This superbly carved mahogany wine-cooler is after a design by Robert Adam (1728-92), one of the most important architect-designers working in the Neo-classical idiom in the mid to late 18th century. It was probably executed by the Golden Square carver and gilder Sefferin Nelson (1739-97), renowned for his work under Adam’s direction and in particular the wine-cooler supplied en suite with a sideboard table, a pair of pedestals and urns to William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-93) between 1772 and 1773 for the Hall at Kenwood House, London.
From 1754-59 Robert Adam embarked on a ‘Grand Tour’ to France, Italy and Dalmatia with his younger brother, James, where the pair studied classical architectural ruins and antiquities. The sarcophagus-form of this wine-cooler is undoubtedly inspired from these travels since antique sarcophagi of similar form and decoration were illustrated by Robert Adam in 1755-56 while in Rome (1).
The drawings from the office of the Adam brothers are held in the John Soane Museum, and include several versions of this model, which date from 1772 until 1786; these predominantly specify the patrons for whom they were intended although they are not comprehensive. Adam frequently produced the same popular design for different clients but modified each in the carving or painted decoration so that it appeared unique. Although the exact design for this wine-cooler does not feature in the Adam drawings, there is a preliminary drawing for the Kenwood wine-cooler which was later included in The Works of Architecture of Robert and James Adam (2). The published design was altered when executed in mahogany by the carver Sefferin Nelson; the satyr-masks in the drawing were substituted by lion-masks and the rectangular feet were replaced with round feet in the finished wine-cooler (3).
Other versions of this model in the Adam drawings include (in date order):
* A design for a wine-cooler to be executed in mahogany with ormolu mounts, circa 1772, for Osterley House (4); the design has a medallion, strigil fluting, swags, similar lion masks and virtually identical feet to the wine-cooler offered here.
* Another in mahogany with ormolu mounts, circa 1773, supplied to Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn for the Eating Room at 20 St. James’s Square (5). Although no design for the Williams-Wynn wine-cooler can be found in the drawings, it is closely related to a design for a tureen which also bears the spread eagle from the Williams-Wynn coat-of-arms. The wine-cooler was sold Christie’s, London, 16 November 1989, lot 96 (£50,000), now in the National Museum of Wales.
* A further design for a wine-cooler, to be executed in mahogany with ormolu mounts, supplied in 1778 to Sir Abraham Hume for Wormleybury in Hertfordshire (6); the design ornamented with a medallion, strigil fluting, and bands of guilloche and Vitruvian scroll and has the same block feet but the handles are ram-masks rather than lion-masks.
* Another design but intended to be painted in the Etruscan style with figurative panels depicting ‘merpeople’, supplied to the Duke of Cumberland for Cumberland House, 86 Pall Mall, on 28 October 1780 (7); this wine-cooler sold from Cumberland House by Christie's in 1793, and again Christie's, London, 27 June 1985, lot 182 (£37,800 incl. premium); now in the Gerstenfeld collection (8).
* A design of 1783 for a painted wine-cooler intended for William Weddell, Newby Hall, Yorkshire, described as: ‘The wine cistern is rectangular with apsidal ends, and is ornamented with paw feet, fluting, lion-mask handles, and a figurative tablet’ (9).
* Another design for a painted wine-cooler, supplied in mahogany in 1786 to W.G. Hamilton, Marlborough House, Brighton (10), now in a private collection.
* An undated design for the Earl of Ashburnham with lion-masks, medallion and block feet (11)
* An unattributed design with lion-masks, medallion, fluting and block feet (12).
This wine-cooler was probably made by Sefferin Nelson, whose services included interior-carving, furniture and picture frames, possibly for Daniel Lascelles (1714-1784) for the Dining Room at Goldsborough Hall, Yorkshire. The house, as with Harewood, was remodelled by John Carr (1723-1807), and then Robert Adam in the early 1760s. Nelson was undoubtedly one of Adam’s preferred craftsmen; he is known to have worked under Adam’s direction for Sir Rowland Winn at nearby Nostell Priory, carving a set of three window cornices for the Saloon according to an Adam design and two pairs of sideboard pedestals (13). He also worked on other Adam projects such as Kenwood House, Shelburne House (later Lansdowne House) in Berkeley Square, and by 1790 he was listed as a carver, gilder and frame-maker to George, Prince of Wales. The wine-cooler is closely related to the Kenwood House example, executed by Nelson for Lord Mansfield between 1772 and 1773 as part of the ‘Furniture in the Hall’ for which a bill exists (14).
If the wine-cooler was intended for Goldsborough, it would have been commissioned at the same time as the furniture supplied by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) for the dining-room, which included a pair of related mahogany sofas with block feet and a set of fifteen mahogany dining-chairs ‘coverd with red Morocco Leather & brass naild’, circa 1772, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (15). Intriguingly, and probably indicative of the close relationship that existed between Adam’s preferred craftsmen, the wine-cooler offered here features closely related idiosyncratic lion-masks (of patinated bronze) to the carved masks displayed on the magnificent Nostell Priory mahogany library table supplied by Chippendale to Sir Rowland Winn, and delivered to Nostell sometime between January 1767 and 30 June 1767 (16). Other carved lion-masks of near-identical pattern are found on a pair of stands by Chippendale, circa 1770-75, also at Nostell; these green and gilt-japanned stands were recorded in the library with the aforementioned desk in the 1818 inventory for the house (17). They, in turn, correspond almost exactly to a pair, originally japanned blue & gold, supplied in circa 1771 for the salon at Harewood House (18).
Given Chippendale was supplying furniture at the same time to Goldsborough, it remains a tantalising possibility that Sefferin Nelson may have been working with Chippendale.
(1) see: ‘Capriccio of a ruined interior or catacombs’ and ‘Circular capricicio’ in A.A. Tait,
The Adam Brothers in Rome, London, 2008, p. 8 0, no. 49; p. 110, no. 72.
(2) SM Adam volume 3/29; vol. I, part II, plate viii, originally published in three volumes, between 1778 and 1822.
(3) This wine-cooler formerly The Wernher Collection, Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, now at Kenwood House, London; E. Harris, The Furniture of Robert Adam, London, 1963, no. 20.
(4) E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam: His Interiors, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 160, fig. 231; The Soane Museum states: ‘There is a complete Adam office copy of this drawing within the National Trust drawings collection at Osterley. Moreover, it is illustrated with the accompanying pedestals, urns and wine cooler in The Works of Robert and James Adam, Volume III, plate ix, albeit mislabelled for Syon’. However, it is actually plate viii of this volume.
(5) sold ‘The Property of the Trustees of the 1987 Williams-Wynn Settlement’, Christie’s, London, 16 November 1989, lot 96; NMW A50, 631.
(6) SM Adam volume 17/34.
(7) SM Adam volume 17/057.
(8) ed. E. Lennox-Boyd, Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, 1998, pp. 123-124.
(9) SM Adam volume 6/115; 6/140; 17/226.
(10) SM Adam volume 6/116; 6/118; 17/225.
(11) SM Adam volume 17/023.
(12) SM Adam Volume 6/142.
(13) C. Gilbert, ‘New Light on the Furnishing of Nostell Priory’, Furniture History, 1990, p. 56.
(14) ‘Scone Palace, Perth: MS Mansfield, Box 121, Bundle 9’. This bill is not itemized in L. Houliston, ‘New Light on the Display of Furniture at Kenwood’, Furniture History, 2014, p. 278.
(15) C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1779, vol. II, figs. 147-149; 370; one sold ‘The Property of the Right Honourable the Earl of Harewood: Removed from Harewood House, Yorkshire’, Christie’s, London, 20 June 1968, lot 52; the remaining fourteen dining-chairs sold Christie's, London, 1 April 1976, lot 41, and again in these Rooms 4 July 1996, lot 340, (£859,500 incl. premium).
(16) NT 959723.
(17) Gilbert, op. cit., vol. I, p. 173; vol. II, fig. 383).
(18) ibid., vol. II, fig. 384).