Every Antique Tells a Story...
When I first acquired it, I should have taken more time to fully discover the maker and provenance before a collector snapped it up
It is often said that every antique tells a story and this month I recall the story of an infamous Georgian society lady who left a trail of broken men behind her and was responsible for sending two honourable men to the gallows.
A few weeks ago an eminent collector and client called to say he was reorganising his main residence and asked if Harvey’s would consider finding a new home for a most intriguing piece of furniture, one that had passed through my hands twice before.
So it was a pleasure to be reunited, however temporarily, with a truly rare and magnificent George III period mahogany and marquetry inlaid dressing table constructed with every feature conceivable at the time of its manufacture. Dating from around 1775, this is stunning piece with a fascinating history.
Rudd’s Dressing Table
Widely referred to as a ‘Rudd’s Dressing Table’, the design has been used as something of a template down the generations of cabinetmaking, but this piece is believed to be the original from the boudoir of Margaret Caroline Rudd, a woman who earned a reputation that echoes down the years.
Born in Belfast around 1744, she moved to England, married and then abandoned her first husband with debts so huge he was forced to flee the country. She took up with others including Daniel Perreau, a gambler and a rake with whom she had a child. His twin brother was an honourable man who was deceived into helping Caroline and her brother when her debts mounted.
Old Bailey Hangings
Debtors bonds were forged and the matter ended at the Old Bailey where the twins, Daniel and Robert Perreau, stood trial for forgery and were found guilty and hanged in 1775. Rudd used her undoubted charms to secure a not guilty verdict for herself. This Georgian Scandal rocked the very pillars of the establishment including George III, John Wilkes, Lord Mansfield and many others who were dragged into the circle of friends and acquaintances. Using her undoubted beauty, Rudd continued to have affairs with numerous high society figures including James Boswell, who refers to her in his famous Diaries.
Recently, the Duchess of Devonshire has detailed her exploits in her ‘Tart of the Week’ column on-line, which is well worth a read. Rudd died in 1779 but lives on in words and her possessions, including this dressing table that could surely could tell a few tales!
Beautifully made and exquisitely inlaid, perhaps the most striking feature of the table is the elaborately inlaid ‘flame mahogany’ rectangular top. This has a cross-banded edge above three drawers, the centre drawer fitted for writing and with a baize lined slide, the two flanking drawers opening to show fitted interiors with lidded boxes and infinitely adjustable mirrors, all the drawers similarly cross-banded, the frieze with a band of fine marquetry raised on four fluted legs terminating in fashionable spade feet and having inlaid flowers for decoration.
When I first acquired it, I should have taken more time to fully discover the maker and provenance before a collector snapped it up. Some years later the collector retired and sold it back to me, and again I promised I would take the time to undertake the research. Then another eminent collector bought it! Now here it is again in our showroom and I am setting about the much needed research.
Research reveals that this model of table is both illustrated and described as “Rudd’s Table” in George Hepplewhite's seminal "The Cabinetmaker and Upholsterers Guide” which gave its author's name to a whole period of designs from the last two decades of the 18th century and on plate 79 we see the term "Rudd's Table". Interestingly, in the notes to plate 79 he writes: "Rudd's Table or Reflecting Dressing Table. This is the most complete dressing table made, possessing every convenience which can be wanted, or mechanism and ingenuity supply. It derives its name from a once popular character, for whom it is reported it was first invented."It continues to describe the construction in great detail, all of which tallies with the piece in our possession.
Thomas Shearer also published his version of the design in the "Cabinet-Makers' London Book of Prices" where it was also described as “Rudd’s Table”. For both to have this description of the table means that the original, which this most likely is, was made recently enough to have been in their memories and for the Rudd Scandal to still have impacted on society throughout the 1780’s.
Of course, one has to pose the obvious question: how did Hepplewhite and Shearer know what her dressing table looked like?
- David Harvey