Christopher Hussey described Brympton d'Evercy as 'The most incomparable house in Britain, the one which created the greatest impression and summarises so exquisitely English country life qualities' (Country Life, May 1927). Originally dating from 1220, the house underwent a series of expansions by the D'Evercy and Sydenham families culminating in the late 17th century South Wing, with its baroque State apartments; this addition brought the manor house to a new level of grandeur. The house and estate were sold at auction in 1731, in large part due to the extravagant lifestyle of its then owner Sir Philip Sydenham, whereupon it was purchased by Francis Fane, barrister and MP, for a price of £15,492.10s.
Fane set about refurbishing the interior decoration of the State Rooms and the state bed, emblazoned with the Fane crest, would have been supplied at this time. State beds were of symbolic importance - a display of status and wealth, even if no longer the focal point of official and state activities at this date. Details such as the open vase finials, reminiscent of ostrich plumes, would have appeared on late 17th century prototypes (such as at Hampton Court Palace), while 'the scalloped and nulled cornice upon which the damask is tightly strained foreshadows in its form and projecting corners some of the coming characteristics of the later eighteenth-century beds' (P. Macquoid, The Age of Walnut, p. 188). Lavish hangings were considered of the utmost importance, and the crimson damask upholstery matched that on the walls and seat furniture, also by Grendey, in the State Bedroom.
Francis Fane bequeathed the house to his brother Thomas, 8th Earl of Westmorland; Brympton d'Evercy descended in the family for the next 200 years, although sadly the archival records have been destroyed. Two of Brympton d'Evercy's most colorful owners - Jane Saunders (d. 1857), the eccentric second wife to the 10th Earl of Westmorland, and her daughter Lady Georgiana Fane (d. 1874), known for her famed liaison with the Duke of Wellington - were responsible for adding to its collections of furniture and art. The bed was sold among the contents of the house in a five-day auction conducted by R. B. Taylor & Sons and John D. Wood & Co., 26 November-1 December 1956. Many significant paintings and furniture were dispersed in this sale.
The bed was subsequently in the collection of Professor and Mrs.Clifford Ambrose Truesdell. Professor Truesdell (d.2000) was an American mathematician, natural philosopher and historian of science, an outstanding and influential figure in his field. Their important collection of English furniture, clocks and ceramics was sold at Christie's, New York, 7 April 2009 when the bed sold for $188,500.
THE GILES GRENDEY ATTRIBUTION
The State bed can be confidently attributed to the workshop of Giles Grendey (d. 1780), cabinet-maker of St. John's Square, Clerkenwell, London. The bed's distinctive leg design also features on the matching seat furniture in the State Bedroom covered in the same silk damask as the bed and walls (Country Life photograph of 1927). Remarkably, these chairs appear to be identical to the suite supplied by Grendey for Gunton Park which bear his label (C. Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840, London, 1996, p. 243, fig. 437). In December 1931, R.W. Symonds refers to Grendey's chair design in an article where he states that although the cabinet-maker did not label all of his work, it is in the case of these distinctly carved legs that 'one might infer that all chairs and stools with this leg came from Grendey's workshop' (see R.W. Symonds, 'More about Labelled Furniture', The Connoisseur, December 1931, p.407, fig.VIII). The same pattern is also used on tables and with variations in the use of paw or scroll feet.
Grendey ran a substantial business from 1726 until at least the late 1760s. While few payments have been traced to him in country house archives, he supplied a good number of intrinsic walnut and mahogany pieces to noble houses including Longford Castle, Stourhead and Barn Elms. He was also very involved in the timber and export business (he was referred to as 'an eminent Timber Merchant' in 1755); certainly, extraordinary timbers were used for the Brympton d'Evercy bed. Another four-poster bed from Knebworth House, Hertfordshire (sold by The Lady Cobbold, Christie's, London, 14 November 1996, lot 36) is attributable to Grendey as well on the basis of its paw feet and shaped panels to the headboard which are further characteristic of Grendey's oeuvres in addition to the superb quality of its timbers and carving. Close examination of the Brympton d'Evercy bed and the presence of the matching chairs allows that this bed, and beds in general, can now be confidently added to Grendey's range of production.
An impressive set of dining-chairs by Grendey at nearby Hinton House was almost certainly supplied to John, 1st Earl Poulett (see E. Lennox-Boyd, ed., Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, p.110, fig.85 and p.208, no.34). The houses of Hinton and Brympton were closely connected (and indeed, in the 17th century, John Posthumous Sydenham married a Poulett daughter); it was not unusual that an artisan working at one country seat would find favour among the neighboring estates.
The bed, with its antique-fluted and sacred urn-capped pillars, is upholstered in rose-red and acanthus-patterned damask and conceived in the George II (d.1760) 'picturesque' fashion to celebrate 'love's triumph in antiquity'. The family's palm-wreathed and heart-scrolled escutcheons nestle amongst Pan's sacred reeds that gadroon its scalloped and antique-fluted cornice. The reed-enriched pillars' plinths terminate in wave-voluted and reeded Roman trusses enwreathed by flowered ribbon-guilloches. Its Roman arched and temple-pedimented headboard is sculpted with luxuriant foliage that reflects the influence of Gaetano Brunetti's, Sixty Different Sorts of ornaments very useful to painters, sculptors, stone-carvers, wood-carvers, silversmiths etc., 1736-1737.
We are grateful to Mr. Charles Clive-Ponsonby-Fane for his kind assistance in the preparation of this catalogue entry.