Looking glass

  • Detail

    Carved gilt-gesso and deal, with mirror glass

    46 ½ in (118.2 cm) × 27 ¼ in (69.4 cm) × 2 in (5.1 cm)

    English, circa 1715

  • Provenance

    Probably Sir William Humphreys (1651-1735)

  • Collection

    American private collection

  • Literature

    R.W. Symonds, Masterpieces of English Furniture and Clocks, London, 1940, fig. 46

  • Notes

    The armorial crest can be identified as that of Sir William Humphreys (variously spelt), created a baronet in 1714, the year he was Lord Mayor of London. In common with some of the grandest carved gilt-gesso looking glasses and tables dating from the early decades of the eighteenth century, the use of armorials and initials within their decoration allows identification of patronage. Examples include the near-contemporary Stowe tables, now divided between the V&A and a private collection (see Tessa Murdoch, ‘The king’s cabinet-maker: the giltwood furniture of James Moore the Elder’, The Burlington Magazine, June 2003, pp. 408–20, fig. 14), and the stands with the cypher of George I (see Ralph Edwards and Margaret Jourdain, Georgian Cabinet-Makers c. 1700–1800, revised edition, London, 1955, pls 26 & 27).

    The appearance of the frame shows a generic debt to the late seventeenth century, for example the work of continental designers, well-known at the time in England, such as Pierre Le Pautre (1618–82) and Daniel Marot (1661–1752). The use of bevelled mirror-glass borders is also a hangover from a slightly earlier period. What is remarkable in this frame is the survival of a virtually ‘untouched’ gilt-gesso surface, allowing the vigour of the carving to remain clearly expressed. The designer and maker of the present frame, which retains its original glass, remain unidentified, but in due course it may be possible to compare the hand of the carving to other surviving works from the period.

    Something of the quirkiness of the design is suggested in an anonymous drawing for a frame, incorporating boldly-drawn acanthus corner ornament (see Peter Ward-Jackson, English Furniture Designs of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1958, pl. 12). Two frames that are undoubtedly by the same hand survive. An overmantel at Newhailes, Musselburgh, and a rectangular looking glass, not designed with the bevelled glass borders (advertised by Henry Phillips, June 1987).