This ornately-carved Rococo overmantel mirror in the mid-18th century 'Modern' or 'French' style is probably derived from designs by Thomas Johnson (1714-78) as illustrated in his One Hundred & Fifty New Designs, a compilation of designs sold in installments between 1756 and 1757, and as collection editions in 1758 and 1761 (J. Simon, ‘Thomas Johnson’s The Life of the Author’, Furniture History, 2003, p. 10). Plate 49 in this publication and plate 97 in Genteel Household Furniture in the Present Taste by the Society of Upholsterers but attributed to Johnson are related overmantel mirrors that illustrate how porcelain was to be displayed on the mirror’s platforms (E. White, Pictorial Dictionary of British 18th Century Furniture Design, Woodbridge, 1990, p. 341). Throughout Johnson’s designs he features birds and animals as ornamentation. He undoubtedly turned to engravings after Francis Barlow’s drawings (1626-1704) published in Birds and Fowles of Various Species Drawn after the Life in their Natural Attitudes (c. 1660-70) and Aesop’s Fables (1st edition 1666), both of which were highly influential for wood carvers (H. Hayward, ‘Engraved Ornamental Designs After Francis Barlow’, Furniture History, 1975, pp. 43-45). For example, the carved swan on the apron of this overmantel is possibly derived from Barlow’s ‘Two Swans’, c. 1760 (ibid., fig. 106). These engravings were consistently reissued throughout the 18th century, and Johnson and fellow cabinet-makers/carvers, Matthias Lock, Ince & Mayhew and William & John Linnell all drew upon Barlow as a source (ibid., p. 43).
The overmantel is possibly by the carver, cabinet-maker and upholder William Linnell (1703-63) assisted by his son, John (1729-96), who joined the firm as early as 1749, and was to take over the running of the workshop after his father’s death in 1763. This conceivable attribution is based upon mirrors either by or attributed to the father and son partnership. The Linnell designs of 1755-60 held in the Victoria & Albert Museum show that facing ‘C’ scrolls forming a pierced cartouche on the apron are a reoccurring motif (for example, a design for a pier glass executed for Sir Monoux Cope, V E.177 1929, and another, E.233 1929) - although this ornamentation is also present on Chippendale’s mirror designs and may have derived from Lock. In c. 1755, Linnell designed a carved overmantel for a dressing room, which also has platforms to hold porcelain (E.178-1929).
One of the most extraordinary overmantel mirrors to be sold at Christie’s was one supplied by Linnell to Charles, 4th Duke of Beaufort (1709-56) for the Chinese Bedroom at Badminton House, Gloucestershire (sold ‘The Doris Duke Collection’, Christie’s, New York, 5 June 2004, lot 442, $1,575,500 inc. premium). Another example attributed to Linnell and possibly commissioned by Thomas Thynne, 3rd Viscount Weymouth and 1st Marquess of Bath (1734-96) for his London house in Hill Street, Berkeley Square, later in the collection of Ronald and Marietta Tree at Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire sold Christie’s, New York, 22 October 2010, lot 347, $458,500 inc. premium. A further superb example by Linnell was supplied to George William Coventry, 6th Earl of Coventry (1722-1809) for 'Lady Coventry's Dressing Room', Croome Court, Worcestershire on 18 August 1759 (sold ‘Mount Congreve’, 23 May 2012, lot 100 (£313,250 inc. premium). A further ornate overmantel ‘probably by William Linnell’ is still at Croome Court (NT 170943). Other comparable overmantel mirrors supplied by John Linnell include in 1765 for Mrs. Child's Dressing Room at Osterley Park, London for which a design exists at the Victoria & Albert Museum (NT 771824; M. Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam period furniture, London, 1982, p. 102, pl. M/6a, 'Department of Prints and Drawings, E. 281-1929’), and at Dyrham, Gloucestershire (NT 453037).