These torchères or candle stands are among the most successful of all Chippendale's designs and were part of the most extensive drawing room suite that Chippendale is known to have supplied to any client, comprising four torchères, four sofas, twelve armchairs and twelve side chairs. The suite, executed in circa 1773 for Sir Peniston Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne (1748-1819), for the Saloon at Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire, is a highly-accomplished expression of Chippendale's post-Director style. The torchères are unique to the commission for Brocket and were described by Christopher Gilbert thus: ‘The solid form encrusted in delicate ornament creates an impression of concentrated richness which makes many of Adam's equivalent designs appear over-elaborate and fussy - his furniture seldom expresses the robust confidence of Chippendale’s work’ (1).
SIR PENISTON LAMB, 1ST VISCOUNT MELBOURNE
Sir Peniston Lamb inherited a fortune of over £500,000 following the death in 1768 of his father, Sir Matthew Lamb, 1st Baronet of Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire. He entered parliament the same year and two years later was created 1st Viscount. In 1770 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Roger Milbanke of Halnaby, Yorkshire, and thereafter the couple spent freely, engaging Sir William Chambers (1723-96) to build an appropriately grand mansion on Piccadilly, London, Melbourne House, now Albany. Lady Melbourne was undoubtedly a driving force in the relationship, possessing greater intelligence, character and stronger ambitions than her husband, and her involvement in their affairs cannot be underestimated. It is highly likely that she was influential in the choice of Chippendale as supplier of furnishings for Melbourne House, knowing his fashionable reputation built on significant commissions in her native Yorkshire.
While the work in London progressed, Lord Melbourne spent much of his time at Brocket Hall, his country seat in Hertfordshire. It should be noted that the relationship between Chambers and Chippendale was not always harmonious, the latter submitting designs to Lord Melbourne without the full approval of Chambers, a move that might be seen to undermine the architect, and provoking Chambers to write to his patron by way of reproach. This further reinforces the idea that Chippendale was employed despite, rather than because of the influence of Chambers. It is also likely that by 1773, Chippendale had already been engaged in business at Brocket Hall.
BROCKET HALL, JAMES PAINE AND THOMAS CHIPPENDALE
Brocket Hall was built in classic English parkland between 1760 and 1775 by James Paine (1717-89), whose other notable works included Nostell Priory, Yorkshire. He was thus well acquainted with Chippendale, who could count Nostell as one of his own most significant commissions from 1766, and indeed Paine had been the only architect who subscribed to Chippendale's Director first published in 1754. The importance of Brocket Hall in Paine's portfolio can be gauged by the fact that he later dedicated twelve plates in his Noblemen and Gentlemen's Houses (1783) to plans, elevations and sections of the Hall, stating in the preface ‘the noble owner has spared no expense in furnishing and perfectly compleating’. His drawings also provide a tantalising glimpse into the Saloon where Chippendale's gilded tripod torchères flank one of the sofas from the suite. He described the room as: ‘hung with an exceeding rich flowered damask the sides and piers of this room are furnished with large superb glasses, and rich pendant lusters; and the remainder of the furniture is perfectly suitable to that here described’. In 1923, Country Life photographed the torchères in the same Saloon (2).
THE LATER HISTORY OF THE SUITE
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, eclipsed his ancestors as a politician, serving as Prime Minister in 1834 and again from 1835 to 1841. He notably mentored the young Queen Victoria in political matters and was a particularly favoured by her. Melbourne spent a significant amount of time at Brocket Hall, but after his death in 1848 the property was let as a furnished house to Lord Mount Stephen until 1922 when it was sold. The new owner, Sir Charles Nall-Cain, Bt. purchased much of the finest furniture as part of the house sale and also acquired other important furniture indigenous to the house, including the present torchères, at a sale held on the premises in 1923 by Messrs. Foster of Pall Mall, when the full extent of the suite was listed.
Thus, the suite commissioned by Sir Peniston Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne, remained in situ from the time of delivery until it was dispersed in a series of sales at Christie's, London beginning in the late 20th century. One pair of torchères was sold, ‘The Property of The Lord Brocket Will Trust’, 7 July 1994, lot 100, (£177,500 including premium) alongside a pair of sofas and two pairs of armchairs (lots 103; 101-102), while the second pair of torchères (this lot) was sold 16 November 1995, lot 357 (£227,000 including premium), again alongside a pair of sofas and two pairs of armchairs (lots 360; 358-359). The remaining two pairs of armchairs were sold 8 July 1999 (lots 80 and 81); subsequently a pair of armchairs was sold again Christie's, London, 28 November 2002, lot 106 and a pair of sofas 5 July 2012, lot 9.
(1) C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 263.
(2) 'Brocket Hall - III. Hertfordshire, The Seat of Sir Charles Nall-Cain, Bt.', Country Life, 18 July 1925, p. 97, fig. 2, 'The Saloon in 1923'.
These torchères have been gilded, or partly gilded, at least three times. The original water gilding with gesso applied in multiple thin layers, followed by a pink and brown-coloured clay and then the gilding. This gilding was partly cleaned at some point and a fresh layer of gesso was then applied, followed by a light brown clay and then water gilding. Following their 1995 sale, these were restored by David Bohn, Norfolk and the gilding was at least partly refreshed using oil gilding over a clear oil size.