A Book Of Ceilings Composed In The Style of The Antique Grotesque: Designed And Etched by George Richardson, Architect. Livre De Plat-Fonds, Composés D’ Après Les Grotesques Antiques; Dessinés Et Gravés Par George Richardson, Architecte.
Folio. (534 x 376 mm). Contemporary red straight-grained red morocco, boards with elaborate gilt decorative roll tool floral borders, smooth spine with elaborate decorative tooling with green morocco label with gilt title board edges and turn-ins with decorative tooling, marbled endpapers, a.e.g.; [107 leaves: 9 leaves with printed text (without the leaf ‘Address To the Public’, the fact that the present copy was destined for a subscriber may account for its omission) + 98 engraved plates including engraved frontispiece; pp. (i), (i), (ii), ii, 11]. Printed title in English and French, etched leaf with elaborate decorative head-piece and dedication to Lord Scarsdale, leaf with list of subscribers, leaf with Préface with parallel text in English and in French, 6 leaves with 'Explanation of the Pictures and Bas-Reliefs' with parallel text in English and French and 48 engraved plates, one double-page, numbered I - XLVIII in two states, with hand coloured and without colour, plate XVIII in a further state, with elaborate additional hand colouring, additional wash border and wash shading and with the figures highlighted (see below); the tail of the spine rubbed, age toning to some areas of the boards but generally bright, occasional light browning to the margins, the plates decidedly fresh and bright.
Provenance:1. John Wilkinson (1732 - 1779 ) of Roehampton House, manuscript location details 'Roehampton / C - 7' ' in sepia ink to the recto of the initial blank, listed as one of the subscribers. 2. Baron James (Jakob) Mayer de Rothschild (1792 - 1868) with his gilt-stamped arms added to the front and rear boards, his circular engraved bookplate to the front pastedown and the additional ticket 'FERRIERES' (see below) also to the front pastedown, location number 'R 1046' in pencil to the verso of the front free endpaper; then by descent].
George Richardson (1736? - 1813?) served his apprenticeship with the Adam brothers and accompanied James Adam on his Grand Tour in the early 1760s before leaving their service to work on his own account. The present work was Richardson's first book and is indebted to the Adams' own neo-classical style. It was perhaps inspired - the dedication to Lord Scarsdale appears to bear this out - by the work Richardson had carried out at Kedleston Hall in the late 1760s, although as the BAL Early Printed Books catalogue notes, referencing Eileen Harris and Nicholas Savage’s British Architectural Books And Writers 1556-1785 (CUP, 1990), 'Harris suggests that it was the publication of the first parts of the Adams' own 'Works in Architecture' that inspired Richardson to begin publishing his own designs, in direct competition'. The Millard catalogue notes, ' ... as the acclaim which greeted James Wyatt's Adamesque interior of the Pantheon in Oxford Street in 1772 demonstrated, there was a market for the style, one which George Richardson's first publication, ‘A Book of Ceilings’ (1776) ... sought to address. Richardson borrowed from the Adams' ‘Works in Architecture’ the large format, the bilingual text, and the option of hand-coloring for the plates, and by acting as his own publisher he maintained the standards of presentation on which his artistic reputation would rest; but at the same time he aimed at wider sales. His designs are candidly offered for imitation and adaptation, his prices were kept down by the twin strategies of engraving his own plates and part-publishing, and he was remarkable [sic] successful in attracting new subscriptions.'
Published initially in parts (partial sets are known with a title dated 1774 and with no numbering for the first 12 plates), the final part including the text was issued in 1776. Once complete - and the present copy appears to have been purchased complete - copies were offered in three different formats and for very different prices. As detailed later in the 1790s in an advertisement in Richardson's New Designs in Architecture: copies with the plates uncoloured 'price Three Guineas, in boards, plain'; copies - as per the present copy - 'with the grounds coloured, Six Pounds Eight Shillings'; and finally 'with the figures painted, the ornaments and moulding shaded and touched up like finished drawings, Forty-eight Guineas', the latter an extraordinary price at the time. The present copy features both coloured and uncoloured plates, but also includes an additional pull of plate XVIII from the third issue of plates, i.e. 'with the figures painted, the ornaments and moulding shaded and touched up like finished drawings'. The colour is outstanding and the plate does, indeed, resemble a watercolour and could be easily mistaken for one were it not for the plate mark which can be detected beneath the black wash border.
This outstanding copy, with the plates coloured and uncoloured, and bound in contemporary English red morocco, appears to have been the copy subscribed for by John Wilkinson. Wilkinson (1732 - 1779) was a wealthy ship-owner who purchased Roehampton House from the Earl of Albemarle in 1771 - the house itself had been designed and built between 1710 and 1712 by the maverick Baroque architect Thomas Archer. The location details to the initial blank 'Roehampton / C - 7' support this attribution. Wilkinson died in 1779 and his widow sold Roehampton in the early 1790s. At some point in the nineteenth-century, the volume was purchased by James de Rothschild, youngest son of Mayer Amschel Rothschild and the founder of the French branch of the banking family. James de Rothschild was notable for many things but in the context of this book, the most important was his commission for the Château de Ferrières: as well as his arms added to the boards and his bookplate to the front pastedown, the book also features the library ticket of Ferrières and a Rothschild library location number.
The Château de Ferrières was commissioned by de Rothschild in the 1850s from the British architect Joseph Paxton. Completed in 1859, the house was inspired by another of Paxton's commissions, Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire, built for Mayer Amschel de Rothschild, James's nephew. James's clear instruction for his Château de Ferrières was simple: 'Build me a Mentmore, but twice the size.' - de Rothschild's tremendous library at Ferrières was justly famous and reputed to have contained more than 8,000 volumes.
Subscribers to the book, 217 are listed, included the King (George III), the Anglophile Prince Leopold III of Anhalt-Dessau, at least five Dukes, various Earls, Marquesses and Barons, the Royal Academy, Launcelot 'Capability' Brown, Thomas Sandby, James Wyatt and a number of other architects including Matthew Brettingham, Charles Cameron, John Carr, William Chambers, George Dance, Henry Holland and James Paine. [BAL Early Printed Books 2753; Abbey Life 56; not in Millard, but see p.246/7].
Stock number: 1644