Gerrit Jensen, whose name occurs in the Lord Chamberlain's accounts spelt in fourteen different ways (sometimes anglicized as plain Garrard Johnson), has been called ‘the English Boulle’. The leading London cm in the reigns of William and Mary and Queen Anne, he is also the only one known to have produced furniture employing inlaid
metals, and ironically more pieces in this technique can now be attributed to him than to his great French counterpart.
Nothing is known of Jensen's origins, and even the assumption that he was Flemish or Dutch by birth is open to question: one Garrett Johnson, a ‘carver in stone’ who could well have been his ancestor, is found in the records of the Dutch Church living in Southwark as early as 1582–83 [Furn. Hist., 1971, p. 115] and Jensen could thus have been a 3rd or even 4th generation immigrant. His name first occurs in the Royal accounts in 1680 as making a set of furniture which Charles II presented to the Emperor of Morocco. But he may be the ‘Garrett Johnson’ who purchased his freedom of the City in 1667, and the ‘Gerrard Johnson’ who became a liveryman of the Joiners’ Co. in 1685 — steps up the ladder of the London guild system which would not normally have been open to a foreigner.
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’, an indication of the wide range of Jensen's activities. The Royal Household accounts show that he held a monopoly in supplying overmantel and pier glasses to the palaces during the reign, while at Chatsworth in the same period he supplied the bevelled glass sash panes for the east and south fronts, and the large mirror panels for the doorcase in the State Dining Room, reflecting the enfilade of state rooms beyond. Mirrors such as these were extremely expensive: four measuring 62 inches by 36 inches in the ‘Painted Gardain Roome’ at Hampton Court cost £320 in 1701, while ‘two Glasses each 81 inches long and 45 broad with guilt wooden frames rich & carv'd‘ were supplied for Queen Anne's ‘new Drawing roome’ at St James's for £450 in 1703. By contrast his pieces of carcase furniture, either japanned, or of marquetry, inlaid with walnut, olivewood, prince-wood, ebony, brass, pewter and even silver, seem relatively inexpensive. 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’.
The Westminster City rate bks show that Jensen occupied premises in St Martin's Lane from 1693 onwards, paying an annual rate ranging from £1 6s 8d to £2 8s. According to his will, drawn up on 15 August 1715, and proved the following February, the property consisted of two houses and a warehouse (presumably his workshop) held on lease from the Earl of Salisbury. One of these houses ‘situate on the north side of St. Martin's Church between St. Martin's Lane and Castle Street’ was insured for £50 in 1713, while the other ‘on the west side of St. Martin's Lane’ (presumably including the workshops) was insured for £300. [GL, MS 8674, vol. 12, refs 1250, 1251] Besides these he owned a country house with 1 acre and 3 roods of land at Brook Green, Hammersmith, and also had houses and land at Great and Little Harefield in the parish of Selling, Kent, leased from Corpus Christi College, Oxford. These affluent circumstances are confirmed by his bequests of plate and jewels, as well as portraits painted of himself, his two wives and eldest son. His son by his first wife must have predeceased him, for a daughter-in-law, Anne Jensen, and a grand-daughter Winifred, are mentioned as beneficiaries. His second wife Hellen seems to have borne him four children, Francis, Hellen, Isaac and Katherine, all of whom were under the age of 21 at the time the will was made. The parish registers of St Martin-in-the-Fields record the death of ‘Mr. Garret Johnston’ on 2 December 1715, but unfortunately without revealing his age; but comparison of his signatures on receipts of the 1690s compared with an increasingly shaky hand on later documents seems to suggest that he lived to a comparatively old age. These signatures seem invariably to use the spelling ‘Gerrit Jensen’, which is the form used here.
In style Jensen's furniture is consistently French in form, and particularly close to the work of Pierre Golle, Boulle's famous predecessor. Golle's will mentions a sum of money owed to Jensen for glue, suggesting that close contact existed between the two masters. The catalyst here may well have been Golle's brother-in-law, Daniel Marot, the Huguenot designer and engraver trained under Bérain, who left France before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, entering the service of William and Mary first in Holland and then in England. Marot's engraved furniture designs show remarkable similarities with Jensen's documented pieces in the Royal Collection, and others attributed to him at Boughton, Drayton and elsewhere. It is possible that Jensen had French craftsmen working for him: for instance one Peter Berew, who signs a receipt on his behalf at Drayton in 1693. French terms, barely anglicized, occur constantly in the accounts, and indeed the ‘beuro’ or ‘scrutore’ (escritoire) with ‘drawers to stand on the top’ (otherwise known as the ‘caddinet’) may be a form which Jensen introduced to this country from France, together with the narrow gateleg table with a folding top. If seaweedmarquetry pieces, and other types of carcase furniture dating from the Baroque period, are now more readily associated with Gerrit Jensen's name than is justified by documentary evidence, his output is of such high quality that it deserves, like that of Thomas Chippendale, to stand for the work of a whole generation of English cabinet makers. [DEF; GCM; Conn., vol. 95, 1935, pp. 263–74; Conn., vol. 96, 1935, pp. 188–92; C. Life, 22 May 1942; Conn., January 1963, pp. 31–34]
GOODWOOD, Sussex (1st Duke of Richmond). Supplied a table and stands and a strong box for £10. [BM, Charles Stuart, Duke of Richmond papers, vol. IV — bills 1661–73]
LEVENS HALL, Cumbria. A travelling desk by Jensen is said to survive at the house, together with associated correspondence.
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 table and candlestands, inlaid with pewter, brass and ebony, now in the State Bedchamber, as well as other pieces still in the house.
ROYAL PALACES. 1680–1714: Regular bills in the Lord Chamberlain's accounts [PRO] for furniture supplied to all the royal palaces including 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. Among those pieces still in the Royal Collection that can be firmly attributed to Jensen are a marquetry writing table (probably the ‘Folding writeing table fine Markatree with a Crowne & Cypher’ supplied for £22 10s on 30 October 1690), a glazed cabinet (‘a glass case of fine markatree upon a Cabonett with doors’ costing £30 on 24 July 1693) — both of these supplied ‘for her mats use at Kensington’ — and a ‘fine writing desk table inlaid wth mettall’ made for the King in 1694–95 at a cost of £70, and also intended for Kensington. A pier glass at Hampton Court with the royal cypher and crown in blue glass must be the ‘pannel of glass 13 feet long with a glass in it of 52 inches with a Crown and cypher and other ornaments’, described in a bill of 1699. A marquetrymirror 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 last of Jensen's bills for the Royal Household is dated 10 August 1714, five days before his will was drawn up.
BURGHLEY HOUSE, Lincs. (5th Earl of Exeter). Jensen was paid a total of £534 and a writing table inlaid with pewter (similar to one at Drayton) can be attributed to him. [Child's bank ledgers; Exeter MS]
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. [DEF, 11, 271] 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’.
ARUNDEL CASTLE, Sussex (Lord Thomas Howard). 1689: payment ‘to Garrat Johnson in full £143.10s.’ in Lord Thomas Howard's account bk. [Arundel Castle Records A117]
HAMILTON PALACE, Lanarkshire (1st Duke of Hamilton). c. 1690: A small dressing table, now at Lennoxlove, with a top formed of four sliding panels, all inlaid in brass and pewter on ebony, can be firmly attributed to Jensen on stylistic grounds and may well have been acquired by the Duke in the 1690s, when he is known to have patronized other leading London cm.
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. [U269 A185/2] Among other pieces mentioned in a bill of 21 December 1690 are ‘Table Stands and Glass Japan’. The table and candlestands are thought to be those now in the Spangled Bedchamber; the pier glass is now missing; the set was supplied at a cost of £18. [Kent RO, A192/10]
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. Among the pieces of furniture at the house which can be firmly attributed to him are a magnificent pair of metal-inlaidcabinets, each with nine drawers, and very similar to a documented example at Windsor Castle. These cabinets, in premiere and contre-partie, have a pair of mirrors en suite, one with the monogram of Ralph Montagu under an earl's coronet in the cresting (dating them to between 1689 and 1705), the other with a heart pierced by arrows, perhaps symbolizing his second marriage.
Another pier glassveneered with coromandel and with the same monogram in silver in the cresting, may also be by Jensen, along with its matching table which has a coromandel top and japanned frame. Several other pieces of elaborate marquetry furniture, including a number of caryatid candlestands which are close in style to the engravings of Daniel Marot, could equally have come from Jensen's workshop, though it is tantalizing that the original accounts have not survived.
PETWORTH HOUSE, Sussex (6th Duke of Somerset). c. 1695: Several pieces of furniture including a magnificent pair of verre eglomisée pier glasses in the private dining room, and a seaweedmarquetry table top with hinged flaps bearing the Duchess of Somerset's monogram, can be 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’. [W. Sussex RO, Petworth papers, PHA/652]
WELBECK ABBEY, Notts. (1st Earl of Portland). c. 1695–98: An account bk kept by Caspar Frederick Henning, treasurer to the Earl of Portland, 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. [Worcs. RO, 2252/705; 366/1]
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. [Staffs. RO, D 1287, 18/4/1]
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.’ [PRO, LC 9/281]
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. [Hatfield F.P.S. MS 3/179, bills 475, 476]