A PAIR OF GEORGE II MAHOGANY ARMCHAIRS
A PAIR OF GEORGE II MAHOGANY ARMCHAIRS
A PAIR OF GEORGE II MAHOGANY ARMCHAIRS
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From the Collection of the late Lord Forte (Lots 1 - 2)
A PAIR OF GEORGE II MAHOGANY ARMCHAIRS

CIRCA 1745-55

Details
A PAIR OF GEORGE II MAHOGANY ARMCHAIRS
CIRCA 1745-55
Each with a shaped rectangular padded back with gadrooned border and scrolled acanthus-carved terminals, above scrolled acanthus-carved arms and a padded seat on scrolled X-shape front supports, centred by a shell and bell-flower cartouche and joined to cabriole rear legs by a conforming X-stretcher, each with blue-bordered paper label with red printed text 'THE PROPERTY OF MRS. I. M. SIEFF' one chair marked to the rear rail V the other VV
Chair V: 38½ in. (98 cm.) high; 25¼ in. (64 cm.) wide; 24 in. (63 cm.) deep
Chair VV: 38½ in. (98 cm.) high; 25 in. (63.5 cm.) wide, 24½ in. (62 cm.) deep (2)
Provenance
Probably Francis Seymour-Conway, 1st Earl of Hertford, either for Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, or for 16 Grosvenor Street, London, and thence by descent.
Israel Sieff, Brook House, London in 1936 (a set of ten).
Sir Charles Forte, Chester House, London, acquired from Jeremy Ltd., 16 June 1972 (a set of four).
Literature
Pauline C. Metcalf, Syrie Maugham, New York, 2010, pp.221 - 225, illus. p.225.

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Elizabeth Wight
Elizabeth Wight

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Lot Essay

This pair of chairs and the following lot were in the collection of Israel Sieff (d.1972), and his wife Rebecca (d.1966) at their stylish London apartment, Brook House, Mayfair in 1936 (Pauline C. Metcalf, Syrie Maugham, Staging Glamorous Interiors, New York, 2010, p. 225). Almost certainly inspired from designs by William Kent (d.1748) who was supplying related chairs to the Royal family in this period, they were possibly made by London's foremost cabinet-maker, William Hallett Snr. (d.1781). While variations of this model exist at other great houses the identical model exists at Ragley Hall, Warwickshire and it seems likely that the present chairs were part of a larger suite. However, if this is the case it has not been possible to trace when this set left Ragley.

ISRAEL SIEFF AND BROOK HOUSE

Israel Sieff together with his brother-in-law, Lord Marks of Broughton, was joint architect of the Marks and Spencer Empire, and of 'the retail revolution which their imaginative methods brought about' ('Obituary', The Times, 15 February 1972, p.14). Apart from his remarkable commercial success, Sieff was a natural diplomat, economist and widely cultured man who loved music, good food, and was a connoisseur of claret. The freehold of the remarkable block of flats at Brook House, erected between 1933 and 1935, was owned by Louis and Edwina Mountbatten, 1st Earl and Countess Mountbatten, whose own penthouse flat, decorated by Rex Whistler, was on the upper two floors. Brook House epitomized modern luxurious living of the 1930s, comparable 'with the best of its kind in either Paris or New York' ('Brook House', Country Life, 24 June 1939, p.686). The Sieff's exclusive Brook House apartment was furnished with a blend of traditional and Art Deco furniture, reflecting the fashionable taste of the period, by one of London's premiere decorators, Syrie Maugham (d.1955). For Israel Sieff and his wife the apartment was a statement reflecting their modernity, social position and wealth. In 1936, these chairs were photographed in the Dining-Room at Brook House with its wall paneling of South American cedar, green silk taffeta curtains, large oriental carpet and 'Kentian' sideboards with dolphin-entwined bases (Metcalf, op.cit., p.225).

THE DESIGN

The design for the chairs is inspired by traditional X-frame chairs that have been adapted by William Kent to conform to neo-Palladian precepts, including a pair of armchairs made for either Chiswick Villa or Devonshire House (Adam Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture 1715-1740, Woodbridge, 2009, p.194, pl. 4.103). Similar chairs, with stools en suite, were supplied by Henry Williams to Kent's design for the Queen's Withdrawing Room at Hampton Court Palace in 1737. Another example, a chair of state, probably designed by Kent, was commissioned from James Richards for the Prince of Wales' palace at Kew (ibid., p.195, pl. 4.104).

Of two comparable suites of X-frame seat-furniture the closest is that formerly in the collection of Sir William Beauchamp-Proctor, Bt., at Langley Park, Norfolk, illustrated in Country Life in 1927 ('The Furniture of Langley Park, Norfolk - I', Country Life, 15 October 1927, p. 569, figs. 4 and 5). The Langley Park suite is unattributed, though often given to Thomas Chippendale on the strength of Oliver Brackett's argument (O.Brackett, Thomas Chippendale, London, 1925, pp.52-53, and pl. XII). However, the skilled and prolific cabinet-maker William Hallett Snr. was supplying substantial quantities of furniture to Sir William between May and August 1748 (Norfolk CRO, BEA 305/41), and it seems much more likely that it was he that made the suite. Given the similarity to the present lot, he can justifiably be credited with these also. A set of six armchairs from the Langley Park suite was sold by Sir Christopher Proctor-Beauchamp, Bt., Christie's London, 10 April 1975, lot 134 (£2,000), and another pair was sold by the same vendor, Christie's London, 6 July 1995, lot 101 (£38,900 including premium).

A second comparable suite, though executed in giltwood, is that supplied in the 1740s to Lyonel Tollemache (d.1770), 4th Earl of Dysart, for Ham House, Surrey (P. Thornton, 'Ham House', Furniture History, 1980, fig. 152). Again no definitive attribution can yet be made for the Ham suite, though records survive in the Ham archives suggesting William Bradshaw (d.1748), Peter Hasert (d.1746) or George Nix (d.1744) as possible candidates. Bills survive for Nix confirming that he was supplying much of the 4th Earl's new furniture in mahogany including chairs, tables, pier-glasses, picture frames, chests of drawers, dumbwaiters, close-stools, firescreens and chimney boards (Maurice Tomlin, 'From Love-Seats to Firescreens, 18th Century Furnishings at Ham House', Country Life, 10 November 1977, pp. 1418-1425).

RAGLEY HALL - 'ONE OF THE FINEST BAROQUE INTERIORS IN ENGLAND'

The Ragley Hall suite was probably acquired by Francis Seymour-Conway (d.1794), 2nd Baron Conway, (created Viscount Beauchamp and Earl of Hertford in 1750). He had inherited Ragley in 1732 as a fourteen-year-old, but spent the next few years travelling in Italy and Paris. On his return he took his seat among the Peers in 1739 and married in 1741. The building of Ragley had commenced in 1680 to the designs of Robert Hooke, but the hall was still unfinished when Francis inherited. For the next 16 years it remained largely uninhabited until James Gibbs (d.1754) was engaged to complete the interiors and decorate the hall (Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600 - 1840, London, 1995, p.405). In the meantime Francis divided his time between a small building to the rear of the Hall, and London, where he took the lease on 16 Grosvenor Street, the substantial townhouse whose previous tenant was Sir Robert Walpole's eldest son.

James Gibbs was trained in Rome under Carlo Fontana, so when he returned to England in 1709 he immediately became the premier exponent of Italian Baroque architecture. Despite his Catholicism he enjoyed an unrivalled Tory patronage and was responsible for many great country house commissions, including Cannons, Middlesex and Ditchley House, Oxfordshire.

By the 1750's he was in the twilight of his career and his style must have been considered somewhat demodé, but it was appropriate that the Earl should have engaged Gibbs in a house on which work had commenced some seventy years earlier. Horace Walpole visited Ragley in 1751, and wrote that the Earl and his family had 'begun to inhabit the naked walls of the attic storey' while the main storey was 'unfloored and unceiled'. Of the rooms Gibbs created on that level, the Great Hall came to be regarded as being among the finest Baroque interiors in the country, successfully incorporating rococo stucco work (Arthur Oswald, 'Ragley Hall, Warwickshire - II', Country Life, 8 May 1956,). The present chairs, supplied around the same date that Gibbs was in attendance, would have been appropriate furnishings in such splendid surroundings.

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