McLean, John & Son,
London, cabinetmakers and upholders (1770–1825)
The origins of this firm may possibly be found on the south side of Little Newport St, Leicester Sq., where in June 1770 a ‘Jn Mc Lane’ became the tenant of a ‘Ho & workshops’ at a rent of £36 per annum. In 1774 ‘Jno M'Clean cabinet maker’ is listed in the same street [poll bk] and he remained at this address until 1783. His decorative trade card issued from this address features a dressing table and is inscribed: ‘Jno Macklane | Cabinet, Chair Maker and | UPHOLDER | in Little Newport Street | near Leicester Square | London | NB. Funerals Perform'd’.
Trade card of John Macklane at Little Newport Street near Leicester Square (Heal 28130), c. 1780. © The Trustees of the British Museum
His address between 1783 and 1790 is not known, but in the second half of that year he became tenant of 55 Upper Marylebone St and the firm remained here until its demise in 1825. The firm is also recorded as having premises at two other addresses at the turn of the century: these were Pancras St, Tottenham Ct Rd, and Upper Terr., Tottenham Ct Rd. They occupied the former building c. 1799–1805 and vacated the latter in the same year. After John died c. 1815 and his son William took over, the business declined. Until 1816 the rates were promptly paid, the value of the rent having risen in this year to £100. However in 1819 goods were distrained for rent, there were arrears in 1820, and in 1821 William McLean was in receipt of Poor Relief and the clerk noted ‘In Prison — Landlord has taken all the goods’. In 1822 McLean was ‘a Bankrupt in Prison’. The final entry in 1825 states ‘Died so poor that his body was sent in a box by waggon into the country to relations’.
Two fire insurance policies have been traced, in 1806 the household goods were covered for £100, stock and utensils in the warehouse were valued at £500, the workshop behind (stoves therein) £200, in the open yard £200. Total sum insured £1,000. In 1810 the figure was unchanged. [GL, Sun MS vol 437, ref. 792347; vol. 453, ref. 850499]
The firm used two different trade labels which have been found on a dozen or so pieces of furniture. The version employed c. 1799–1805 reads ‘Manufactured and Sold by | J.M’LANE & SON | Pancrass Street, Tottenham Court | Road, and | 58, Upper-Mary-le-bone-street | Portland Place’. [V & A-W. 10–1944] The wording on labels employed c. 1805–15 is as follows: ‘Manufactured and Sold by | JOHN McLEAN and SON, | 58, Upper Mary-le-bone-Street, | The end of Howland Street, Portland-Place’. [Furn. Hist., 1978, pls 31B and 31C] Two pictorial trade cards are known, one inscribed ‘Upholstery & Cabinet | Manufactory | Upper Marylebone Street, | Portland 58 Place’ with an elaborately styled Gothic shop front below displaying the sign board ‘Ino MACLEAN & SON’. The other portrays a fashionably furnished drawing room with the word ‘Elegant | PARISIAN FURNITURE | WAREROOMS | John McClean & Son | CABINET MAKERS & UPHOLDERS’ followed by their address.
Trade card of John McLean & Sons at 58, Upper Marylebone Street near Howland Street, Portland Place, London (Banks D,2.4074), 1805. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Several notices were placed in The Times: on 31 January 1806 the firm announced ‘they have re-opened their Warerooms with a new and elegant assemblage of Parisian Furniture’; and advertised on 11 February 1811 ‘JOHN M'CLEAN and SON beg leave to acquaint the Nobility, Gentry and Public in general, they have in their Ware rooms a new and elegant assortment of every article of useful and ornamental furniture, upon the most approved principle, for furnishing houses, complete, which being the production of their own manufactory, they are enabled to offer on terms most advantageous: bedding of every description: pier and chimney glasses, carpeting, &c’. Further advertisements appeared in the Times on 4 January 1812, 2 October 1812 and 6 March 1817.
McLean subscribed to Sheraton's Cabinet Dictionary, 1803 and his name also appears in the list of master cabinet makers appended to that volume. In the text Sheraton illustrates a pouch work table, p. 292 commenting ‘The design … was taken from one executed by Mr M'Lean in Mary-le-bone street, near Tottenham court road, who finishes these small articles in the neatest manner’.
The group of labelled furniture displays such a distinctive artistic personality that many similar unlabelled items can be confidently attributed to their workshops. The pieces owe much to French influence, not only in their design but in their lavish use of delicate gilt brass mounts. They favoured dark rosewood, sometimes combined with boxwood strings and satinwood crossbanding, but in later work the technique of brass inlay in the manner of Boulle is found, together with brass strips engraved with paterae and fronds. Sometimes a sparing use of water-gilt enrichment is present. The cabinet work is of a consistently high order and the gilt mounts are finely chased. The firm's furniture displays little stylistic development, although there is a discernible movement from lightness and delicacy, inspired by French prototypes, towards heavier forms with a certain weakening and coarsening in the decoration. This decline seems to have occurred after William inherited the business from his father about 1815. Another distinctive feature of their house-style was the use of a unique repertoire of cast and chased brass mounts, not encountered on other furniture of the period and therefore a valuable aid to attribution. The firm was clearly of some size and importance and their work is of particular interest because it betrays no debt to fashionable Regency pattern books of the day.
A labelled games table survives at Saltram, Devon, another of the same pattern is recorded from Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincs., and there are unlabelled pieces at Harewood, Yorks., but only one country house commission has so far been documented. This account for general furnishings supplied to the 5th Earl of Jersey's seat Middleton Park, Oxon. and his town house in Berkeley Sq. covers the period July 1806 to April 1807 and totals £4,793 11s. A circular rosewood writing table probably sold from Middleton Park in 1934 [Hampton & Sons, Middleton Park, Bicester, 28 May- 1 June 1934, lot 795] was in stock with Blairman & Sons in 2007 (illus. Blairman, Furniture and Works of Art, 2007). It may be the same as that invoiced by Mclean on 22 April 1806 for the Earl's London house: 'A Rosewood round library writing table elegantly mounted with ormolu moulding, lined with leather cedar Drawers and varnished... £26 10s.'. A labelled pair of tables is illustrated in Gilbert (1996), fig 588, sold Sotheby’s Belgravia, 11 Feb 1981, lot 181a.
Sources: DEFM; S. Redburn, ‘John McLean and Son’, Furn. Hist., 1978, pp. 31–37; Furn. Hist., 1966, pp. 37–39; GCM; Jourdain and Rose, English Furniture: the Georgian Period, figs 70, 71; C. Life, 28 May 1964, p. 1337; 16 July, p. 110 and 3 September, p. 430, 1943; 12 June 1969; 20 January 1983, p. 139; Conn., March 1974; March 1976; vol. 132 (1953), p. 187; C. Musgrave, Regency Furniture, pl. 76; G. Wills, English Furniture 1760–1900, p. 183; Sotheby's, 12 November 1982, lot 84; V & A archives; Blairman & Sons, Furniture and Works of Art, 2007; Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840 (1996).