I like writing (given the time), and sticking pictures in the text makes it all seem aesthetically pleasing. Yet, I wondered very briefly what it would be like to have some other media to ‘decorate’ the page. So I made some attempt at poking around the old internet to see what I might come across.
This piece from The Art Institute Chicago, was intriguing. This is a secretary cabinet by Giles Grendey (1693-1780) a cabinetmaker originally from Gloucestershire, England who on moving to London became a sought after craftsman through exceptional networking and involvement with the export trade. The secretary cabinet is in a style which sees a sort of marriage of Rococo and Chinoiserie in its scroll motifs and scarlet and gold lacquered decoration. The video offers a stunning view of how the piece functioned as well as allowing that all important view of the inside!
This piece is significant because it formed part of a now celebrated commission made during the 1730s by Grendey for the Duke of Infantado’s castle at Lazcano. The commission consisted of around 77 pieces of furniture, the majority of which remained in situ until the 1930s before being purchased directly by Adolph Loewi an art and antiques collector and dealer based in Venice. Loewi acquired 72 pieces – 50 single chairs and 12 armchairs; 2 day-beds; 2 pairs of mirrors; a pair of candlestands; a card table and a tripod tea table.
Eventually these pieces were widely dispersed, however it is possible to track a great deal of them to public collections such as The Art Institute Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, Rosen’s Collection at Caramoor, and Temple Newsam House in Leeds.
Parts of the original commission and other pieces by Grendey appear in auction catalogues all over the world. Some of which have sprung from private collections. In April and December 1971, Antiques magazine listed the whereabouts of pieces from the Infantado commission. On failing miserably at finding affordable copies of these, my only consolation is that much of the provenance has changed anyway since then.
Giles Grendey practiced as an apprentice in London between 1709 and 1716, and by the 1730s was working independently from St John’s Square, Clerkenwell. While he did not publish a furniture pattern book, he is better known than many of his contemporaries because he frequently labelled his furniture. Craftsmen working for Grendey also left their initials on pieces. Grendey’s tendency to label furniture is certainly a reflection of his active participation in the export market and the suite of furniture made for the Duke of Infantado is specially styled to appeal to someone with opulent taste. Pieces like the secretary cabinet for example have flat surfaces to allow for decorative treatment, but they also carry an awkward and perhaps archaic mixture of styles which were typical of native Spanish furniture of the time as seen in the heavy curved pediment and ‘bun’ feet.
They are stunning pieces of furniture and are worth looking at ‘in the flesh’ even if the now faded exterior colour still clashes with our understanding of fashionable modern (and often muted) interiors and appears rather brash to our modern eyes.
Christopher Gilbert, Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall (1978) Also, Gilbert lists the following as relevant literature:
Connoisseur, June 1964, p.120
Collector’s Guide, January 1971, p.68
‘Furniture by Giles Grendey for the Spanish Trade’, Antiques April 1971, pp.544-550
G. Wills, English Furniture 1550-1760, 1971, p. 130