Burges Mystery Solved

I recently attended a lecture at LACMA, sponsored by the wonderful Decorative Arts Council of which I am a proud member. The guest speaker was the European Decorative Arts curator, Art Institute of Chicago, Christopher Monkhouse. a very charming, intelligent man. The topic was wine and the beautiful objects designed around it’s use. Mr. Monkhouse had put together a very broad collection for his recent exhibit, A Case For Wine.

At one point in the slide presentation, amidst the punch bowls and fine Venetian goblets, a beautiful, wondrous bit of polychromy appears. I knew it’s maker immediately, the hand of Burgess was all over it. So exciting, I adore Burges, his wit, his vigor, his unabashed love of narrative and color.

William Burges


The piece Monkhouse was illustrating was a recent acquisition for The Art Institute of Chicago. It was the Sideboard and Wine Cabinet, 1859, painter Nathaniel Hubert John Westlake 1833-1921,  maker:Harland & Fisher,London.

As you can see it is a great beauty, allegories of vine varieties are featured in the bottom decorative row of quatrefoil; misc. figures grace the front including Bacchus, now St. Bacchus ( of  SS Serge and Bacchus fame?, the great homoerotic duo, beloved of Brazilians and gay folks?), and inside, apparently a portrait of Temperance. Mr. Monkhouse has promised me a peak at Temperance if I venture to Chicago, I plan to have him keep his word.

All very wonderful of course, but the mystery. The mystery being this piece has been missing for years. I knew of it from various textbooks, always as having been part of the 1862  London International Exhibition, but now lost.I have always been saddened by that, how? how does something so  wonderful become lost? I understand tastes change, but what a tragedy.

But now it has been found.

The sideboard is visible next to the famous Yatman Cabinet, now at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Although the quality is poor I believe you can make out both the Yatman and the Chicago Sideboard.

This of course is very exciting for a Burges fan. To have a lost treasure found is a thrill. It seems , according to Mr. Monkhouse that it had been in private hands ( a rectory?, I cannot remember the details) and had been in use until the Institute purchased it. What has happened to the Orientalist over-decoration is anyone’s guess. It may or may not be by Burges.

I am just so tickled that the sideboard is in safe hands.It will be well loved.

Other  Burges sideboards also exist.

The V&A has the Wine and Beer sideboard.

Detroit has the the St. Bacchus (do we have a theme? )Sideboard.

and now Chicago has it’s own treasure, congrats!


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