AN ADAM DESIGN?
This very rare set of 'Adam' torchères or candle-stands is one of three closely-related sets, which almost certainly share a common author. One is in the collection of the National Trust at Saltram House, Devon, the other was formerly in the collection of the Lee family at Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire.
Robert Adam remodelled the principal rooms at Saltram between 1768-72, for John Parker, 2nd Lord Boringdon and commissioned much of the furniture from Thomas Chippendale. The Saltram torchères were acquired to support Matthew Boulton's splendid 'King's candle-vases' placed in the corners of drawing room, and would have been supplied under Adam's direction. Sadly neither the design nor maker of the Saltram torchères has been discovered, although Eileen Harris notes that Boulton, on receipt of the Boringdon commission, dispatched dimensions of the plinth for the proposed candle-vases to his London agent to be delivered to Adam, presumably in order that the stands be made to the correct size (The Genious of Robert Adam, New Haven & London, 2001, p. 237). The other torchères in this group, which are of even closer design, were photographed in the drawing room at Hartwell House in 1914, ancestral home of the Lee family, and former home to the court of Louis XVIII in exile (Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire, Country Life, 14 March 1914, p. 380, fig. 364). The contents of that house were sold in 1938, and the sale particulars note the inclusion of 'Remarkable Carved Adam...torchères' as well as a 'Magnificently Carved Chippendale Suite'.
The design for these torchères is seemingly derived from a sketch drawn by Robert Adam in 1767 for George Coventry, 6th Earl of Coventry (1722-1809) of a 'Tripod altered from a French design for a water stand', (Harris, op.cit., p. 48, pl. 67). Adam subsequently developed this sketch into two closely-related designs for torchères, which in 1773 he included in The works in architecture of Robert and James Adam, Esquires (vol. I, no. I, plate VIII); he noted that the design included 'two tripods for the Earl of Coventry' (Harris, op. cit., p. 48, pl. 68). The design, together with another for a similar tripod, may not have been executed but they possibly represent Adam's earliest application of the classical tripod adapted as an article of furniture. In addition to the exceptional design and quality of these torchères, it is worth noting the rarity in finding a set of four still intact. These torchères would almost certainly have been intended to stand in the corners of a great room, as at Saltram, however as fashions changed and lighting technology developed, the purpose of such lavish torchères became more decorative than functional and sets were almost universally split into pairs.
The compelling photographic evidence combined with the extreme rarity of these torchères, both in number and design, leaves little doubt that these are the Lowther torchères illustrated in the 1949 sale catalogue of the contents of the High House at Campsea Ashe and that the dimensions listed there are incorrect. This provenance for Professor Richardson's torchères also offers a tantalizing potential link to Robert Adam, as in the 1949 sale they are illustrated alongside a sofa which was almost certainly executed by Thomas Chippendale, to a design by Robert Adam, which is extremely close in design and detail to those supplied for Adam's tapestry room at Newby Hall, North Yorkshire. When subsequently offered for sale the High House sofas were described as including various distinctly Chippendale traits to their construction. It seems unlikely, however, that these torchères are by Chippendale, but is most probable that the sofa and the torchères were originally intended for the same interior given their synthesis of design, especially as other cabinetmakers are known to have worked alongside Chippendale to execute designs for Adam, even at some of the pairing's most important commissions, such as that for Sir Lawrence Dundas (d. 1781) at 19 Arlington Street, St James's. It was for Arlington Street that Chippendale made the celebrated 'Dundas suite' of seat furniture, and it was also for there that a pair of demi-lune console tables (similarly on ram's mask adorned waisted monopodia) were made by William France and John Bradburn, all to Adam's designs (sold Christie's, London, 5 July 2012, lots 16 & 17). Interestingly the arabesque design of the title page of Thomas Chippendale Jnr's Sketches of Ornament of 1779 is centred on a similar ram's-mask adorned pedestal, possibly also derived from Adam's sketch for the Earl of Coventry of twelve years earlier (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, p. 16).
A LOWTHER INHERITANCE?
The High House at Campsea Ashe was bought by The Hon. William Lowther (d. 1912) from the Sheppard family in 1883 for whom the predominantly 17th-century house had been extensively remodeled by Anthony Salvin (d. 1881) circa 1870. The Hon. William Lowther was a descendant of Sir James Lowther, later 1st Earl of Lonsdale, of the first creation (d. 1802), and was a younger brother of Henry Lowther, 3rd Earl of Lonsdale of the second creation, who would inherit Lowther Castle and Whitehaven Castle along with the vast Cumbrian estates of the Lowthers. The High House estate was inherited by The Hon. William Lowther's eldest son James Lowther (d. 1949), who served as speaker of the House of Commons from 1905 and was created Viscount Ullswater on his retirement in 1921. Coincidentally Lord Ullswater and Professor Richardson were friends, with the latter designing Lord Ullswater's memorial in the church at Campsea Ashe. The sale of the contents of The High House following the death of Lord Ullswater in 1949 was described as including 'an important collection of Old English Furniture', some of which had been acquired by Lord Ullswater's father in 1883 when he had purchased The High House from the Sheppard family. This was certainly the case with the pair of Queen Anne double-chairback settees sold at Christie's London, 28 November 2002, lot 50. However given the grandeur of these torchères, and the comparative simplicity of the interiors of the High House, for which no significant late 18th century remodeling is known, it seems unlikely that they would have been indigenous. This raises the possibility that they came into the possession of the Lowthers at Campsea Ashe by descent, a theory which is supported by their conspicuous absence from an inventory of the estate of John Wilson Sheppard dated 1830-34. It seems conceivable therefore that they descended through the Earls of Lonsdale, especially as the Hon. William's relationship with his uncle William Lowther, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (d. 1872; he remained a bachelor), was particularly close, for it was the 2nd Earl's legacy that enabled William to commission Richard Norman Shaw to build the magnificent Lowther Lodge, Kensington, between 1872-5, at a cost of around £36,000 (now home to the Royal Geographical Society). This junior branch of the Lowther family spent much time at the Earl's principal seat, Lowther Castle, Penrith, and undoubtedly regularly visited other Lonsdale properties such as Whitehaven Castle, Cumbria and 14-15 Carlton House Terrace, London. Although these torchères cannot be conclusively identified in the Lonsdale archive it is interesting to note that '4 carved and gilt tripods' were recorded as heirlooms in the South Drawing Room of Carlton House Terrace in 1889 (DLons/L23/1/113), though this late date would suggest an alternative Lonsdale descent to the family at The High House, as by this time Hugh Lowther (1847-1945) had become the 5th Earl of Lonsdale.
SIR JOHN LOWTHER, A PATRON OF ROBERT ADAM
Robert Adam was employed by Sir James Lowther, later 1st Earl of Lonsdale from as early as 1766 to prepare designs for a new model village, Lowther Village (R.W. Brunskill, 'Lowther Village and Robert Adam', Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, vol. 14, 1968, pp. 57-73). Perhaps more interesting is Adam's association with Whitehaven Castle, which was the principal seat of Sir James and is described as 'built 1769 by Sir John Lowther as his own residence' (English Heritage, listing text, 1949), and has traditionally been attributed to Robert Adam. In The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1785-1794, Arthur Bolton notes that 'Immense castle designs were made in the following two or three years [from 1766] by Robert Adam for Sir James Lowther, but very little seems to have been accomplished'. Bolton suggests that this was in relation to Lowther Hall, which had been partially destroyed by 1718 and not rebuilt; however, given the date, it seems that these designs were more likely for Whitehaven (Bolton, op. cit., 1922, reprinted 1984, Woodbridge, vol. I, p. 65). Bolton also suggests that this was probably 'the beginning of Adam's incursion into the Castle Style', and there are certainly parallels to be drawn between the exterior of Whitehaven and Adam's subsequent foray into the 'Castle Style' at Culzean Castle, Ayrshire, designed for David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis (d. 1792). Further evidence to connect Adam with Whitehaven comes in the form of a ceiling design supplied by Adam in 1769, to Sir James Lowther, for an unidentified room at the castle. That this was the recorded year of the castle's construction can only strengthen the case for Adam's involvement.
The existence of this ceiling design demonstrates, with the many other designs Adam supplied to him, that Sir James Lowther's taste and respect for Adam's work was indisputable, and it is more than likely that Adam would also have had some part to play in the furnishing of Lowther's palatial new seat, for which these torchères and the Chippendale sofas would have been wholly appropriate. Furthermore, as Christopher Gilbert notes, a magnificent barograph clock with a case also adorned with ram's masks was recorded in the collection of the Earls of Lonsdale as early as 1774, and probably also came from Whitehaven (C. Gilbert, op. cit., vol. I p. 291 & vol. II, p. 21, pl. 35-37). Moreover, Sir James's wife, Lady Mary Stuart (d. 1824), was the daughter of one of Adam's most significant patrons, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (d. 1792), for whom Robert Adam designed Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, the interior of which also housed comparable torchères designed by Adam.
Little is known of the eventual composition of the interiors at Whitehaven as it only retained its status as the principal seat of the Lowthers for a generation. When on the death of the 1st Earl the estates passed to his distant cousin Sir William Lowther (later the 1st Earl of Lonsdale, second creation), the new incumbent commissioned Robert Smirke to rebuild the remains of the old Lowther Hall, which became the gothic Lowther Castle known today, after which Whitehaven Castle seems to have fallen out of use, eventually being sold in 1920.
Analysis of the decoration has shown that these torchères have been decorated three times: they were initially water-gilt, the second scheme was dark green and parcel-gilt, the third and present oil-gilt scheme probably dates to the late 19th century. Further details are available upon request.
11 December 1949
'Walked around my estate then arranged the four torchères in my salon. These have caused a complete upheaval. One cannot exactly be pleased with all the trials, it would have been much easier in the 18th century.'
25 December 1949
'In the evening the salon was lit-up by candles. Robert Adam's torchères were in position. The room sparkles with colour.'
18 March 1950
Then to Dunstable to Mr. Rixson on the matter of the Adam torchères.'
Professor Sir Albert Richardson, P.R.A.