THOMAS CHIPPENDALE'S DESIGN
The chairs successfully combine both gothic and rococo decoration, two of the predominant styles that informed The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director first published by Thomas Chippendale in 1754, pl. XII. The chair pattern follows almost exactly Chippendale’s design issued in the first edition as pl. XII, and it proved to be one of his most popular and long-lived designs, being reproduced again, twice in the third edition of the Director in 1762, pls. XIII and XIV (1); the carving is of a quality commensurate with Chippendale's work.
Described in the 1754 Director as 'new pattern’ chairs, Chippendale instructed 'if you think they are too much ornamented, that can be omitted at pleasure’, perhaps in recognition of the fact that the highly carved rococo decoration was becoming slightly old-fashioned (though Chippendale was certainly not, at this time, in the vanguard of the neo-classical movement), or else he was just signalling that he was able to simplify the pattern for clients of a more parsimonious nature. By 1762 he further stated that 'The Seats look best when stuffed over the Rails, and have a Brass border neatly chased; but most are commonly done with Brass Nails, on one or two Row’.
One such set of six chairs survives at Nostell Priory. These feature the same chair-back pattern indicating that the design remained fashionable at least twelve years after first issued, but they have square legs joined by stretchers and so fit rather better the restrained 'Nostell style’ described by Gilbert (2) and exemplified by some of the earliest documented mahogany furniture supplied by Chippendale to Sir Rowland Winn, such as the Lady’s Secretaire (3), the suite of ten mahogany 'French armchairs (4), and the superb mahogany commode clothes-press intended for Lady Winn (5). The six chairs were probably supplied by Chippendale to Sir Rowland and would presumably date from early in the commission, around 1766. Interestingly the Nostell chairs have drop-in seats like the set offered here. However it should be noted that in the 1880s Sir Rowland’s descendant, the 2nd Baron St. Oswald, bought at auction a number of pieces of 'Chippendale’ furniture including a set of riband-back chairs that was destroyed by fire in the 1980s, and it is possible that the six 'new pattern’ chairs were among these later acquisitions. One chair from the Nostell Priory set was exhibited at Thomas Chippendale 1718 - 1779, A Celebration of British Craftsmanship and Design, Leeds, and illustrated in the exhibitition catalogue (6).
That the design was popular and long-lived there can be no doubt as many examples are known in literature, in museums and also offered at auction. A pair of chairs in the Noel Terry Collection at Fairfax House, York, correspond most closely to the present lot, including a very similar (though not identical) cabriole leg with cabochon-carved knees and scrolled toes; they were acquired from Mallett, London, in 1937 (7). Another in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (Macquoid bequest) has cabriole legs with pad feet (8), and another pair at Temple Newsam House, Yorkshire, has square legs (9). Christopher Gilbert recorded another set of ten chairs of 'indifferent quality’ with an inscription under the 'shoe’ stating '6 pedestals for Mr. Chippendales backs’, speculating that the ornamental splats might possibly have been supplied by Chippendale to lesser chair-makers (10).
Winkburn Hall, near Newark in Nottinghamshire, was built by William Burnell after he married his wife Mary in 1683. The house shows marked similarity to Stanford Hall, Leicestershire, built by William Smith of Warwick, and given that Burnell was a cousin of Sir Roger Cave of Stanford it is conceivable that the same architect was employed. William’s grandson D’Arcy inherited the house and estate in 1748, the same year he married Mary Pakey, only daughter of a wealthy doctor, and together they set about improving the house. They added wings to each side joined to the main block by curved arcades as depicted in an architectural drawing from the 1740s, now preserved in Nottinghamshire Record Office, the extensions demolished in the 19th century. At the same time they re-decorated the interior in the Rococo taste, the saloon fitted out with remarkable carved wooden door friezes depicting Gothic and Chinese buildings, animals, birds and human figures, which survive to the present, while in the drawing room still finer pedimented door cases were installed matching the enriched oak shutters and dado, and featuring rustic scenes in cartouches set among acanthus scrolls. The dining-chairs with their finely carved acanthus and gothic backs and curvaceous legs displaying acanthus-framed cabochons, and the accompanying triple chair-back sofa, would have suitably complemented the architecture and plasterwork. Unfortunately all family papers that survived to the 20th century were burnt by the housekeeper after the death in 1931 of the last Pegge-Burnell owner of the house, so much detail regarding the history of the house was lost (11).
The house passed to a nephew Assheton Craven-Smith-Milnes, but the depleted estate was no longer sufficient to support the house and so in 1934 it was sold. The chairs and sofa were offered for sale at auction a year earlier but were ultimately sold privately to Sir Arthur Wilmot, and were later with the London dealer Norman Adams. At this time the chairs and sofa were all upholstered in the original flower and foliate-patterned gros-point needlework (12). In 1999 the set of chairs, by then including a twelfth chair made to match, was offered anonymously at Christie’s, New York, selling for $420,500 to Theodore and Ruth Baum. The Baum’s important collection of English furniture was formed over a quarter century by following the guidelines espoused by the writer, historian and tastemaker R.W.Symonds, namely the 'steadfast exercise of knowledge, good taste, self restraint and long patience, beyond most human endurance’ and included many fine pieces of mid-18th century carved walnut and mahogany furniture.
(1) C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, p. 83, fig. 130.
(2) C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 170.
(3) C. Gilbert, vol. II, fig. 90.
(4) C. Gilbert, vol. II, figs. 140, 141.
(5) C. Gilbert, vol. II, fig. 245.
(6) A. Bowett and J. Lomax, Thomas Chippendale 1718 – 1779, exhibition catalogue, 2018, p. 28, no. 1.12.
(7) The Noel Terry Collection of Furniture and Clocks, York, 1987, p.61, no.61.
(8) P. Macquoid and R.Edwards, Dictionary of English Furniture, London 1954, vol. I, p. 278, fig. 164.
(9) C. Gilbert, Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall, Leeds, 1978, vol. I, p. 74, no. 73.
(10) C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 290 and vol. II, p. 83, fig. 132.
(11) G. Jackson-Stops, 'Winkburn Hall, Nottinghamshire’, Country Life, 6 June 1991, pp. 102 - 105.
(12) C. Claxton Stevens & S.Whittington, 18th Century English Furniture The Norman Adans Collection, Woodbridge, 1983, pp. 48-49.