Lacquer lost and found

Secretaire attributed to Thomas Chippendale, c. 1773, with Chinese lacquer panels and English japanning. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

In a previous post on the East Asian textiles at Osterley Park, I also mentioned the lacquer furniture there. The above secretaire, attributed to Thomas Chippendale, incorporates panels of Chinese lacquer as well as English japanning. It seems to have left Osterley at some point between 1922 and 1949.

The Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley, designed by Robert Adam, where the secretaire may have stood originally. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

After turning up at auction in Gateshead in 1993 its Osterley provenance was re-identified. An export licence application for it was deferred, which allowed the National Trust to purchase it in 1996 with the help of a private benefactor, the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Commode with Chinese lacquer panels and English japanning, attributed to Chippendale, in the State Bed Chamber at Osterley. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

As Simon Jervis writes in his article on the secretaire in the June 2006 issue of Apollo, the secretaire relates to two commodes attributed to Chippendale which had remained at Osterley.

The commodes also incorporate lacquer panels, the decoration of which is so similar to those on the secretaire that they may all have been taken from the same Chinese lacquer screen by the Chippendale workshop.

The straight lacquer panels were gently heated and painstakingly bent by Chippendale’s craftsmen to fit the curves of the commodes. English imitation lacquer, called ‘japan’ at he time, would then have been produced to fit the other surfaces.

Commode attributed to Chippendale in the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley. ©National Trust/Christopher Warleigh-Lack

The style of the commodes and the secretaire is French, which was considered to be advanced taste in Britain at that time. As simon Jervis notes, it was also French practice to combine a commode with a secretaire en suite, i.e. with the same decoration.

Moreover, the paterae and guilloche motifs on the secretaire are echoed by similar painted decoration in the Etruscan Dressing Room at Osterley.

©NTPL/Ian Shaw

Robert Child, who inherited a banking fortune on the unexpected death of his elder brother, employed Robert Adam to substantially rebuild and refurbish Osterley in the 1760s and 1770s. Adam often used Chippendale as a supplier of furniture and furnishings.

With thanks to Carl Deacon who located some of the images.

6 Responses to “Lacquer lost and found”

  1. style court Says:


    So glad you followed up with lacquer. Had been hoping you would 🙂 Terrific post. Thanks.


  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Courtney. We recently bought a lacquer writing box for Osterley as well – if I can find a decent image I will feature that too, as I know you have a thing for boxes 🙂

  3. Toby Worthington Says:

    Thank you Emile, for this marvelous essay.
    The Etruscan Room at Osterly has long been one of my favorites,
    the icing on the cake of a tour of that fascinating house.
    It is said that the black and white fringes on the festoon curtains
    are original to the room. Do you know if there’s any truth to this?
    It does make sense within the entire scheme, now that all that
    delicious black lacquer is assembled within it.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Toby, I am glad you liked it. Yes the fringes on the festoon curtains are thought to be original, part of the overall decorative scheme.

    It is interesting to see ‘archeological’ and chinoiserie styles being combined here, but that does seem to occur in the late eighteenth – early nineteenth century. Some chinoiserie decoration (for instance at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton) was also being influenced by the ‘Pompeian’ colours that were becoming fashionable then. The interior of the Chinese House at Stowe, painted in the 1820s (and which I showed earlier), has grotesque motifs similar to the ones seen here.

    And it is amusing that you consider the Etruscan Dressing Room to be the icing on the Cake – I would agree, but Horace Walpole thought it was a ‘plunge into bathos’ after the grand rooms preceding it – but then that is Walpole for you.

  5. Karena Says:

    Emile, love the laquer Chinoiserrie chest, fabulous. Thank you for sharing these amazing works of art.


    Art by Karena

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Karena. From your artist’s perspective it will be interesting to see this mixture of pictorial motifs, furniture and architecture.

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