These chairs are closely related to those in two recognised Chippendale commissions: Sir Gilbert Heathcote (d. 1785), 3rd Baronet for Normanton Hall, Rutland and William Crichton-Dalrymple, 5th Earl of Dumfries (4th Earl of Stair, 1699-1768) for Dumfries House, Ayrshire.
THE RELATED CHAIRS
The chairs are of identical decoration to the set of two armchairs and ten single chairs, circa 1765, formerly at Normanton Hall (1). In 1759, Sir Gilbert Heathcote (d. 1785), 3rd Baronet, succeeded to the vast inheritance established by his grandfather, also Gilbert, 1st Baronet (1652-1733), who was reputed to be ‘the richest commoner in England’ (2). The 3rd Baronet employed both Chippendale Senior and his son, Chippendale Junior, in the furnishing of his Palladian mansion, Normanton Hall in Rutland, and his London houses, 29 Grosvenor Square, London and Browne's House at North End, Fulham. Surviving Chippendale accounts, although incomplete, show that the firm was working periodically for members of the Heathcote family from 1768 to 1821. Most of the furniture listed in these accounts was intended for Browne’s House, although after 1798 when the family relinquished this residence some of the furniture was moved to Normanton Hall. The latter was sold in 1924, and any furniture not included in the Normanton Hall sale was taken to the Earl of Ancaster’s seat at Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire. Chippendale’s earliest invoice for Sir Gilbert Heathcote records the acquisition in 1768 of ‘6 India Back and arm chairs Japand to imitate the Bamboe’, signifying how the family embraced the highly fashionable chinoiserie taste. Although the Normanton chairs cannot be conclusively identified in the extant Chippendale accounts, their form and ornamentation led Christopher Gilbert to suggest that they were possibly by Chippendale (3).
The set of four mahogany chairs at Dumfries House have nearly-identical pagoda-form cresting rails and identical terminals but differ in the arrangement of the 'Chinese' paling in the backs and side panels. Although no documentary evidence for the Dumfries chairs survives, in their execution and sophisticated carving of the toprails, they are extremely close to Chippendale’s hand.
Another near-set of closely related chairs is at Saltram House, Devon, where Chippendale worked between 1771-2; these dates are based on payments in John Parker's cash account book, and probably do not reflect a true picture of the entire commission as Parker often paid tradesmen by banker's draft (4). Comprising two armchairs and seven single chairs, this set, circa 1765, is made of padouk, and has been described by the National Trust as ‘Chinese Export’ (5). The set was returned to Saltram in 1951 having been accepted by H.M. Treasury in lieu of full payment of Death Duty from the Executors of Edmund Robert Parker, 4th Earl of Morley (1877-1951). Some of the chairs are currently on display in ‘The Chinese Chippendale Bedroom’.
A further set of four padouk chairs of the Saltram pattern was almost certainly at Kenwood House, London; some of these are recorded in 18th century inventories drawn up by Lord Mansfield. This set was removed to Scone Palace, Perth, prior to the auction at Kenwood in 1922, and subsequently sold from ‘Scone Palace and Blairquhan: The Selected Contents of Two Great Scottish Houses’, Christie’s, London, 24 May 2007, lot 298.
Another pair of padouk chairs of this model sold ‘The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller’, Christie’s, New York, 10 May 2018, lot 647 ($193,750 inc. premium).
Conceived in the Chinese manner expounded by William and John Halfpenny in Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste (1752), and Sir William Chambers in his Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and Utensils (1757), the pattern for this set of ‘Pagoda’ chairs relates to nine designs for ‘Chinese Chairs’ in the 1st edition of Chippendale’s Director (1754); the cabinet-maker describes these designs thus:
Plates XXIII, XXIV and XXV are nine Chairs in the present Chinese manner, which I hope will improve that taste, or manner of work; it having yet never arrived to any perfection; doubtless it might be lost without feeling its beauty: as it admits of the greatest variety, I think it the most useful of any other. The sizes are all specified on the designs. The three last (No. XXV.) I hope will be well received, as there has been none like them yet made.
The Georgian period witnessed the proliferation of such railed and pagoda-crested chairs in both the ‘picturesque’ Chinese tea pavilions of landscaped parks as well as in fashionable apartments hung with ‘India’ paper.
The geometric ‘Chinese’ feet of these chairs are also found on a set of pedestals, 1774, originally japanned green and gold, supplied to Harewood House, and also on a bureau dressing table from Paxton House, Berwickshire (6).
AYKLEY HEADS HOUSE, CO. DURHAM
The Dixon and Johnson families were united in 1749 by the marriage of Christopher Johnson (1718-87) and Tabitha Dixon, youngest daughter of George Dixon of Aykley Heads, and heiress to her brother John. Thus, the Aykley Heads estate passed through the female line to Tabitha’s son, Francis Johnson (1757-1851), and subsequently to his son, Francis Dixon Johnson (1803-1867); in 1929, the Dixon-Johnson family moved to Middle Ord, Northumberland. The descent of the family name has taken both forms, as Johnson and Dixon-Johnson, the latter being formally taken in the later nineteenth century (although still appearing in unhyphenated form). As well as the legal profession and land in Co. Durham, the family acquired coal-mining interests.
(1) C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, Leeds, 1978, vol. II, p. 101, fig. 167.
(2) Ibid., vol. I, p. 248.
(3) Ibid., p. 249.
(4) Ibid., p. 257.
(5) C. Johnson, Saltram: National Trust Guide Book, revised 2005, p. 28; NT 871346.1-5 (single chairs); NT 871346.6-7 (armchairs).
(6) Gilbert, op. cit., vol. II, p. 208, fig. 380; p. 228, fig. 415. The Paxton bureau dressing table sold, Christie’s, London, 14 May 2003, lot 140 (£77,675 inc. premium), and later, Sotheby’s, London, 10 November 2015, lot 123.