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Property of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


With pagoda cresting above a shaped plate with seated pagod, over a central domed and trellised balcony with fretwork balustrade and steps set within outer shaped plates framed by leafy branches and icicles over a rockwork base, mirror plates apparently reused from an earlier mirror and largely original, some with beveled edges, re-gilt, minor restorations
71 ½ in. (181.5 cm.) high, 67 ¾ in. (172 cm.) wide
Judge Irwin Untermyer, New York, bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1964
Y. Hackenbroch, English Furniture with some furniture of other countries in the Irwin Untermyer Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958, pl. 143, fig. 172

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Lot Essay


This extraordinary mirror is conceived as a Chinese garden - with rocks, dripping cascades and grottoes. Its fretwork bridge, trellised canopy and platforms were intended for porcelain figures to be reflected in the watery surface of the mirror ground. The 'jardin Chinois' style was introduced in English landscaped parks by ambitious patrons such as the Duchess of Beaufort, who created the Chinese Bedroom Apartment at Badminton House, Gloucestershire, heralded as one of the most iconic chinoiserie interiors of Georgian Britain. Created by William and John Linnell in 1752-53, the celebrated Badminton suite includes the pagoda-canopied bed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the pair of china cabinets on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as a commode and seat furniture. However, its crowning glory is the remarkable mirror which sat above the chimneypiece, with polychromed seated pagod (see P. Macquoid, A History of English Furniture: The Age of Satinwood, London, 1908, p. 14, fig. 8, where the mirror is shown in situ at Badminton). Countless parallels in design and execution link the Untermyer and Badminton mirrors. These include the ribbon-entwined arch, spiral-turned supports with the same pattern paling and steps, lower floral garlands, rockwork and gnarly tree borders. The Badminton suite, including the mirror, was sold by the 9th Duke of Beaufort at Christie's in 1921. The mirror was subsequently purchased by Doris Duke in 1965 and sold from the Doris Duke collection, Christie's, New York, 3-5 June 2004, lot 442, where it established a record breaking price ($1,575,500).

William Linnell (d. 1763), a specialist carver, set up his fashionable premises at Berkeley Square in 1754 having moved from Longacre. His son, John (d. 1796), who had trained as an artist in the St. Martin's Lane Academy, became the firm's designer. John Linnell's watercolor drawing of a chair in the Badminton suite, now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, was one of his first major responsibilities as a designer for his father's firm. Although no other designs by Linnell survive, it is reasonable to assume that he was responsible for the remaining furniture in the apartment. A closely related mirror drawing by Linnell with similar platforms for mounting Chinese porcelain and centered by a 'pagod' figure is reproduced in H. Hayward, 'The Drawings of John Linnell in the Victoria and Albert Museum', Furniture History, 1969, fig. 142. Another, which can be identified with the accompanying pier-glass in the Chinese Bedroom, is illustrated in H. Hayward and P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell, 1980, vol. II, p. 94, fig. 181.


The scope of Linnell's popularity can be gleaned by his numerous distinguished clientele which comprised fashionable aristocracy, including ten dukes (plus two royal dukes), numerous earls, viscounts, barons and baronets. Scions of the banking world (the Hoares and Childs among them) and other wealthy landowners also counted among his patrons. In fact, over 1,000 clients of the firm have been identified through family family records, banking ledgers, the firm's bills and annotations on Linnell's own drawings.

The Linnells were among the earliest firms producing furniture in the 'Chinese taste'. Prior to the Badminton commission in 1749, they supplied carving, decoration and furnishing to the Duke of Bedford for a Chinese house in the grounds of Woburn Abbey that Horace Walpole described as 'the very first'. However, it was in that same year that Linnell supplied William Drake with a pair of gilt mirrors (or 'orniments'), each surmounted by a japanned figure for his new residence at Hill Street. The mirrors cost the sizeable sum of £47 14s 6d, even though they re-used some of the owner's earlier mirror glass (such as on the Untermyer mirror), and likely corresponded to Linnell's pier-glass design (Hayward and Kirkham, op. cit., vol. I, p. 97). Elizabeth Montagu, also at Hill Street, was installing her own 'Chinese' room just a short distance from Drake and Beaufort's London houses on Grosvenor Street. Mrs. Montagu's commission included a japanned cabinet-on-stand with pierced and applied lattice work, a known Linnell model, and a writing table, now at Came House, Dorset, which is closely related to the commode from Badminton (see H. Hayward, 'Chinoiserie at Badminton: The Furniture of John and William Linnell', Apollo, August 1969, p. 138, fig. 6). As early as 1749, Mrs. Hill had lamented the arrival of the 'gaudy goût of the Chinese' as a replacement for 'Grecian elegance and symmetry, or Gothic grandeur and magnificence' before she obviously decided to embrace the new fashion (A. Oswald, 'Mrs. Montagu and the Chinese Taste', Country Life, 30 April 1953, pp.1328-9).

While the patron of this spectacular mirror has not come to light, other clients for whom the firm provided chinoiserie furniture included the 1st Lord Lyttelton and Sir Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Lord Scarsdale at Kedleston Hall (G. Beard and C. Gilbert, eds., The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, Leeds, 1986, pp. 543-548).


Another remarkably similar mirror (lacking the figure) was likely commissioned by the gifted politician and Master of the Bedchamber, Thomas Thynne, 3rd Viscount Weymouth and 1st Marquess of Bath (d. 1796) for his London house. It appears in an 1896 inventory, for the London mansion purchased by the 5th Marquess. The mirror was sold in 1940 and purchased by Ronald Tree where it hung in the Tapestry Drawing Room at Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire. It was most recently sold, Christie’s, New York, 21-22 October 2010, lot 347 ($458,500). Another of related design appears in the Drawing Room at Wardour Castle, Wiltshire (Country Life, 29 November 1930, p. 681, fig. 9). Further examples include: One in L. Synge, Mallett's Great English Furniture, London, 1991, p. 95, fig. 105; another from the Gerald Hochschild Collection, sold Sotheby's, London, 1 December 1978, lot 52 and later Sotheby's, London, 16 November 1984, lot 100; and most recently, one formerly in the Archibald Stirling of Keir collection, sold Christie's, London, 8 July 2010, lot 124 (£199,250). The Victoria and Albert Museum collection features a more upright mirror from the same group (Murray Bequest). The mirror is discussed in R. Edwards, 'A Chinoiserie Lacquered mirror', Apollo, March 1939, pp. 130-131. The japanned decoration on the Victoria and Albert example is a trait also found on the Badminton example where the figure is similarly polychrome painted.


The spectacular collection of British decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is in large part due to the generosity of a single benefactor, Judge Irwin Untermyer. A significant number of the outstanding objects currently on view in the Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries bear his name. By the time of his death in 1973, Judge Untermyer had left the Museum over two thousand works of art from an impressive collection that was refined and augmented over the course of his life.

As a collector, Untermyer had broad interests. By his own account, he started buying artwork at the time of his marriage in 1912, when his parents presented him “with a few nice things” for his home so that he “began to think of adding to them.” But the finest part of his collection consisted of English furniture, silver, needlepoint and porcelain.

For some twenty years Judge Untermyer served on the Museum's Board of Trustees, and highlights of his collection were exhibited there in 1977. In his forward to Yvonne Hackenbroch's magnificent catalogue English Furniture . . . in the Irwin Untermyer Collection of 1958, he wrote: “there has never been any time during the past forty five years when I have not been interested in the acquisition of English furniture.” As seen clearly in photographs of his Fifth Avenue apartment, his passion was for oak, walnut and mahogany furniture leading up to the reign of George III.

With the planned renovation of the Aitken Galleries in mind, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is carefully reviewing its holdings of English decorative arts. As a result, it has decided to sell pieces in categories that are particularly strongly represented, such as carved mahogany furniture. The sale of these objects will make possible the acquisition of pieces less well-represented in the collection, such as examples dating to the nineteenth century. In this way when the Galleries reopen in 2018 they will better demonstrate the stylistic development of British furniture from the 16th century up to around 1900.

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