An undisputed ‘ace’ of English furniture, this ‘glasscase’ was supplied by the St Martin’s Lane cabinet-maker William Vile to Queen Charlotte (1744- 1818) for the Bow Closet in St James’s Palace.
The original commission is recorded in an account of payments made to Vile in 1761. The entry reads: For an exceeding neat Mohogony [sic] Glasscase with Plate Glass Doors at Top & Wood Doors at bottom Carv’d exceeding Rich & neat & Exquisite fine wood, all the backs & Shelves of Mohogony. Very fine Locks & 3 keys two of them Pearc’d & Engraved in a very neat Manner. £100.
The piece, owned by leading collector Geoffrey Blackwell when pictured in RW Symonds’ Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks (1940), has all the features of the very best of English cabinetmaking. The sumptuous timber (one even used in the shelves and backboards as described in the bill) is matched by precision carving, possibly by the artisan Sefferin Alken who worked for Vile on other important commissions.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from dealer James Hepworth in 1994, it was estimated to bring up to $1m as part of a 60-lot ‘highlights’ sale on the evening of October 20. With premium, the price was $2.7m.
The collection, a rich mix of nearly 1500 lots from the Getty’s San Francisco residence, was being sold across four days of live auctions from October 20-23 plus a further six online sales. Proceeds from the Christie's sale (the first event already racking up close to $80m including premium) will benefit the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts.
Only a small number of pieces of English furniture have made over £2m.
Chippendale’s Harrington commode took a premium-inclusive £3.8m at Sotheby’s in 2010, while a parcel gilt padouk cabinet-on-stand, also attributed to Chippendale, sold for £2.7m at Christie’s in June 2008.