This superb mirror, almost certainly after a design by the 18th-century cabinet makers, Ince & Mayhew, was formerly in the collection at Cliveden House, a 19th-century Italianate mansion in Buckinghamshire. The model is closely related to two designs in the firm’s Universal System of Household Furniture, plates LXXXV and LXXXV. It was probably acquired by the New York born Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor (1879-1952) and his wife, Nancy Astor, also of American descent, who inherited the family estate at Cliveden as an extravagant wedding gift from his father, William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor. The 1st Viscount had purchased Cliveden from Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, 1st Duke of Westminster in 1893, but it was under the direction of his daughter-in-law Nancy that the mansion underwent significant restoration and re-decoration. In this period the mansion was acclaimed and revered for fine and exquisite entertaining, known as ‘the Golden Period’, amongst the wealthy and fashionable elite.
This glittering couple was actively involved in British politics for most of their lives. Lady Astor, with the influence of her husband, became the first female politician in Parliament, taking her seat on 1 December 1919 as a Conservative member, serving the Sutton division in Plymouth, until her retirement in 1945. During her period of office she championed numerous causes, such as State Health Care and Town Planning, votes for women at twenty-one and various other issues that advocated equality between men and women. The connection between Cliveden, politics and entertainment continued to grow. The famous comedienne Joyce Grenfell, who became such a hit in New York, was a frequent visitor, and was Nancy Astor’s niece. Winston Churchill was a guest during the earlier days of entertaining and party to many a heated political debate with Nancy. On one known visit to nearby Blenheim, Lady Astor was prompted to say, ‘Winston, if I were your wife I’d put poison in your coffee’ to which Winston responded, ‘Nancy if I were your husband I’d drink it’. Other prominent visitors included the artist John Singer Sargent, who painted portraits of several family members (see his portrait of Nancy illustrated here), and George Bernard Shaw, with whom Lady Astor enjoyed a close friendship and correspondence, and was once addressed by him as ‘Dearest Fancy Nancy’. During the 1960s the house became linked with the infamous ‘Profumo Affair’, where John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War met the call girl Christine Keeler at a party hosted by Lord Astor in July 1961. It was this scandalous affair coupled with her illicit liaison with a soviet naval attaché that outraged parliament and in 1963, as the Cold War began to challenge Britain’s political system, it led to his resignation from office.