This elegant pair of giltwood and carton pierre (papier-mâché) mirrors may be attributed to the Berkeley Square cabinet-maker John Linnell (1729-96) based on a series of original drawings for closely related oval mirrors dated between 1773-74, held in the Prints & Drawings department of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (in particular, E.3466-1911 – illustrated). Linnell’s designs for oval mirrors include many of the motifs found on the present pair; the urn, the crossed palms, the trailing bell flowers and the fluted frame. Linnell studied Rococo design, particularly by French exponents of the style, at St. Martin’s Lane Academy, founded by William Hogarth in 1735 (ed. G. Beard & C. Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p. 543). From an early age, he was inspired by the ‘antique’ taste promoted by the fashionable architect Robert Adam (1728-92), with whom John Linnell and his father William worked on early commissions, including for the 6th Earl of Coventry at Croome Court, Worcestershire and Coventry House, Piccadilly from 1751-63, and for Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron Scarsdale at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire and London from 1759 (ibid., p. 547; H. Hayward, P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell, London, 1980, pp. 108-113).
In 1758 the Rococo carver and designer Thomas Johnson (1723-99) published his Designs for Picture-frames, Candelabra, Chimney pieces, etc., with a frontispiece dedicated to Lord Blakeney, Grand President of the Antigallican Association, who opposed ‘the insidious arts from the French Nation’, and included a winged cherub setting fire to a scroll entitled ‘French Paper Machee’ (see the illustration by lot 12 in this catalogue; P. Kirkham, ‘The London Furniture Trade 1700-1870’, Furniture History, 1988, Chapter IX, p. 9; E.3716-1903). Carton-pierre was initially seen as a great threat to the professional carver and was associated with French émigré craftsmen like the Berwick Street carver, gilder and papier-mâché maker, William Duffour (fl. c. 1749–84), son of Joseph Duffour, who in 1749 was famous for his ‘paper ornaments like stucco’, and claimed to be the original maker of papier-mâché; he may have executed a pier-glass to an Adam design, acquired in 1926 by the Victoria & Albert Museum (ibid.; W.25-1926). However, by the mid-18th century, the use of carton pierre was, as the architect Isaac Ware (1704-66) grudgingly acknowledged, ‘all the rage of fashion’, and went hand-in-hand with carving (‘Mirrors of the Late 18th Century’, Country Life, 9 October 1926, p. 558). Linnell, renowned for his high quality carving, had a few carton pierre items, such as gilt ornaments for a bed and a set of bed cornices, in stock in 1763 (Kirkham, op. cit., p. 118). Similarly, Thomas Chippendale (1718-79) bought carton pierre room borders, and in 1763 the Royal cabinet-maker William Vile (1700-67) supplied ‘A neat oval glass in a ‘Papier Machie’ frame, painted white’ (ibid.; Mirrors of the Late 18th Century’, op. cit.).
Freston Lodge, Ipswich
The manor of Freston was acquired in 1773 by William Berners of Woolverstone Hall, near Ipswich. Woolverstone was a Palladian mansion built in 1776 to the designs of the architect John Johnson with interiors by Robert Adam. Little remains of the Freston estate today except for Freston Tower, a 16th-century pleasure-retreat or watch tower that was on the 18th and early 19th century tourist route as described in The Suffolk Traveller (2nd edition, 1764) and Excursions in the county of Suffolk (1819). This building is now owned by the Landmark Trust.