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    Sale 7727

    Important English Furniture and Clocks

    4 June 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 137

    A PAIR OF GEORGE III DARK-STAINED MAHOGANY 'STRAWBERRY HILL' SIDE CHAIRS

    AFTER THE DESIGN BY HORACE WALPOLE AND RICHARD BENTLEY, LATE 18TH EARLY 19TH CENTURY

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    A PAIR OF GEORGE III DARK-STAINED MAHOGANY 'STRAWBERRY HILL' SIDE CHAIRS
    AFTER THE DESIGN BY HORACE WALPOLE AND RICHARD BENTLEY, LATE 18TH EARLY 19TH CENTURY
    Each with a Gothic ogee-arched back with moulded tracery, quatrefoils and octofoils between ring-turned cluster column uprights, with a padded velvet-covered drop-in seat and cusped rails, on panelled and chamfered square section legs with tapered feet, minor losses to carving
    51 in. (129 cm.) high; 24 in. (61 cm.) wide; 25 in. (64 cm.) deep (2)


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    The pattern for the parlour chairs from Shirburn Castle reflects the picturesque and eclectic George II 'Modern' style of Thomas Chippendale's, Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director (1754) and was invented in 1754 by the connoisseur, antiquarian and author, Horace Walpole, later 4th Earl of Orford (d. 1797) for his villa at Strawberry Hill. They are first documented at Shirburn Castle in an engraving made in 1823 by J. Skelton of the Ancient Entrance Hall, in which the arched double doors and vaulted ceiling evoke a strongly Gothic interior.

    THE SHIRBURN CASTLE GOTHIC CHAIRS
    Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire, seat of the Earls of Macclesfield, originally constructed circa 1377, was extensively rebuilt and modernised following its purchase by Thomas Parker, 1st Earl of Macclesfield (1667-1732). His son, George Parker, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield (d.1764), was an amateur of the sciences and arts, a Fellow of the Society for Antiquaries from 1752 and President of the Royal Society between 1752 and 1764. His antiquarian tastes mark the beginning of the family's interests in this area, an interest which prevailed in subsequent generations and epitomised in their ownership of chairs such as these.

    THE STRAWBERRY HILL GOTHIC CHAIRS
    The original high-backed banqueting seats, designed by Horace Walpole with assistance from the artist Richard Bentley (d.1782), were executed by the St. Martin's lane cabinet-maker William Hallett (d.1781). They matched the ecclesiastical architecture, as well as the sideboard-table and other furnishings of Walpole's Great Parlour or Refectory, in the castellated Library extension of his Strawberry Hill villa at Twickenham. The mediaeval gothic frets, in part derived from B. Langley's, Gothic Architecture improved by Rules (1747), were perhaps intended to pay homage his ancestor Ralph de Walpole, Bishop of Ely (d.1302). Their triumphal arch form and lancet niched legs being related to the frame of the Bishop's brass monument tablet depicted in an engraving in the Strawberry Library. Conceived as Modern Elizabethan back-stools, with reed enrichments, matted bottom seats and ebony-black japanning, they also harmonised with Walpole's Chinese lacquer desk and the Etruscan urn garniture of his Westminster patterned hearth. Their gothicism also served to recall Walpole's Saracenic family crest. Walpole proposed that their arched and pinnacled crest-rails, supported by black sticks pierced through, should be flowered in ecclesiastical window-tracery quatrefoils, while the trefoiled lilies that crown the splats, and the cusped lambrequins of the cushion-rounded seat-rails appear to derive from Langley's publication (pl.34). In T. Kirkgate's guide-book entitled Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole, 1767, it was noted that 'The chairs are black of a gothic pattern, designed by Mr. Bentley and Mr. Walpole'.

    PUBLICATION OF THE STRAWBERRY HILL CHAIRS
    The Strawberry Hill chairs, with their original chequered patterning featured in a watercolour of Walpole's Great Parlour made around 1784, the year of the second and illustrated edition of Kirkgate's Description. Appearing two years after the fourth edition of Walpole's celebrated gothic novel The Castle of Otranto, (1st ed. of 1764), this may have encouraged the commissioning the manufacture of replicas for Shirburn Castle. However G. D. Harding made a watercolour of one of Walpole's set of eight chairs about 1801, and the Shirburn chairs seem more likely to have been made at this period. They are first documented at the Castle in an engraving made in 1823 by J. Skelton of the Ancient Entrance Hall, in which the arched double doors and vaulted ceiling evoke a strongly Gothic interior.

    THE DISPERSAL OF THE STRAWBERRY HILL CHAIRS
    Although Walpole died in 1797, the contents of Strawberry Hill remained intact until 1842 when they were famously sold in an auction ordered by the 7th Earl Waldegrave. This monumental sale lasted 23 days and was well documented at the time in newspapers and periodicals; the catalogue was published in seven editions. The set of eight gothic chairs was offered as four pairs, lots 49-52 and sold thus: lots 49 and 52 were bought by 'Piggott, Richmond', probably a dealer, and lots 50 and 51 were bought by The Earl of Charleville of Charleville Forest, Co. Offaly, a spectacular Gothic house in Ireland. It is almost certain that one of the 'Piggott' pairs was bought by the American collector of Walpoleana, W.S. Lewis (purchased from Major T.B.C. Piggott in 1953): this pair is now in the Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, Connecticut. Lewis bought a second pair in the same year in Ireland, from Henry Naylor, a dealer. It is therefore likely that this pair was acquired from descendants of the Earl of Charleville and this pair is also now at Farmington. The second pair of Charleville chairs was with the London dealer Christopher Gibbs in 1987, and while the second pair of 'Piggott' chairs is untraced it seems highly likely that one chair from that pair (in beechwood) is that bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum from Simon Redburn in 1979 and which had previously been owned by David Hicks (sold Britwell House, Sotheby's house sale, 20-22 March 1979, lot 11). If this is the case then only one chair remains missing.
    The differences between the Shirburn Castle and Strawberry Hill Gothic chairs:
    The Shirburn Castle chairs are distinctive for having less carving on their back uprights and the legs being fully carved only on their front faces, whereas the Strawberry Hill chairs are carved on all sides of the legs and also have fully-realised ring-turning on the splats.

    Comparative Literature:
    A. Chalcraft and J. Viscardi, Strawberry Hill, London, 2007, pp. 31 and 29 .
    The Walpole chair acquired in 1979 by the Victoria & Albert Museum is discussed in C. Wilk (ed.), Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day, London, 1996, p. 108.
    C. Wainwright, The Romantic Interior, 1989, pp. 71-107.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Provenance

    Probably acquired by George Parker, 4th Earl of Macclesfield (1755-1842), Shirburn Castle, Oxfordshire, who inherited in 1795 and by descent at Shirburn.


    Pre-Lot Text

    THE EARLS OF MACCLESFIELD AT SHIRBURN CASTLE:

    The romantically-embattled medieval Shirburn Castle in Oxfordshire was bought by Thomas Parker (1667-1732), 1st Earl of Macclesfield in 1716 following his ennoblement by George I. As a leading lawyer, he had risen to be Lord Chancellor, and may have been drawn to the ancient castle, between Oxford and London, by a desire to enrich his medieval ancestry. The earliest part of the castle is of circa 1377 and it required much modernisation - the 1st Earl rebuilt more than three-quarters of the castle in Georgian brick. Unfortunately for him, his enemies accused him of embezzlement and in 1725 he retired from Court and spent his remaining years at Shirburn. Whilst the 1st Earl was very much a political animal, his son George, 2nd Earl (1697-1764), was an amateur of the sciences and arts, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries from 1752 and President of the Royal Society between 1752 and 1764. He further aggrandised the Castle's collections and embarked on his Grand Tour in 1719 in search of paintings and sculpture. The account of his tour, noted by E. Wright in Some Observations made in travelling through France, Italy etc. in the years 1720, 1721 and 1722, London, 1730, records the younger Parker's visits to the studios of Giuseppe Chiari and Sebastiano Conca. The latter is likely to have executed the portrait which depicts the future 2nd Earl when in Rome (T. P. Connor, 'Edward Wright and Lord Parker in Italy, 1720-22', Apollo, July 1998, pp. 23-30). The 2nd Earl was probably responsible for the formation of the majority of the collection, including the magnificent collection of sculpture (sold by the late 7th Earl of Macclesfield, Christie's, London, 1 December 2005, lots 50-81). Yet in spite of the intensive schooling he received in the 'polite' arts, the focus of his life became The Royal Society. He was to be an important astronomer in his own right, patron of mathematicians, champion of reform of the calendar, and eventually President of the Society.

    The 2nd Earl's great grandson, Thomas (1811-1896), became the 6th Earl in 1850. He was Tory MP for Oxfordshire (1837-1841) and in 1842 married Mary Frances Grosvenor (d. 1912), daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Westminster, and it may be that the splendid oak table frames (lot 144) were made around the time of their marriage and bear the alabaster tops likely to have been acquired by George, 2nd Earl on his Grand Tour.

    THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
    (LOTS 137-141)