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Specified lots are being stored at Crozier Park Ro… Read more WILLIAM BECKFORD & SIR JOHN SOANEPROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN


With moulded double-medallion back carved with the Beckford crest of a heron bearing a fish in its beak, encircled by a laurel wreath and pearled border, between fluted uprights surmounted by sunflower paterae, with moulded arms and fluted supports enclosing a carved sunflower paterae, the solid double dished seat with fluted frieze, on fluted tapering legs headed by sunflower paterae and with guttae block feet, with batten carrying-holes and pegged construction, restorations, traces of white filler in the roundels
32 ½ in. (83 cm.) high; 60 in. (152 cm.) wide; 21 in. (53 cm.) deep
Almost certainly commissioned by William Beckford (1760-1844) in the late 1780s, possibly for the Great Entrance Hall on the piano nobile of Fonthill House, Wiltshire, until sold in the first Fonthill house sale, Phillips, 19-22 August 1801, one of lots 47, 48 or 49 ('Two mahogany Setee's, with fluted legs and rails, carved backs and crimson serge cushions'; each lot sold for 7 gns., two to 'Ogle' and one to 'Stephens').
The pair acquired in the 19th century for an English private collection.
Thence by descent.
Philippa Bishop, 'Settees from Fonthill Splendens', The Beckford Journal, vol. I, Spring 1995, pp. 15-16.
P. Hewat-Jaboor, 'Fonthill House: One of the most princely houses in the kingdom' in William Beckford, 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent, Exhibition Catalogue, New York, 2002, p. 61.
Special notice

Specified lots are being stored at Crozier Park Royal (details below) or will be removed from Christie’s, 8 King Street, London, SW1Y 6QT by 5.00pm on the day of the sale. Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent offsite. If the lot has been transferred to Crozier Park Royal, it will be available for collection from 12.00pm on the second business day following the sale. Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Crozier Park Royal. All collections from Crozier Park Royal will be by pre-booked appointment only. Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060 Email: cscollectionsuk@christies.com. If the lot remains at Christie’s, 8 King Street, it will be available for collection on any working day (not weekends) from 9.00am to 5.00pm
Sale room notice
Please note wood analysis carried out on another bench from the set indicated that these are made from walnut rather than mahogany.

Lot Essay

This settee is one from a set of at least six which were identified by the late Clive Wainwright as being those sold (as three pairs) in the 1801 sale at Fonthill House referred to above. All six are known today: a pair were given by descendants of their 1801 purchaser to Trent Church, Yeovil, twenty miles from Fonthill. They were sold by that church at Hy. Duke's, Dorchester, 17 April 2003 (£276,000 including premium). A second pair had been with the Southey family, possibly acquired at the auction by Robert Southey (1774 - 1843), poet laureate from 1813, and sold from the collection of the late Miss Edmée Southey (b.1896), Christie's, London, 17 November 1994, lot 107 (and again anonymously Christie's, London, 9 June 2005, lot 270, £232,000 including premium). The third pair, of which the present lot is one, was acquired in the 19th century and remained in an English private collection.

When he came of age in 1781, William Beckford inherited his father's magnificent Palladian mansion of Fonthill House, usually now known as Fonthill Splendens, a house 'with lavish and fashionable interiors of the 1760s, furnished with carved and gilded furniture, richly colored damasks, a catholic picture collection and splendid library' (Philip Hewat-Jaboor in Ostergard, ed., op. cit., p. 51). Beckford's father, also William but usually distinguished from his son by being known as Alderman Beckford, bought the Fonthill estate in 1744. Having much altered and aggrandised the house between 1745 and 1753, it suffered a disastrous fire in 1755. Opportunity arose out of tragedy because this fire, and the Alderman's extremely aristocratic marriage in 1756, led to the construction of an even grander new house in a slightly different position. No prominent architect seems to have been involved in its construction, which took fifteen years, but was mostly complete on the Alderman's death in 1770. He left the ten year-old William Beckford as his only legitimate offspring. The contents with which the Alderman furnished his house in the 1760s were extremely fashionable and of the highest quality. They almost certainly included the magnificent pair of bureau dressing-tables attributed to John Channon, one of which is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the other was most recently sold from the Steinberg Collection, Sotheby's, New York, 26 May 2000, lot 205. The Alderman was a noted buyer of modern pictures and a survivor of the 1755 fire was Hogarth's series of The Rake's Progress, later bought by Sir John Soane. Despite the lavishness and elegance of his decoration of Fonthill House, the Alderman was never as deeply involved in collecting and furnishing as was his more cosmopolitan son. Fonthill House was an appropriately grand seat for an intensely ambitious politician, not the treasure house that its successor became. However, the son cannot have been unaffected by his childhood environment and it has been convincingly suggested by Philip Hewat-Jaboor, in Ostergard, ed., op. cit., p. 59, that the younger Beckford's 'recurrent use of luxurious materials - such as the scarlet and crimson velvets chosen for the interiors of Fonthill Abbey, Lansdown Crescent and Lansdown Tower - was surely inspired by the lavish use of these materials by the Alderman. Purporting to despise his father's Dutch and Flemish paintings, Beckford must nonetheless have been stimulated and influenced by the Alderman's collection'.

William Beckford spent much of the 1780s abroad, initially at least to escape the scandal brought on by his relationship with William Courtenay. On a visit to England in 1786 Beckford commissioned the architect John Soane to undertake a variety of work at Fonthill, including an elaborate state bed with finial derived from the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. It has been suggested by Philip Hewat-Jaboor (loc. cit.) and John Hardy (ibid., p. 318, no. 29), that Soane may have designed these settees. There are a number of elements that support this attribution. Not least is that the design of the 'set'ees' strongly suggests the involvement of an architect rather than a cabinet-maker. They are of extremely unusual form which, if not unique, is not known to have been repeated. The design is resolutely architectual, barely compromised by their practical function. However unique the overall design, it contains elements that date it to the late 1780s. In particular, they relate to a pattern for a medallion back hall chair that is crowned with a feathered plume in the fashion popularised at just this time as the badge of George, Prince of Wales, later King George IV. The medallion back of the chair is designed either to be carved or painted with a laurel-wreathed patera. This was published by A. Hepplewhite and Co. in The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, 1788, pl. 14 (E. White, British 18th Century Furniture Design, Woodbridge, 1990, p. 128). The Hepplewhite design places the pattern in the late 1780s, just when Soane was working at Fonthill House, and his own published designs go further to support the attribution. A pattern for a garden seat that Soane had first published in his Designs in Architecture, 1778, pl. I (White, op. cit., p. 143), and which was republished in 1789, has a broad segmental arched back centred by a swagged medallion, a fluted seatrail divided by block-headed tapering legs, all characteristics of these benches.

The hall seat is sculpted with the Beckford heron, with its 'bec fort', in low relief on Roman-medallion shields that are incorporated in the hollow-cornered tablets of the seat's double chairbacks. As well as being wreathed in triumphal laurels, they are wreathed also by the Venus pearl-strings that enrich their antique hollow borders. The arms incorporate pearled medallions with 'Apollo' sunflowered paterae. Flowered paterae also provide finials, in the Roman altar fashion, for the back's antique-fluted pilasters. The friezes of the seat are similarly antique fluted and enriched with flowered medallions above the herm-tapered legs. The legs echo the back and arm pilasters, being embellished at top and base with tablets framing three 'nail' bosses in the antique sarcophagus fashion.

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