George Bullock (died 1818): a Regency sculptor, designer and cabinet-maker

George Bullock header

Today, far more is known about George Bullock than when Brian Reade drew particular attention to this now much admired designer and cabinet-maker in Regency Antiques (1953).  It was not until the following decade that others began to take an interest.  Significant contributions include Anthony Coleridge’s two part ‘The Work of George Bullock Cabinet-maker, in Scotland’ in The Connoisseur (1964) and Edward Joy’s, ‘A Modernist of the Regency: George Bullock, Cabinet-Maker’ in Country Life (1968).

Clive Wainwright published ‘Walter Scott and the Furnishing of Abbotsford in The Connoisseur (1977) and then Virginia Glenn published ‘George Bullock, Richard Bridgens and James Watt’s Regency Furnishings Schemes’ in Furniture History (1979).  Wainwright played a crucial role when, with the support of John Morley, then Keeper of Furniture and Woodwork at the V&A, the idea of an exhibition of Bullock’s work was first mooted.  It was to a great extent the publication of the exhibition’s catalogue George Bullock: Cabinet-Maker (1988), with contributions by Clive Wainwright, Lucy Wood, Timothy Stevens and the present writer, that introduced Bullock’s work to a wider audience.

George Bullock Cabinet, circa 1815, identical to one formerly in the collection of Queen Mary (private collection)
1 Cabinet, circa 1815, identical to one formerly in the collection of Queen Mary (private collection)

Details of Bullock’s life continue to emerge.  While we now know that, on 11 May 1805, he married the Liverpool-born musical prodigy Margaret Casson (born 1774/75) there is less certainty about his own date of birth, now generally given as 1782/83.  He may, as was once thought, have been born in the late 1770s, but the location remains unknown.

George Bullock is celebrated as one of the most innovative cabinet-makers active during the Regency period.  It is his individualistic ability as a designer that distinguishes the furniture and interiors created in his workshop from the work of his contemporaries.  However, his earliest known work is a wax relief of his patron, the collector Henry Blundell (1801) and Bullock sculpted plaster and marble busts throughout his career, both in Liverpool and, from 1814, in London.  He is first recorded as a cabinet-maker in Liverpool in 1804, in partnership with William Stoakes. But it is largely on the basis of his brief London period that his reputation depends.  During those years he supplied furniture and interiors to patrons including Queen Charlotte, the British Government (to furnish the exiled Napoleon on St Helena), sons of founders of the Lunar Society (James Watt Junior, Matthew Robinson Boulton and Henry Galton), the Dukes of Abercorn, Atholl and Buccleuch, Sir Walter Scott, Sir William Cumming and Sir Godfrey Webster.

NOTE: Click individual images to see full-size picture

George Bullock From plate of ‘Fashionable Chairs’ in Rudolph Ackermann, Repository of Arts, September 1817
2 From plate of ‘Fashionable Chairs’ in Rudolph Ackermann, Repository of Arts, September 1817
George Bullock Design for marquetry from the ‘Wilkinson Tracings’ (City Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham)
3 Design for marquetry from the ‘Wilkinson Tracings’ (City Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham)

During his lifetime, Bullock’s furniture was promoted through plates published in Rudolph Ackermann’s The Repository of Arts (fig. 2).  While workshop records have not been found, it is fortunate that much of his output is recorded in the ‘Tracings by Thomas Wilkinson, from the Designs of the late Mr George Bullock 1820’, known as the Wilkinson Tracings (figs 3 and 4), which were likely one of the lots sold in his posthumous ‘Finished Stock’ sale (1819), fig. 5.

George Bullock Design for inkstands from the ‘Wilkinson Tracings’ (City Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham)
4 Design for inkstands from the ‘Wilkinson Tracings’ (City Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham)
George Bullock Table, circa 1818 probably ’Finished Stock’ sale, Christie’s, 3-5 May 1819, day 2, lot 45 (private collection)
5 Table, circa 1818 probably ’Finished Stock’ sale, Christie’s, 3-5 May 1819, day 2, lot 45 (private collection)

An early collector of furniture by George Bullock, during the 1970s, was the architect Sir James Stirling (1926-92), fig. 6.  And since the 1980s individual collectors and museums across the world have pursued Bullock’s work.  In addition to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool (fig. 7), the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and the V&A in London, his furniture is to be found at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (fig. 8), and in American museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (fig. 9) and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

George Bullock One from a set of four side chairs, circa 1815, formerly in the collection of Sir James Stirling (private collection)
6 One from a set of four side chairs, circa 1815, formerly in the collection of Sir James Stirling (private collection)
George Bullock Pair of tripods and stands, supplied to Samuel Day Junior, Hinton House, Bath, 1814 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)
7 Pair of tripods and stands, supplied to Samuel Day Junior, Hinton House, Bath, 1814 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)
George Bullock ‘Pier commode’, circa 1818, probably ’Finished Stock’ sale, Christie’s, 3-5 May 1819, day 2, lot 44. A comparable commode supplied for Napoleon on St Helena, 1815 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)
8 ‘Pier commode’, circa 1818, probably ’Finished Stock’ sale, Christie’s, 3-5 May 1819, day 2, lot 44. A comparable commode supplied for Napoleon on St Helena, 1815 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)
George Bullock Cabinet, circa 1815, formerly in the collection of Helena and John Hayward (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City)
9 Cabinet, circa 1815, formerly in the collection of Helena and John Hayward (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City)

A selection from the extensive literature for George Bullock published since George Bullock: Cabinet-Maker (1988) follows below:

Martin Levy, ‘George Bullock’s Partnership with Charles Fraser, 1813-19, and the Stock-in-Trade Sale, 1819’, Furniture History XXV (1989), pp. 145-213

Martin Levy, ‘The Roman Gallery at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, and Some Tripods by William Bullock and George Bullock’, Furniture History, XXXIII (1997), pp. 229-39)

Martin Levy, ‘Napoleon in Exile: the Houses and Furniture Supplied by the British Government for the Emperor and his Entourage on St Helena’, Furniture History XXXIV (1998), pp. 1-211

Michael P. Costelloe, William Bullock: connoisseur and virtuoso of the Egyptian Hall: Piccadilly to Mexico (1773-1849), Bristol, 2008

Lucy Wood, ‘A Letter from George Bullock’s Workmen’, Furniture History Society Newsletter, 174 (May 2009), pp. 1-6

Martin Levy, ‘A Royal Visit to George Bullock’s Workshop, 1814’, Furniture History Society Newsletter, 211 (August 2018), pp. 12-14

See here for a fuller account of George Bullock’s life and career

All photographs are by Prudence Cuming Associates, London and are the copyright of H. Blairman & Sons, London, except 3 and 4, which are courtesy of the City Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham.

George Bullock ‘A British Oak Cabinet presented by Her Majesty to her Royal Highness The Princess Sophia of Gloucester. August 1814’ (English Heritage, Ranger’s House, Blackheath)
10 ‘A British Oak Cabinet presented by Her Majesty to her Royal Highness The Princess Sophia of Gloucester. August 1814’ (English Heritage, Ranger’s House, Blackheath)