THE CUSWORTH SUITE
These beautiful chairs with brilliant Roman-mosaiced needlework covers were commissioned for Cusworth Hall, Yorkshire either by William Wrightson (d. 1760) or his daughter Isabella and her husband John Battie-Wrightson (d. 1765), and were almost certainly executed under the direction of the architect James Paine (d. 1784), celebrated author of Plans, Elevations and Sections of the Mansion House of Doncaster (1751).
Epitomising the George II 'French Chair' fashion, they reflect the 'Modern' style, with its novel variety, popularised by Thomas Chippendale's, Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1754. Here the 'antique' styled upholstery is displayed on 'picturesque' 'cabriolet' chairs, whose frames are elegantly serpentined in the manner lauded in William Hogarth's 1753 Analysis of Beauty. The chairs, commissioned for a garden-fronting Saloon, would generally have been ranged against the walls flanking a temple-pediment door leading to the Banqueting Hall.
WILLIAM WRIGHTSON AND CUSWORTH
Wrightson, formerly M.P. for Newcastle, had succeeded in 1723 to his brother's estate at Cusworth, near Doncaster. He was Steward of the Yorkshire estates of Charles, 10th Duke of Norfolk (d. 1786) and served in the Pipe Office at the Court of the Exchequer, being elected its First Secretary in 1756. He further embellished Cusworth in the 1750s for the benefit of his heiress daughter Isabella (d. 1784), who married John Battie (d.1765) after her father's death, when they adopted the surname of Battie-Wrightson.
William Wrightson had transformed Cusworth into a Roman villa in the Palladian fashion, and ornamented the Saloon in the Romano-British style associated with Inigo Jones (d. 1652) and promoted by his fellow Yorkshireman Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. The building of the house was begun in 1740 and completed in 1743 by the local father and son architects George & John Platt. However, Wrightson's son-in-law, John Battie (who in 1761 appended Wrightson to his surname) managed to persuade him that the house required further alteration, and it was to James Paine (1725-1789) that father and son-in-law now turned. Paine added a west wing containing a chapel and an east wing containing a library: completed by mid-1753 (P. Leach, James Paine, London, 1988, pp. 181-182). Frustratingly, no records for furnishing the newly-updated house exist beyond Paine's building invoices, until the intriguing entries of 1760s.
Between 1762-1771, there are various payments to the Wakefield firm of Richard Wright & Edward Elwick, for 'chairs, bed, wallpaper' etc., totalling £131.6s.0d. Two payments to John Cobb, of 72 St Martin's Lane appear: £21.19s.0d for 1768 and £31.9s.0d. for 1770. Finally, there are payments to a Joseph Graham & Partners (fl. 1767-1829), of 7 St Paul's Churchyard, for £22.2s.0d for 'six library chairs, two carpets and two screens'.
These surviving payments suggest a certain amount of furnishing at Cusworth in the late 1760s until at least 1771, years in which the widowed Isabella Battie-Wrightson lived with her son, William (1752-1827), who came of age in 1773. It is supposed that this furnishing activity may have been directed towards William's coming-of-age. However, it is by no means clear that the present suite can be included in this phase of furnishing, perhaps because of the rather sketchy documentary evidence noted above. After William Wrightson completed his final phase of new building work at Cusworth under the direction of the supremely talented James Paine, the new rooms would have required furnishing. Cusworth was designed, at least externally, in a somewhat austere Palladian idiom, but Paine was equally well-versed in the rococo, having spent much of his formative years in London and almost certainly studied at the St Martin's Lane Academy, the locus classicus for any artist of architect wishing to learn the rococo and by 1755 he was living in St Martin's Lane, next to Old Slaughter's Coffee House. The interior of the Chapel at Cusworth is a Palladian frame fused with rococo ornament (Leach, op. cit., p. 53, fig. 19).
THE SPECIMEN CHAIR
Interestingly, the carving and overall finish of one armchair is more refined than the rest of the set. The carved detail is elaborated on a fraction more than on comparable passages on other chairs, the webbing is applied differently (it is identical on the other chairs) and the treatment of the rails and ears is more rounded and finished on the slightly different chair. This is almost certainly an example of a 'specimen' chair, delivered to the client for approval, before ordering the rest of the set. Once approved, the remainder of the suite were made, explaining the slight differences from the specimen chair. These minor differences may be explained by a secondary set of craftsmen in the workshop who may have worked on the remaining chairs.
The chairs are made using ash seat-rails, a feature also seen on the magnificent set of chairs supplied to George Lyttleton, 5th Bt. and 1st Baron Lyttleton (d. 1773) for Hagley Hall, Worcestershire and sold by his descendant, John, 11th Viscount Cobham (1943-2006), Christie's London 14 June 2006, lots 52 & 53 and most recently sold by the late Tom Devenish, Sotheby's New York, 24 April 2008, lots 46 & 47. Although lacking documentation, the suite has been associated with the Linnell family of cabinet-makers.
RICHARD WRIGHT AND EDWARD ELWICK
Coinciding with Chippendale's move to London, the celebrated London tapestry-weavers Messrs Wright and Elwick moved in the opposite direction to establish workshops in Wakefield, Yorkshire, where they received considerable local patronage during the next three decades while trading at the Glass & Cabinet Ware House in Northgate. Their trade card of the late 1750s announced that 'Mr Wright haveing been in ye direction of ye Greatest Tapestry manufactury in Enland for Upwards of Twenty Years'. Whilst payments to the firm are recorded from 1762-1771, their pre-eminent status as Upholders in Yorkshire and their experience in the supply of textiles makes them the leading candidate for the manufacture of the celebrated Cusworth needlework.
ST MARTIN'S LANE, CHIPPENDALE AND COBB
The Yorkshire-born cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale (d.1779) was encouraged in his London venture in the late 1740s by Yorkshire connoisseurs such as the Earl of Burlington and by Rowland Winn (d. 1765) of Nostell Priory, who also encouraged his friends in the employment of Chippendale. Winn likewise patronised Paine, who appears to have had a close working relationship with Chippendale and is thought to have provided designs for his London premises. Paine was the sole architect subscriber to Chippendale's Director. While Wrightson is not listed amongst the Subscribers to the Director, these chairs may have emanated from his workshop.
The alternate possibility is to look at Chippendale's neighbour and rival in St Martin's Lane, John Cobb, to whom Isabella turned in 1771, perhaps for the commissioning of these chairs, although stylistically they seem retardataire if they are to be associated with the later bill. However, if these chairs date from an earlier commission from Cobb, it might equally justify why she returned to him for further furnishings in 1771.
THE ICONOGRAPHY OF THE CHAIRS
The frames are sculpted with bas-relief foliage in keeping with the upholstery. It provides triumphal cartouches, that celebrate the fusion of the Earth and Water Elements, while alluding to the sun-god's fabled power as controller of the Elements. Chippendale introduced this concept in his Director pattern-book, whose Preface quoted the Latin text 'Collegit ut spargat', in reference to the god's ability to gather clouds together for their better dispersal. The cartouches' bubbled and reed-framed water embossments issue from acanthus sprays, and these are tied by wave-voluted ribbons that enscroll the Roman columnar and truss-scrolled legs. During the 1740s such French picturesque trophies were introduced in Cusworth's ceiling decoration, and related to those featured in the architect Isaac Ware's Complete Body of Architecture, 1756. The embossed mouldings of the chairs' arms and legs are framed in confronted ribbon-scrolls, and recall the Roman 'echinus' ribbon-guilloche that tied egg-like shields to Cupid's dart. They issue from naturally wind-raffled leaves in a manner adopted as the principal ornament of 'French Chair' patterns, such as Chippendale introduced with his St. Martin's Lane trade-sign and popularised with the Director, 1753-1762.
THE ICONOGRAPHY OF THE NEEDLEWORK
Their flowered Roman acanthus harmonised with the stuccoed rosettes in Cusworth's banqueting saloon or parlour; and are rayed in golden discs to evoke 'lyric' poetry's triumph' as appropriate for a room-of-entertainment. Their woven or imbricated pattern of rosette-flowered and reed-banded rings derives from ceiling compartments in Palmyra's Temple of Apollo. They therefore serve to recall Ovid's Metamorphoses, concerning the Loves of the Gods, and in particular the history of the sun deity Apollo in his Parnassus role as lyre-playing leader of the Muses of Artistic Inspiration. The festive pattern demonstrates an early use of Robert Wood's inspirational publication The Ruins of Palmyra, 1753, in particular plate 42, while the tapestry's rich polychromy on a lily-white ground, can also be associated with the Louis Quartorze 'antique' fashion of Jean Bérain (d. 1711) and ultimately derives from Rome's ancient grottoes. Poets considered the acanthus leaf, the principal ornament of the Roman Orders of Architecture, to have also served to decorate the Muses' Mount Parnassus cave.
THE RESTORATION OF THE NEEDLEWORK
The needlework has been restored twice. First, in the early 1970s, the suite was restored by Miss M. Bartlett and Mr Lloyd of the Royal School of Needlework. Some of this restoration has been left. The second restoration was undertaken by Texterity. This painstaking restoration was begun in June 2006 and lasted eighteen months and involved a search for a natural fibre wool chenille, that was eventually found in a small workshop in Italy. Please contact the Furniture department for further information and photographs of the restoration of the needlework.