A PAIR OF GEORGE I WALNUT AND SEAWEED MARQUETRY SIDE CHAIRS
A PAIR OF GEORGE I WALNUT AND SEAWEED MARQUETRY SIDE CHAIRS

ATTRIBUTED TO RICHARD ROBERTS, CIRCA 1715

Details
A PAIR OF GEORGE I WALNUT AND SEAWEED MARQUETRY SIDE CHAIRS
Attributed to Richard Roberts, circa 1715
Each yoke crest with curved solid splat centered by a cartouche with coronet and cypher TW, the stiles with shells and entwined scrolls, the padded seat covered in beige Fortuny cotton on broken cabriole legs with hoof feet joined by shaped stretchers with two horizontal elements, partially rerailed (2)
Provenance
Supplied to Thomas Watson-Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby and later 3rd Earl of Strafford (d. 1739) for Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire.
Thence by descent until sold by the Earl Fitzwilliam's Wentworth Estates Company, Christie's London, 15 July 1948, lot 50 (a set of four; 300 guineas, bought back by Wentworth).
Acquired from Hotspur Ltd., London.
Literature
H.A. Tipping, 'Wentworth Woodhouse II', Country Life, 4 October 1924, p. 517 (four chairs shown in situ in the Large Library).
F. Mannheim, The Connoisseur, February 1930 (then attributed to Gerriet Jensen) (a pair).

Lot Essay

The Wentworth chairs are masterpieces of the early 18th century chair-makers' craft, when the area around St. Paul's provided the focal point for London's cabinet-making industry. The Ionic-scrolled crest rails, columnar uprights and strong trussed scrolls of the legs together with the elegant filigreed marquetry inlay, adapted directly from French sources, reflect the combination of Roman forms and French refinement appropriate for the furnishing of the Vitruvian or Palladian style villas of George I's reign. The pedestals of the uprights and the base of the splat are both enhanced with filigreed beribboned Venus-shells and Roman acanthus in the Louis XIV or 'arabesque' fashion first introduced by Jean Bérain (d.1711) and popularized by the 'architect' Daniel Marot's engraved Oeuvres which was first issued around 1700. These designs were intended not only for marquetry, as their complex detail made them particularly well-adapted to needlework and other textile designs. Another French design source was surely the foliage and strapwork inlay made so fashionable by Charles André Boulle, whose pieces had a tremendous influence on early 18th century furniture design throughout Europe.

The chairs can probably be attributed to the workshop of Thomas and Richard Roberts 'at the sign of the Royal Chair' in Marleybone Street. Richard Roberts (active 1714-29), almost certainly the son of Thomas, was perhaps the most likely maker as he took over the workshop after Thomas' death in 1714. Between the two, they held the warrant as Joiner to the Royal Household for over thirty years, from 1686-1729, and produced furniture for Whitehall, Kensington, Hampton Court and Windsor Castle and even the royal yachts. Their large workshop was responsible for some of the most original and highest quality furniture of the period. They became justly celebrated for their intricate seaweed marquetry inlay which was closely allied to French designs, but interpreted in a strictly English manner and with English materials. However, as Anthony Coleridge has noted in the Introduction to this sale, there are other possible makers. Two of these are the London chair-makers Thomas Cleare and Thomas Phill. One of Cleare's designs for a chair, which appears on his trade card is, with its Ionic-scrolled crest rail, unusual pierced splats and distinctive hipped cabriole legs, particularly close to the present pair (see C. Gilbert, ed., Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture: 1700-1840, p.145, fig.214).

There are several other chairs of similar design and one, at least, of almost certainly the same provenance. The first is a chair that entered the Victoria and Albert Museum's collections in 1929. The design and inlaid decoration overall are almost identical to the present pair. And while it also bears the coronet and cypher of Thomas Watson-Wentworth, there are noticeable differences such as in the shape of the crest rail and the scrolls at the tops of the legs (see D. Fitz-Gerald, Victoria and Albert Museum: English Chairs, no.39, p.21.). Another chair, in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, is very close to the present set as it is the only example with a yoked crest, and the decoration is identical except for a slight addition to the inlay above the coronet. A different cypher 'SW', along with more pronounced cabriole legs and stretcher indicate it was a separate commission entirely. It also still retains its original veneered rails enclosing the seat upholstery, as would probably have been the case for the present pair (see P. Macquoid, The Leverhulme Art Collections: Furniture, Tapestry and Needlework, London, 1928, vol.III, pl.25).

The inlaid, coronet-ensigned 'T.W' is the cypher of Thomas Watson-Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby, later 3rd Earl of Strafford (d. 1739). Thomas Watson, inherited the estate of Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire, from his uncle, William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford who died without issue in 1695. He then adopted the name of Watson-Wentworth and these chairs likely formed part of his own decoration of Wentworth Castle, formerly Stainborough Hall. The house had been built after the Roman manner of Andrea Palladio (d.1580), and included in Colin Campbell's, Vitruvius Britannicus of 1715. Wentworth's redecoration in the mid-1720s was partly carried out under the direction of the Rome-trained architect James Gibbs (d.1754), author of A Book of Architecture, 1728. It is possible that Gibbs was influential in the design of these chairs although the chairs were almost certainly made before these major renovations a decade later (see T. Friedman, James Gibbs, London, 1984, pp.322-323, fig. 124).

Yet it was Wentworth's son, also named Thomas, and later 1st Marquess of Rockingham, that undertook the great building project now forming the present house. Construction began in the 1730's and was probably finished by the time of the 1st Marquess' death in 1750, although work on the interior continued well into the 1760's. In an age of extravagent commissions, Wentworth Woodhouse was exceptional for it's grand design, and even today still boasts of the longest frontage of any house in England. Equal attention was paid to the magnificent interiors and furnishings. While this set of chairs was commissioned for the earlier house, they were absorbed into the newly fashionable Palladian interiors and remained an important part of the furnishings, as photographs of the Large Library show, until their eventual sale in the 20th century.

At the death of Charles, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, in 1782, the inventory of Wentworth Woodhouse lists three sets of walnut side chairs. At present it is difficult to attribute these chairs definitively to the Wentworth Woodhouse inventory but the most likely possibility is the set described in Mr. Pere Wentworth's Bedchamber, '4 walnut chairs with stuffed yellow bottoms and yellow bays covers' (Wentworth Woodhouse Inventory, 1782, Christie's Archives, p.12).
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