THE WANSTEAD STOOL
The golden framed and French squab-cushioned banquette seat is conceived in the George II 'Britannia Romanum' fashion promoted by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (d. 1753), and designed by his protégé William Kent (d. 1748), the Rome-trained artist and illustrator of Alexander Pope's 1725 translation of Homer's Odyssey. It formed part of a suite commissioned by Richard Child, Earl Tylney of Castlemaine (d. 1743) to furnish the Drawing Room of his recently built Roman style villa at Wanstead. Essex. It was conceived at the time of Child's elevation by George II as Earl Tylney in 1731, and designed in harmony with Kent's painted ceiling that evoked the poets' history of banqueting Gods and love's triumph. Like the early 1720s ceiling of the King's Kensington Palace Saloon/Drawing Room, Kent introduced a scene from Ovid's Metamorphoses or Loves of the Gods that recalled the History of Jupiter and his love Semele, and celebrated the birth of the wine-deity Bacchus.
A similar architectural repertoire featured in Kent's 1730s 'furniture' designs, such as his Roman sideboard-table executed for Houghton, Norfolk, and displaying the lion-head symbol of the triumphal harvest deities Bacchus and Ceres (see J. Vardy, Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones and Mr. William Kent, 1744, pl. 41).
The present pattern derived from Kent's 'love seats' or Venus-headed settees, which were intended for Wanstead's Banqueting Hall, and evolved from the antique or Renaissance sgabello seats associated with Inigo Jones (d. 1652). While the settees are sculpted with the same rail pattern, scaled pilasters and oak garlands; their façade-tablets are finely fretted with caryatic nereids. These chimerical dolphin-tailed nymphs, which served as attendants of the water-deity Neptune, had been introduced by Kent in his 1725 Odyssey illustrations and in his 1732 design for a state barge for Frederick, Prince of Wales (d. 1752) (ibid., pl. 54).
The present seat was one of a set of four small and one large seat listed on the Principal Grand Floor: No. 35. Grand Saloon, ( p. 200). The large seat (Lot 7) was described as:-
'A massive rich carved and gilt Conversation Stool, with bordered squab, in beautiful crimson damask, edged with silk cord, the panel handsomely ornamented with female head in the centre, and acorn festoons, on raffle-leaf [acanthus] scroll truss feet and balls, extra crimson ground chints case, lined white calico, etc. 4-feet-3 long, by 1-foot-10 wide.'.
The present seat was one of Lots 8 - 11, which were listed as; 'A Ditto, 3-feet by 1-foot-10'.
Two were purchased by the connoisseur and Wardour Street 'curiosity dealer' John Swaby, whose own collection was sold from Torriano Place, Kentish Town by Mr. Phillips in March 1860; while the others were purchased in the names of 'Gazeley' and 'German' (Wanstead sale catalogue in Newham Archives).
The seat, which is worthy of Semele's couch, served as a wall-bracket and part of the architecture of the great room-of-entertainment. Jupiter's sacred oak garland its fretted ribbon frame, which is wrapped in Roman acanthus. From its rail, which is sculpted with a pearl-enriched reed moulding and a reeded guilloche scalloped in hollow flutes, suspends a lambrequined cartouche bearing the pearled and shell-dressed head of Venus. In addition, the cartouche is tied by waved ribbons to the legs' Vitruvian waved-scrolled pilasters, whose scaled-imbrications recall the dolphins that draw the water-born deity's triumphal chariot.
It should come as no surprise to connoisseurs of collectors and house sale dispersals that a stool with such a distinguished provenance should have passed into the collection of Graham Baron Ash. His home, Wingfield Castle, Norfolk, was the setting for his remarkable collection of Dutch 17th century paintings and furniture of the 16th and 17th centuries. A passionate amateur of the salerooms, he instructed Christie's to hold a sale of his collection during his lifetime, which took place at Christie's King Street on 4 October 1967.
We would like to thank Mr. Peter Brown and Mr. John Martin Robinson for their kind assistance in preparing this catalogue note.
Samples taken from two locations:
The samples were mounted as cross-sections and the layers compared.
The frieze has been decorated less often than the legs, but the original scheme appears to be the same in both areas.
Original decoration [legs and frieze]
Gesso, containing a few particles of charcoal black, built up in many thin layers.
Wash of yellow ochre, followed by reddish clay, and then water gilding. These layers look fine for the eighteenth century.
Second gilding [on the legs only]:
Oil gilding over a clear oil size. The use of a clear oil size points to it having been applied no earlier than mid nineteenth century.
Third gilding [legs and frieze]:
A layer of animal skin glue applied as a sealant.
Lead white oil paint, followed by oil gilding over a yellow oil size containing yellow iron oxide.
The use of lead white means this is unlikely to be much later than the 1920s.
'Gold' paint [legs only]