of the cabinet doors depict a magnificent ship, the lower slightly bombe section with a slope front enclosing a similarly fitted interior, the interior of the fall-front inset with a velvet writing surface, above two short and two long drawers, raised on bracket feet, decorated all over with green ground, which would have originally appeared blue, covered with exotic chinoiserie figures, mythical beasts, pavilions, flowers, and foliage; drawers incised with 'W' and roman numerals to the reverse, and some interior drawers further numbered in red chalk, with old shipping or depository labels applied to the back: 'WOODBRIDGE & CO. LTD./88, Fenchurch Street, London, E.C.3., England/ No. 0049', the hardware apparently original, one mirror plate possibly original and re-silvered, the other a well-matched replacement, with some refreshments to the japanning
9434 in. (240.7 cm.) high, 42 in. (106.7 cm.) wide, 24 in. (61 cm.) deep

Probably acquired by James John Van Alen (1846-1923) for Wakehurst, Newport, Rhode Island in the 1880s or 1890s,
Thence by descent in the family at Wakehurst, where it was photographed in the Sitting Room in 1957,
The Collection of Mrs. Louise Astor Van Alen Saunderson (1910-1997) and her husband Mr. Alexander 'Sandy' Saunderson (1917-2004), Montecito, California.
The Property of a Gentleman [Mr. and Mrs. Saunderson]; Christie's, New York, 20 April 1985, lot 173.
Acquired by Fritz and Lucy Jewett from the above sale.

Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc. [photographer], ‘Mrs. Louis Brugiere, Wakehurst, residence in Newport, Rhode Island. Sitting room.’ Acetate negative. Newport, RI. 25 Feb. 1957. From the Library of Congress, Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, Prints and Photographs Division. (accessed 19 April 2024).
Sale Room Notice
Additional provenance has been discovered for this lot, which was formerly in the collection of the Van Alen family at Wakehurst in Newport, Rhode Island. Please refer to the updated provenance and catalogue note for further details.
Brought to you by

Lot Essay

The renowned American society leader and anglophile James John Van Alen (1846-1923) was married to Emily Astor (1854-1881), the eldest daughter of William Backhouse Astor, Jr. (1829-1892) and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor (1830-1908), in 1847. Together they had three children, including James Laurens Van Alen (1878-1927) (who married Margaret ‘Daisy’ Louise Post in 1900). Emily Astor died in childbirth in 1881, leaving James John Van Alen a widower after only five years of marriage.

As a distraction from his grief, James J. Van Alen poured himself into a new building project with funds and land on Ochre Point in Newport. Rhode Island, which were gifted to him by his father. He commissioned the British architect Charles Eamer Kempe to design Wakehurst, his Newport home, as a replica of the Elizabethan manor house in Sussex, England, of almost the same name, Wakehurst Place.

Wakehurst was completed around 1887, and has been recognized as the first house in America to embrace the concept of ‘museum rooms’. The state rooms on the ground floor were famously taken directly from English houses that had recently been demolished, and the rooms and their contents were shipped to and reconstructed in Newport. Van Alen filled the interiors of Wakehurst with exceptional antiques, many of which were acquired from auctions of the leading homes in Europe during the last two decades of the 19th century.

Van Alen was a lavish host, and the extravagant balls and dinners held at Wakehurst are well recorded by the many famous Gilded Age guests. With the onset of Prohibition, however, Van Alen permanently relocated to France and England where he ultimately died in 1923, leaving Wakehurst to his son James Laurens Van Alen. His son died a few short years later, and in turn, Wakehurst was passed to his wife Margaret ‘Daisy’ Louise Post. Daisy moved permanently to Wakehurst and is remembered as one of the last great Gilded Age hostesses. She remarried to Mr. Louis S. Bruguiére, also an avid art connoisseur, in 1948 until his death in 1954. The interiors of Wakehurst were photographed in 1957 during her time there, and the bureau-cabinet is shown in the Sitting Room (see: Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., Acetate negative, Newport, 25 Feb. 1957, Library of Congress). Upon Daisy’s death in 1969, Wakehurst was left to her three children. Much of the art collection was sold off, although some pieces including this bureau-cabinet remained with members of the family. Wakehurst was ultimately sold to Salve Regina College, and it remains the central building of the college today.

In 1985, this bureau-cabinet was sold at Christie's New York from the collection of Alexander 'Sandy' Saunderson (d.2004) and Louise Astor Van Alen Saunderson (d.1997). The couple inherited and collected choice objects from the traditions of Anglo-Irish landed gentry and prominent Americans shopping on European grand tours. Saunderson, a captain in the Rifle Brigade, German prisoner-of-war during most of World War II, and aide-de-camp to Lord Lawrence, was the last private owner of Castle Saunderson, an historic house and estate on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland which had been in his family for more than three centuries. Louise, who died in 1998, was the great grand-daughter of William Backhouse Astor and great-niece of Frederick Vanderbilt. She grew up at Wakehurst, the colossal Newport home built by her grandfather, James John Van Alen, and furnished by him on near-constant European travels in the 1880's and 90's. He probably acquired this bureau-cabinet for Wakehurst during that time. The Saunderson's home in Montecito, Santa Barbara was furnished with treasures from Castle Saunderson and Wakehurst as well as from their own travels.

This impressive bureau-cabinet would have been a significant commission by a patron entranced by the exotic art of the East. Attributed to Giles Grendey (1693-1780), the prolific cabinetmaker of St. John's Square, Clerkenwell, London, it shares distinctive ornamentation and designs with important and lavishly japanned examples from his workshop. Grendey ran a substantial business from 1726 when he took on his first apprentices until at least the late 1760s; in 1766 he was appointed Master of the Joiners' Company. Described at his wife's death as a 'great Dealer in the Cabinet way', in 1755 at the time of his daughter's marriage to the Royal cabinet-maker, John Cobb (d. 1778), he was referred to as an 'eminent Timber Merchant'.
Grendey was also deeply involved in the timber and export business, which may have led to his production of japanned furniture for the export trade, notably for Italy and the Iberian peninsula where such work was much in demand. Accounts in the Public Record Office indicate that England exported considerable quantities of furniture to Spain and Portugal in the first half of the eighteenth century. Grendey clearly had a substantial export business as early as 1731, when a fire on his premises resulted in an enormous loss of £1,000 in furniture which he 'had pack'd for Exportation against the next Morning' (R. W. Symonds, 'Giles Grendey and the Export Trade of English Furniture to Spain', Apollo, 1935, pp. 337-342). The discovery of labeled mirrors in Norway also indicate that Grendey exported goods to Scandinavia.

His most celebrated commission was the extensive suite of more than seventy-seven scarlet-japanned items including seat furniture en suite with 'pier-set' card-tables, mirrors and secretaire-cabinets, supplied around 1740 for the Duke of Infantado's Spanish castle at Lazcano in northern Spain. This ranks among the most celebrated suites of eighteenth century English furniture with many of the pieces from this suite now in public collections.

The form of the bureau cabinet was an English invention developed in the 17th century which soon found favor in many countries in both North and South Europe, with the notable exception of France. The English influence was strengthened in Continental Europe after the Treatise on Japanning was published in England in 1668 by Messrs. Stalker and Parker, which provided a series of images appropriate for artists imitating Eastern lacquer. In Dresden, the bureau-cabinet came to be known as an Englischer Schreibschrank and soon became the most important piece in the cabinet-makers oeuvre, although it was likely that many examples were still made in England by Grendey and other cabinet-makers and transported abroad.

Related Articles

Sorry, we are unable to display this content. Please check your connection.

More from
The Collector: New York
Place your bid Condition report

A Christie's specialist may contact you to discuss this lot or to notify you if the condition changes prior to the sale.

I confirm that I have read this Important Notice regarding Condition Reports and agree to its terms. View Condition Report