The taste of John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, was nothing if not flamboyant. He had an Italian ballerina mistress and a Chinese page; he collected old master paintings and patronised Sir Joshua Reynolds, both on a lavish scale; he was a patron of the Paris opera while he was there as ambassador in the 1770s; and he built hothouses for pineapples and other exotic plants at Knole.
The Boulle furniture at Knole is yet more evidence of the 3rd Duke’s taste. He seems to have acquired it during his ambassadorial tenure in Paris, during which he reputedly spent around £11,000 a year.
‘Boulle’ is a kind of marquetry using tortoiseshell, gilt brass, copper and tin perfected by André Charles Boulle (1642-1732).
The extraordinary Boulle clock in the Ballroom at Knole is by the late 17th century clockmaker Etienne Baillon. There is also a table in the style of cabinetmaker Etienne Levasseur (1721-1798), and an early 18th century desk.
It is interesting that the 3rd Duke acquired both new and ‘antique’ pieces of Boulle furniture. By placing them in the Jacobean Ballroom (originally a dining room) at Knole he created an almost surreally anachronistic but supremely rich ensemble.
The Knole Conservation Blog has recently highlighted these items. They have suffered over the years due to the fluctuating humidity in the house, which is one of the problems that the current major conservation project is designed to tackle.