Culture Minister David Lammy has placed a temporary export ban on a highly important George II Gothick japanned cabinet from Easton Neston.
Henrietta Louis, Countess of Pomfret, undoubtedly commissioned the cabinet, but whether it was for Easton Neston or her London home is debatable.
From 1741, the Pomfrets lived both in London and at Easton Neston, but when Lady Pomfret's husband died in 1753. Her estranged son, deeply in debt, inherited the country house and proceeded to sell all the contents.
Rich in her own right, the Countess applied her eccentric taste and lively interest in early architecture, derived from a Roman Catholic upbringing in France, to an elaborate new home at 18 Arlington Street, St James's, nicknamed Pomfret Castle.
Around the same time her good friend Horace Walpole, who also had a London residence in Arlington Street, built his legendary Gothick revivalist castle, Strawberry Hill, in Twickenham, which still stands today.
Pomfret Castle was demolished in the 1930s with much of Arlington Street, but not before Country Life fully photographed the empty interiors, showing plasterwork and woodwork in the strong perpendicular style. The only other extant piece of furniture that can be attributed to the home is a large mahogany Gothick library table in the style of Chippendale, now at Temple Newsam House, near Leeds.
At Sotheby's in May 2005, the pine cabinet was documented as c.1755 and having been commissioned for Pomfret Castle. But since the Countess never returned to Easton Neston after her husband's death, and left her son completely out of her will, it is now being suggested by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) that it was made for Easton Neston before 1753, and either her son was unable to sell it or deliberately withheld it. It did not resurface until the late 20th century at Easton Neston, when it was photographed by Country Life.
Although it took a below-estimate £90,000 at the Easton Neston sale, it has been revalued at £1.2m. The temporary export ban gives institutions until December 5 to put together a serious plan to raise funds for its purchase.
Anyone interested in making an offer should contact the owner's agent through: The Secretary, The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Victoria House, Southampton Row, London WC1B 4EA.
By Stephanie Harris