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Please note this lot will be moved to Christie’s F… Read more A PAIR OF CHAIRS FROM THE PALM ROOM AT SPENCER HOUSE


The cartouche-shaped molded backs with foliate spray cresting scrolling foliage and C-scrolls bordering lozenge panels the base with a bowknot and upholstered à chassis and flanked by out-scrolled arms carved with pendant husks and acanthus, the supports with palm fronds, the serpentine seat centered with a berried palmette spray emitting acanthus and bellflowers, the apron and legs wrapped with palm fronds continuing to scrolled legs with ribbed border and entwined foliage all against a cream incised diapered ground, upholstered in cream silk cut velvet damask, one with with red-painted Ford inventory number 2-9- b to inner back rail, the other with traces of a red Ford inventory number, with printed and inscribed Ann and Gordon Getty Collection inventory label
41 1/2 in. (105.5 cm.) high, 29 in. (73.5 cm.) wide, 29 in. (73.5 cm) deep
Supplied to John Spencer, later 1st Earl Spencer (1734-1783) for the Palm Room at Spencer House, circa 1758.
The Collection of Henry Ford II; Sotheby's, New York, 26 January 1991, lot 228.
With Jonathan Harris, London.
Acquired from Christopher Gibbs, London, through James Hepworth by Ann and Gordon Getty in 1993.
A. Young, A Six Week Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales, 2nd ed., 1768, p. 354.
E.B. Chancellor, The Private Palaces of London, 1908, p. 342.
M. Jourdain and F. Rose, English Furniture: The Georgian Period 1750-1830, 1953, pp. 69, 75, 87, pls. 25, 36, 52.
F. Sheppard, ed., Survey of London-The Parish of St. James Westminster, 1960, p. 531.
P. Thornton and J. Hardy, 'The Spencer Furniture at Althorp,' Apollo magazine, March, June and October 1968.
C. Simon Sykes, Private Palaces, 1986, pp. 179, 181.
G. Beard and C. Gilbert ed., Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, London, 1986, pp. 355-357.
J. Friedman, 'Spencer House,' Apollo, August 1987, pp. 91, 93, figs. 12,15.
J. Friedman, Spencer House, 1993, pp. 118, 155, 254, pls. 87, 137, 227.
Special notice
Please note this lot will be moved to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services (CFASS in Red Hook, Brooklyn) at 5pm on the last day of the sale. Lots may not be collected during the day of their move to Christie’s Fine Art Storage Services. Please consult the Lot Collection Notice for collection information. This sheet is available from the Bidder Registration staff, Purchaser Payments or the Packing Desk and will be sent with your invoice.

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Elizabeth Seigel
Elizabeth Seigel Vice President, Specialist, Head of Private and Iconic Collections

Lot Essay

Spencer House, the grand London mansion located at 27 St. James’s Place, was commissioned by John, 1st Earl Spencer (1734-1783) and built between 1756-1766. Its construction ‘marked a watershed in the development of taste’, and it was recognized as one of the first fully-integrated neoclassical houses in Europe. It was considered remarkable ‘not only for its architecture and furniture but also for the works of art it contained’. The early construction began under architect-designer John Vardy (1718-1876), who completed the facades of the mansion and the decoration of the ground floor apartments. Vardy was replaced in 1758 by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart (1713-1788), who was an early pioneer of the Greek revival, resulting in the full-fledged commitment to all neoclassical interiors (J. Friedman, Spencer House, Chronicle of a Great London Mansion, London, 1993).
The magnificent Drawing Room, named the Palm Room, served as the culmination of John Vardy's ground floor apartments. It is the best preserved of Vardy's interiors at Spencer House, and its conception can be approximately dated to 1757, which is the date of a watercolor by Vardy that shows a screen and alcove for the room almost exactly as they were executed [Soane Museum, ref. no. 69/1/2]. The room is situated on the west front of the house overlooking the Royal Park. The origin of Vardy’s architectural design for the room is traced to those for the Bedchamber of Charles II at Greenwich by John Webb (d.1672), a pupil of Inigo Jones (d.1652), the ‘father’ of English Palladianism. At the time, however, John Webb’s design was believed to have been by Inigo Jones, and was thus included in Vardy’s 1744 publication, Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones and Mr. William Kent, therefore being accepted into the canon of Palladianism. The architectural decoration of the room includes fantastic carved and gilded palm trees, which were selected as a symbol of Love’s triumph, and are indicative of the 18th century belief in the close connection between classical architecture and nature.
The suite of furniture designed by Vardy for the Palm Room features a stylized carved and gilded palm motif intended to harmonize the architectural decoration of the room. While no drawing has come to light for the suite of furniture for the Palm Room, Vardy's designs for the dining room furniture show his proficiency as a furniture designer. The design for the dining room sideboard with pier glass inscribed Two Tables & Two Glass's at each End of Great Dining Room, Parlour Floor and on the reverse For the Honble John Spencer Esqrs Great Dining Room in St Jame's place at Each End of the Room illustrates Vardy's references to classical prototypes (J. Friedman, Spencer House, London, pp. 112-113, pl. 77-78). It appears that only the sideboards were executed, while the mirror design reappears in another drawing for an unidentified reception room (ibid., p. 108). A design for a pier glass, entwined with palm leaves, closely approximates the Spencer 'Palm' mirror and the possibility has been raised that this is a preliminary sketch for the Spencer mirror, although this is more certainly the design for a pair of pier glasses for Charles Powlett, 5th Duke of Bolton (d. 1765) at Hackwood Park, Hampshire, sold by the Executors of Viscount Camrose, Christie's, London, 8 July 1999, lot 54 (A. Coleridge, 'John Vardy and the Hackwood Suite', The Connoisseur, January 1962, pp. 12-17). These examples show Vardy adapted and reused his designs for different projects.
In their inspiration, Vardy's exotic Palm-enriched suite is clearly indebted to France - and in particular to the menuiserie of Nicolas-Quinibert Foliot and his specialist sculpteur brother Toussaint. Closely related palm-wrapped legs and scallop-shells feature on the suite of seat-furniture designed by Pierre-Contant d'Ivry and supplied by Nicolas Foliot in 1754 to Baron Bernstorff, the Danish Ambassador for the Palais Bernstorff in Copenhagen (now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York and discussed in B.G.B. Pallot, 'Foliot et les Sièges du Baron Bernstorff', Exhibition Catalogue, XVIIe Biennale des Antiquaires, 1994, pp. 122-5). Vardy is known to have carefully studied French prototypes, seen for instance in his drawing of Richard Arundale's bureau plat by BVRB which was at Temple Newsam by 1764, so French designs would have been very familiar to him. The chairs from the Palm Room suite, though, are conceived as French 'Easy Chairs' popularized by Thomas Chippendale in his celebrated furniture pattern-book, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director (1754-1762), while their serpentine frames also reflect the French 'picturesque' fashion discussed in the artist William Hogarth's Analysis of Beauty, 1753.
Unfortunately, no documentation exists to firmly identify the maker of the Palm Room suite. While its design reflects Chippendale's French style, it seems likely that it was executed by the fashionable cabinet-maker John Gordon who was variously listed from 1748 at Swallow Street and King Street (possibly adjoining addresses) off Golden Square, London. Gordon included among his patrons the Duke of Atholl, the Duke of Gordon and Sir John Griffin Griffin and his close relationship with Earl Spencer is revealed by his appointment as an executor in his will in 1778.
John Gordon is first cited in invoices in the Blair Castle accounts in 1748, and in 1756 he supplied '8 mahogany chairs carved frames in fish scales with a French foot and carved leaf on the toe' as well as '6 mahogany chairs with lion paw feet'. Stylistic and structural similarities between the Blair Castle suites and Spencer commissions have been noted by Peter Thornton and John Hardy ('The Spencer Furniture at Althorp - Section II', Apollo, June 1968, p. 448). Characteristic features such as the marked curvature of the seat frame and legs and symmetrical design of the front and side rails in the French tradition compare to the design on seat-furniture supplied to the Great Ball Room at Spencer House (ibid., figs. 8 & 9). Further to this, the unusual catch fitted to the Great Ball Room chairs and Painted Room suite from Spencer House are also present on the Palm suite.
While very little is known about Gordon from 1756-1767 during the time of the Spencer House project, in 1767 he entered into a partnership with John Taitt, evidenced by the firm’s listing in directories at King Street. The Spencer Archive, preserved in the department of Manuscripts at the British Library, includes various bills after 1767 from Gordon and Taitt relating to upholstery and repairs, including in 1772 re-gilding Vardy's celebrated hall lantern, now at Althorp (G. Beard and C. Gilbert, The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, pp. 355-7). Other documented commissions by Gordon and Taitt were extensive and include carved giltwood seat furniture supplied to the Earl of Coventry at Croome Court (1768) and Sir John Griffin Griffin for Audley End (1771). The superb quality of the carving on these commissions further supports an attribution to Gordon for the execution of these chairs.
It is also worthy to note, however, the possible role of Thomas Vardy in the execution of these chairs. Thomas, the brother of John Vardy, was a sculptor and carver whose employment at Spencer House is evidenced by the payment records preserved at Hoare's Bank in Fleet Street (J. Friedman, 'Spencer House', Apollo, August 1987, p. 83). The possibility is also supported on technical grounds; the furniture from this suite are constructed primarily in limewood, a most unusual choice of wood for a chair-maker but significantly favored by carvers.
The Palm Room suite originally comprised two large stools, two smaller stools, a single sofa, and eight armchairs. The two large stools were sold in the Spencer House Sale; Christie’s, London, 7 July 2010, lot 1020 and are now in a private collection. The two smaller stools are now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, forming part of the Rienzi Collection, and were a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harris Masterson III [94.903.2]. The sofa was sold as Property of The Trustees of the Will of the 10th Early of Harrington; Sotheby's, London, 29 November 2002, lot 155 and is now in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland [K.2012.27]. Two armchairs were a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Pirie to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [66.21 & 66.22]. Two were sold Christie’s, New York, 16 October 1997, lot 421 and are now in a private collection. A single armchair was sold as the Property of the late Mrs. E.S. Borthwick-Norton, Southwick House, Purbrook, Hampshire; Christie's house sale, 17-18 October 1988, lot 78, presumably now in a private collection. A further single armchair was sold as the Property of Elvaston Investment, Ltd.; Sotheby's, London, 29 November 2002, lot 154 where it was acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty, and is now being offered as lot 357. The final pair of armchairs, which is the present lot, belonged to the collection of Henry Ford II. The Ford name is not only synonymous with the creation of the modern automotive industry but also with style and collecting on a grand scale. This lot is representative of his collection which was formed in the mid-20th century during a golden era characterized by unprecedented opportunities for the discerning collector. Objects appealed to him not only because of their importance or quality but also for their exceptional provenance. This lot was sold from his estate by Sotheby’s, New York, 26 January 1991, lot 228, and was subsequently acquired from Christopher Gibbs by Ann and Gordon Getty in 1993.

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