Little is known of the enigmatic Pietro Bossi, but his name has become synonymous with this particular type of scagliola often found on Irish chimneypieces and marble table-tops in the neo-classical manner. Bossi probably came to work in Ireland via England and Dresden, where a family of stuccadores are listed including, tantalisingly, a Pietro Luigi Bossi. There was also a Bossi working for John Augustus Richter in Dresden in 1765 who later worked for Robert Adam’s scagliolist Bartoli in London. He is recorded in Wilson’s Dublin Directory in 1785-98 as an ‘Inlayer in Marble’ and his address is recorded as 22 Fleet Street (later changing to number 38 in the 1790 edition).
The present lot with its husk-garlands, and central basket of fruit relates to two other chimneypieces, one now in the National Museum of Ireland (fig. 1) which was removed from a house demolished to make way for the National Library construction in 1886 and another in 6 Randolph Cliff, Edinburgh which had previously been on North Great George Street, Dublin (fig. 2), (see C.O'Neill, 'In search of Pietro Bossi', Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies (Irish Georgian Society, 1998), pp. 146-175).
SHARP AND EMERY
The work of Bossi was greatly copied in the nineteenth and even the twentieth century, throughout Ireland the United Kingdom, most notably by the partnership formed by Alfred Sharp and Henry Emery from the late 1890s to the late 1920s, operating from both Dublin and London. Sharp and Emery revelled in the Sheraton revival in Dublin during this period and actively advertised their work in ‘Dublin Bossi Inlay’ and also restored earlier pieces in this manner. Given the present lot’s similarities to two known chimneypieces which pre-date the Sharp and Emery practice, an attribution to Sharp and Emery and indeed a late 19th century dating seem unlikely. Given the popularity of ‘Bossi-work’ in Dublin for over a century by the 1890s, it is conceivable that the present lot could date from the nineteenth century or even the latter part of the eighteenth century.
OAK PARK, COUNTY CARLOW
Oak Park, County Carlow was the seat of the Bruen family from 1775-1957. The present house was built in 1832 from designs by William Vitruvius Morrison. It descended to Captain Henry Bruen and was sold on his death in 1954. Although no record of the present lot appears in the auction catalogue from 1957, Samuel Messer acquired it with Oak Park provenance only two years later. As ‘fixtures and fittings’ at this date very rarely appeared in printed catalogues it is likely that the chimneypiece did in fact come from the property and may have been acquired privately by Thomas Crowther and Son.
THE MESSER PROVENANCE
In 1991, this chimney-piece was sold in the extraordinary sale of the Samuel Messer Collection, brought together at his Regency-style home at Pelsham in Sussex. The Messer collection of furniture, clocks and barometers epitomised the extraordinary creative output of the 18th Century. In one way the sale marked the end of a generation of great English furniture collections formed in the 20th century in Britain, while on the other hand it raised the appreciation for fine English furniture to new heights inspiring a new generation of collectors. Samuel Messer was one of the very small, elite group of connoisseurs of Georgian furniture - including Percival Griffiths, Geoffrey Blackwell, J.S. Sykes, Fred Skull and James Thursby-Pelham - who formed the nucleus of their collections under the guidance of R.W. Symonds