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Jensen, Gerrit (1667–1715)

Jensen, Gerrit

Long Acre and St Martin's Lane, London; cabinet maker (fl.1667–d. 1715)

Gerrit Jensen was the most important figure in English cabinet making from c. 1667 to 1715. While it would be unwise to attribute to him all the transformations in style and technique which occurred in English cabinet making at this time, there is no doubt he was at the forefront of developments. His bills are among the first to record floral marquetry and he is the only London cabinet maker known to have produced metal marquetry in the 1690s. He was undoubtedly in close touch with contemporary developments in France, although the extent to which his style was specifically ‘French’ has been exaggerated. All his apprentices and all his known workmen were English, and his surviving furniture is typically English in materials and technique. Through his tenure of the office of cabinet maker in ordinary to successive monarchs from James II to Queen Anne his work must have influenced prevailing taste and technique, and numerous influential noblemen were also among his clients. His surviving bills in the Royal accounts and the Great Wardrobe accounts comprise the largest single body of cabinet maker’s bills to survive from the period, and his bills for furniture supplied to other patrons, though much fewer, are still more numerous than for all of his rivals put together. It is all the more disappointing therefore to record that, despite the enormous scale of his output, the amount of firmly attributed surviving furniture is small, and many attributions made in his name are of doubtful value. Documentary research is sometimes made problematic by the fact that his name was often Anglicised to ‘Johnson’, and several variations of his forename are found - Gerrit, Garret, Gerrard, Gerhard, Gared, &c. Jensen himself, however, always signed as ‘Gerrit Jensen’. 

Jensen was almost certainly born in Holland about 1634/35. Details of his lineage, early life and training are still unknown, although it is possible that at some time he trained and worked in Paris, since in later life he had business connections there (Pierre Gole's will in 1684 mentions a sum of money owed to Jensen for glue, suggesting that a contact existed between the two masters). The first record of his presence in England is his admission to the Joiners’ Company by redemption on 22 October 1667. It was unusual for an immigrant to be admitted by redemption and it is possible that this is an indication of his already unusual status. Within a few years he was working at the highest level in the cabinet trade and by 1674, if not earlier, he held the post of cabinet maker in ordinary to Queen Catherine of Braganza. In 1675 he was one of the three appraisers for the probate inventory of fellow cabinet maker, Edward Traherne, who supplied furniture to members of the royal family and the government. He was probably awarded a Warrant to supply the Great Wardrobe with the accession of James II in 1685. He was reappointed on the accession of William and Mary in 1689 and remained cabinet maker to the Great Wardrobe and Royal Household under William III and Queen Anne until his death in 1715.

By 1673 Jensen was established in Long Acre, near the junction with Drury Lane, in a property with a rateable value of £40 per annum. In 1694 the payment of rates on this property was taken over by John Johnson, probably his son, for in March 1693 Jensen himself had taken the lease on a property in St Martin’s Lane, probably on the site of what is now 82 St Martin’s Lane. The property was large, running back more than 200 feet to Castle Street, and included a garden with outbuildings – presumably workshops. When the adjacent St Martin’s Court was created in 1695 Jensen developed his property by building a house in his garden which fronted onto the court and he sublet this property. The St Martin’s Lane house remained Jensen’s London home and workshop until his death. At an unknown date Jensen also acquired the copyhold tenure of a country house with a small amount of ground at Brook Green, Hammersmith, and he leased a further two properties at Selling in Kent from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, which paid him a combined rent of £140 per annum. By early 1715 Jensen was in failing health and in May he advertised the sale of his stock in trade and his Hammersmith property (Daily Courant, 2 May 1715). He died in late November or early December 1715 and was buried in the churchyard of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 2 December. The total value of his estate, including debts owing to him, was more than £5,500, which was a substantial fortune at that time.

Jensen married twice. His first wife was still living in 1679 but had died by the mid-1690s. By her he had one son, John Jensen (Johnson), who seems to have died in the 1690s leaving a widow, Anne, and a daughter (Jensen’s granddaughter) Winifred. In the late 1690s Jensen married his second wife, Hellen, a younger woman by whom he had four children who were all still minors when he died – Francis, Hellen, Isaac and Catherine. None of these followed him into the trade. Jensen’s will removed control of his estate from his widow and placed it in trust, but she disputed the terms, leading to a court case whose outcome has not yet been established. The subsequent fates of his widow and his surviving children and grandchild are not known. Despite living in England for almost fifty years Jensen never applied for Denization and he remained a Catholic all his life. This entailed a certain amount of risk; after the passing of the Test Act in 1673 attempts were made to exclude Catholics from Court and even from Queen Catherine’s household, so that in 1674 Jensen was forced to petition the Privy Council for protection from prosecution. As a result the King granted Jensen a nolle prosequis against all indictments. During the Exclusion Crisis of 1679-81 Jensen contemplated moving abroad with his family for safety. He stayed, but in the 1690s was careful to comply with the Oath of Fidelity to William & Mary to avoid being labelled a Papist. His Catholic faith, while it barred him from public office and many other civil privileges, clearly did not inhibit his appointment to serve the Great Wardrobe.

From the first Jensen was closely connected with the London furniture making establishment. Having joined the Joiners’ Company by Redemption in 1667, he became a Liveryman in 1685 and in 1694/5 he was fined for refusing to serve as Warden. In July 1704 he was nominated to become Master but declined and was again fined. He took his first apprentice in January 1668 and took on thirteen more between 1688 and 1708. The rapid expansion of his business is indicated by the fact that by 1673 he had five apprentices, in contravention of the rule which stated that no master could have more than two at one time. The total size of his labour force is unknown but given the scale of his output it must have been substantial, unless he made extensive use of sub-contractors. His main business was cabinet making – that is, all kinds of veneered furniture - together with the manufacture of looking glasses; few surviving bills record seat furniture, but some carved work, chiefly mirror and table frames, was undertaken.

Jensen’s earliest recorded customer was Charles Stuart, 3rd Duke of Richmond, who in October 1672 paid him £10 for a table, stands and a strongbox. Other houses to whose owners Jensen supplied furniture include: DRAYTON HOUSE, Northants. (2nd Earl of Peterborough and his daughter the Duchess of Norfolk) 1675–1705: Jensen received £50 for furniture supplied for the Earl's embassy to France in 1675 and ‘Mr Johnson Cabinet Maker's Bill’ for 1679–88 includes ‘12 Arm'd chairs’, ‘a folding bed-wallnut’, ‘guilding the mother of pearle cabinet frame’, and ‘a large press of wallnut’. His name also occurs in the accounts of the Earl's daughter, the Duchess of Norfolk up to 1705, and he must undoubtedly have supplied the ebony table and candlestands inlaid with pewter and brass still in the house. Marquetry and other furniture in the house may also have been supplied by Jensen. LEVENS HALL, Cumbria. A walnut and iron-bound strongbox still at the house was supplied in 1688. BURGHLEY HOUSE, Lincs. (5th Earl of Exeter). Bank Ledgers record payments to Jensen of at least £400 and perhaps as much as £600 between 1679-82 and 1696-1704. Among the pieces supplied was a metal marquetry writing table still at the house, two table boxes (possibly those still at the house, and a filigree marquetry table which presumably originally had stands and looking-glasses en suite. CHATSWORTH, Derbs. (4th Earl, later 1st Duke of Devonshire). 1688–98: Bills for providing glass on south front 1688, for ‘glass for the door of the great chamber [now the State Dining Room] and for japanning the closet’ in 1692. The latter, described by Celia Fiennes as ‘wainscoted with hollow burnt Japan’ (i.e. coromandel, or incised lacquer), was dismantled in 1700, when the panels were reused on furniture including two chests on stands now in the State Drawing Room. In 1691, Jensen was also paid £160 ‘for glasses tables and stands for Chatsworth’. One table, veneered with burr maple, survives and is attributed to him. A pair of spectacular filigree marquetry cabinets on stands are undocumented but can safely be attributed to Jensen on stylistic grounds.  ARUNDEL CASTLE, Sussex (Lord Thomas Howard). 1689: payment ‘to Garrat Johnson in full £143.10s.’ in Lord Thomas Howard's account bk. KNOLE, Kent (6th Earl of Dorset). 1680–1690: On 5 June 1680 Jensen presented his bill amounting to £407 5s for the famous suite of silver furniture consisting of a dressing table, looking glass and pair of candlestands. Among other pieces mentioned in a bill of 21 December 1690 are ‘Table Stands and Glass Japan’. These are thought to be the ones still at Knole. BOUGHTON HOUSE, Northants. (1st Duke of Montagu). c. 1690–1700: Jensen is listed as one of the Duke's creditors after his death in 1712, for work carried out in the 1690s, totalling £412 13s 6d and including for instance ‘making up two large bookcases upon cabinets with doors of Indian skreen with Glasses in the Door Silver'd’ costing £40. None of this can now positively be identified in the house, with the exception of two white lacquered Japanese cabinets, property of the Duchess of Albermarle, which Jensen repaired and made stands for in 1694. There is also a table and mirror veneered with recycled lacquer and mounted with the Duchess of Albemarle’s cipher in silver which was probably supplied Jensen. The celebrated pair of metal marquetry tables and mirrors bearing Ralph Montagu’s monogram, which have often been attributed to Jensen, are French. The Jensen attribution rested on the erroneous identification of a matching table in the Royal Collection with a Jensen bill. PETWORTH HOUSE, Sussex (Lady Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset). A series of bills made out to the Duchess of Somerset, dated between 1681 and 1692, survives in the Petworth House Archives at the West Sussex Record Office [PHA 341, 652, 259, 264-6] None of the furniture supplied can be now identified with certainty at Petworth, although a filigree marquetry tabletop with hinged flaps bearing the Duchess of Somerset's monogram, has been attributed to Jensen on grounds of style. A bill for £119 15s paid in two parts in 1692 and receipted by Jensen includes: ‘Duchess of Somerset’, ‘Apr. 19, 1690 for Glass in a black Japan frame and a Table to fall Like a Bewro and Stands £16.’ ‘Jan. 22 1691 for a fine Markatree Bewro and Guilt pillars, a pare of Stands and Glass of the same £30’ and ‘for 2 large Cabinets with Dores on the top and Drawers under, for the cornars of the Dressing roome £24’. WILLIAM BENTINCK (1st Earl of Portland). c. 1695–98: An account bk kept by Caspar Frederick Henning, treasurer to the William Bentinck, Earl of Portland, Keeper of the Privy Purse, Groom of the Stole and First Gentleman of the Bedchamber to William III, records payments to Jensen in both the Earl's official and personal capacities between 1695 and 1698 totalling £608. It is not clear whether these relate to furniture for Bentinck himself or for William III CASTLE BROMWICH HALL, Warks. (Lady Bridgeman). 1697–98: bills for ‘chimney glasses’ and other mirrors, including some with frames of ‘Ceader pheneare’, total of £9 5s. ICKWORTH, Suffolk (1st Earl of Bristol). 1696: Recorded as being paid on 25 May, ‘ye black set of Glass, table and stands and for ye glasses etc. over ye chimneys & elsewhere in my dear wife's apartment £70’ in the 1st Earl's Diary, published in 1874, p. 443. KENSINGTON, Earl of Albemarle's Lodgings. c. 1699–1703: payments for items including ‘a pair of chimney sconces wrought blue glass & a pair of branches double guilded £4 15s.’ HATFIELD HOUSE, Herts. (5th Earl of Salisbury). 1710–14: Supplied a verre eglomisée mirror (‘a large looking glass, the frame drawn with scarlet and silver, the mouldings gilt’), another in a japanned frame ‘with a folding table underneath which is also japan’, a ‘walnut writing desk, the top for books and patons and glass in the doors asked’, and many other pieces listed in a detailed bill of June 1710—October 1711 totalling £427; together with another bill of 1714 itemizing ‘gilt tables’, etc.

ROYAL PALACES Jensen’s first commission for the Great Wardrobe predated his appointment as Cabinet maker in ordinary. In 1680 he supplied ‘… a cabinet & fframe Table Standes & Glasse all of Japan Work Another great glasses with a guilt fframe a Strong Box covered with Chagrin & bound with gilt Irons & a frame to it all packed up £80. 10s.’. These were made as diplomatic presents to the Emperor of Morocco. Further bills were submitted from 1686 onwards. The patent renewing his appointment as ‘Cabinet Maker in ordinary’ to William and Mary, drawn up in 1689, which exists in the PRO, describes him as ‘Cabbinet maker and Glasse seller … for the makeing provideing and Selling of all Sorts of Cabbinets Boxes Looking Glasses Tables and Stands Ebony Frames, and for the furnishing provideing and Selling of all Sorts of Glasse plates as well plained and polished as not plained and pollished’. Over the ensuing two decades he had a virtual monopoly of the supply of these articles to the Royal Household, amounting hundreds of separate items sent to Whitehall, St James, Somerset House, Kensington, Windsor Castle and Hampton Court, the royal residence at Newmarket, the yachts Fubbs and Isabella, and the House of Commons. A large part of his work was in cleaning, repairing and altering the same. The personal interest that William and Mary took in Jensen's work is implied by his provision of ‘two modells of a deske and table’ supplied for £6 in 1696, and in the inventory of goods made the following year of ‘her late Maj's Lodgings of Blessed Memory’ at Kensington, which mentions metal-inlaid tables, looking-glasses and stands which were ‘bespoke by the Queen and came in after her death from Mr. Johnson’ Among those pieces still in the Royal Collection that can be firmly attributed to Jensen are a marquetry writing table (probably the ‘large Bouro of fine markatree wth drawers to stand upon the Top carved and gilt pillars … £80:0:0’ supplied in 1691, RCIN 35317 ); a glazed cabinet (‘a glass case of fine markatree upon a Cabonett with doors’ costing £30 on 24 July 1693 RCIN 1376)— both of these supplied ‘for her mats use at Kensington’. However, the ‘fine writing desk table inlaid wth mettall’ made for the King in 1694–95 at a cost of £70 has been wrongly identified with a metal marquetry table at Windsor which, however, bears Mary’s cipher and must therefore predate her death (RCIN 39212). It is, moreover, a marriage of two pieces, one of which is French and matches the metal marquetry commode tables at Boughton. A marquetry mirror frame at Windsor may well be from an earlier set of furniture supplied to James II in May, 1686 — ‘att Windsor Castle Queenes Side/In ye Gallery/For a Table, Stands a glasse Inlayd in wallnuttree the glasse 39 inches £40’. The pier glasses in the King’s state apartments at Hampton Court Palace were supplied by Jensen in 1699, and there are a number of pieces of walnut veneered furniture – tables, stands and table-boxes - which could well have been supplied about this time. It has been suggested (Murdoch 1998) that some of the gilded stands supplied by Jensen which survive in the Royal Collection were in fact carved by the Pelletier firm. A gilded stand and Japanese cabinet (RCIN 35274) was one of a pair which Jensen supplied in 1704-5 (Wheeler 2019). The tops of the two cabinets were used to make the tops of a pair of tables with gilded frames supplied by Jensen in 1704 and later removed to Warwick Castle, from where they were sold by Sotheby’s in 1998 (10 July 1998, lot 116). The interiors of both cabinets were removed to fit shelves, and the interior drawers of one of them survives in the Royal Collection (RCIN 21021) The last of Jensen's bills for the Royal Household is dated 10 August 1714, five days before his will was drawn up.

Sources: DEFM; Murdoch, ‘Furniture for the King’s Apartments: Wallnuttree, gilding, japanning and marble’, Apollo (August 1994), pp. 55-59; Murdoch, ‘Jean, René and Thomas Pelletier, Huguenot family of carvers and gilders in England, Part II’, Burlington (June 1998), pp. 363-72; Bowett, ‘Group of Metal Marquetry Tables attributed to Gerrit Jensen’, Furniture History (2014), pp. 103-119; Bowett & Lindey, ‘Looking for Gerrit Jensen’, Furniture History (2017), pp. 27-50; Gregory, ‘Catherine of Braganza’s relationship with her Catholic Household’ in Schutte & Paranque, Forgotten Queens in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (2018), pp. 129-48; Wheeler, ‘New Light on Lacquer and Giltwood Furniture in the Royal Collection’, Furniture History (2019), pp. 71-86.


The original entry from Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840 can be found at British History Online.