The Victorian centre table with circular ebony veneered top offered in London on June 28 was most likely ordered at that time by Baron Rothschild to furnish the property, said Curated Auctions (25% buyer’s premium). Stylistically it dates from this period, and was certainly at Mentmore in the 19th century as it later formed part of the collection belonging to his daughter, Hannah de Rothschild, later Countess of Rosebery (1851-90).
The ornate 17th century style of the table would presumably have appealed to Baron Rothschild as he ordered Sir Joseph to build his massive country house in the Jacobean style.
It had been sold just two years ago at Sotheby’s for a mid-estimate, premium-inclusive £18,900 but offered on this latest occasion by Curated it improved that result by taking the low estimate of £40,000.
Seventeenth century style
The 2ft 8in high x 4ft 11in diameter (82.5cm x 1.5m) table is inlaid in the 17th century style with various specimen woods in a marquetry design depicting a central explosion of flowers, such as carnations, roses and tulips, flanked by an outer border of further flowers and scrolling acanthus leaves, with various butterflies and birds, among them and a pair of grotesque masks.
The top is raised on three gilt bronze dolphins, resting on a triform plinth over concealed castors, with later, removable glass top.
From Hannah it passed by descent. Much of the estate was sold in 1944, but the mansion, its grounds, formal gardens, several farms and the majority of the village of Mentmore remained in the ownership of Harry Primrose, 6th Earl of Rosebery, until his death in 1974.
The table is visible in a photograph of the dining room at Mentmore in 1977 and was sold in the spectacular landmark Sotheby’s auction of that year – held in a huge tent in front of the house – where it took £5000.
The New York Times reported at the time: “After nine hectic days, the auction of the contents of one of England’s great houses, Mentmore Towers, ended today, raising a total of £6,032,543 ($10.3m), far more than anyone had expected.
“With the exquisite French furniture, master paintings and kitchen items all disposed of – knocked down by Sotheby’s in a huge tent in front of the house – the Countess of Rosebery, wife of Mentmore’s owner, declared, ‘It’s crazy that people should pay these amazing prices.’ But the proceeds should handsomely cover her husband’s liability for inheritance taxes and leave him an excess.”
The house and contents had been offered to the nation for £2m in lieu of death duties, but the offer was declined by the then government, so an auction was inevitable.
An attribution to the prestigious English furniture maker Edward Holmes Baldock (1777-1845) has previously been suggested for the table sold by Curated.
Another table marked EHB by Baldock was sold at the Mentmore auction. The table relates closely to another decorated with gilt bronze dolphins supplied by Baldock in 1837 to George Granville, 2nd Duke of Sutherland at Stafford House, now Lancaster House.
The table sold at Curated featured in Christopher Payne’s European Furniture of the 19th century, 1981, p224.