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circa 1770, after a design by James Wyatt
Each serpentine crest above a pierced upright splat centered by a flowerhead enclosed by two Prince of Wales plumes, the arms carved with dolphins, the padded seat covered in close-nailed brown leather above a fluted seatrail, on turned tapering fluted legs with acanthus capitals headed by rosettes, one lower anthemion replaced, minor restorations to lower tapering section of splats (14)
Probably supplied to John Baker Holroyd, 1st Earl of Sheffield (d.1821), for Sheffield Park, Sussex, in 1776-1777
Thence by descent to Henry North Holroyd, 3rd Earl of Sheffield (d.1909)
Presumably inherited by Edward, 6th Baron Stanley of Alderley (d.1957)
The Trustees of the late A.C.J. Wall, sold Christie's London, 19 November 1970, lot 124 (bought by Partridge on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum for 4,800 guineas)
Post lot text
*This lot may be exempt from sales tax, as set forth in the Sales Tax Notice at the front of the catalogue.

Lot Essay

The design for these dining-chairs was discovered in an album of drawings by the late 18th Century architect James Wyatt (d.1813) in the collection of the Vicomte de Noailles in Paris. The discovery of this design reinforced an earlier link between these chairs and Sheffield Park, a house where James Wyatt worked extensively in the late 1770s, and the likely date for the design and manufacture of the chairs themselves. The first recorded reference to these chairs, in the 1950s, noted that they came from Lord Stanley of Alderley, the heir to the Sheffield title when the last Lord Sheffield died in 1909 without legitimate heirs. The 1950s reference, which appeared in an insurance inventory, long predates the discovery of the Wyatt design and thus strongly supports the probability that the chairs came from Sheffield Park.

Wyatt remodelled Sheffield Park (then called Sheffield Place) in the late 1770s for the ambitious Anglo-Irish politician and political theorist John Baker Holroyd, later 1st Lord Sheffield. Sheffield's family had emigrated to Ireland during the reign of Charles II but his ambition and several advantageous marriages brought him money and titles. In the late 1770s, the time of Wyatt's first series of alterations to Sheffield Park, Sheffield was still much involved in Irish politics but a later third marriage to a daughter of Lord North brought him into the highest levels of English politics in the early 1800s. His third wife was the daughter of the same Lord North who had been Prime Minister at the time of the American Revolution. Wyatt's 1770s remodelling of Sheffield Park was largely in a characteristic Gothic style, but the dining-room was neo-classical. Although later architects would consider such a mixture to be stylistically flawed, Wyatt did not have the same reservations
Wyatt's inspiration for the interlaced hoop back on these chairs and other related designs is not known but it is possibly derived from a printed design that was re-issued in 1766 by the printseller Robert Sayer from an original published in 1753 in Six New Designs of Chairs (see: C. Gilbert, 'Smith, Manwaring, Sayer and a newly discovered set of designs', F.H.S.J., 1993, pp. 129-133). The Wyatt back pattern and the Sayer design share the distinctive out-scroll at the base of each stile. The inspiration for the Sheffield Park design was clearly not unique in Wyatt's work. A set of chairs designed by him, also in the late 1770s, for Sir Charles Sedley's Palladian temple at Nuthall, Nottinghamshire, reinterprets the design with Etruscan-style painted decoration on a satinwood frame. The Nuthall set are clearly intended for a very different decorative scheme and are of a different construction than the Sheffield Park set but their derivation is the same. The Nuthall Temple chairs were sold at Christie's London on 6 July 1995, lot 175, but at the time of printing that catalogue the Nuthall provenance was not known.

In addition to the Sheffield Park set, there are a small number of sets which also follow the Wyatt design and share the same idiosyncratic oak seat-rail construction. One of these was sold in these Rooms on 12 April 1996, lot 175, and another set with this construction but a slightly different design was offered at Christie's London on 7 July 1994, lot 46. Another set at Easton Neston, Northamptonshire, is illustrated in situ in M. Jourdain, English Interior Decoration 1500-1830, 1950, pl. 82. Two chairs, possibly only a pair, were advertised by the Manchester antique dealers J.W. Needhams in The Connoisseur, January 1920, p. xxx. It is of course possible that some of these chairs are in fact from the same sets.

The oak inner seat-rails may yet be the most significant clue in the search for the cabinet-maker who actually supplied these chairs under Wyatt's direction. This feature is very unusual in English chairs of this date and its presence on another set of the type suggests that they were made by the same firm, probably a large one. A search of the Sheffield papers in the East Sussex County Record Office revealed payments in the years 1783-1784 to the cabinet-maker Robert Kennett. No furniture has ever been definitely identified as being made by this maker and this has obscured the importance of Kennett's business that is indicated by his surviving account book for the years 1792-1795 (PRO, London; see: G. Beard and C. Gilbert, eds., The Dictionary of English Furniture, Leeds, 1986, pp. 506). Lord Sheffield's payments to Kennett in 1783-1784 total £299 15s 1d. Payments for earlier years are not detailed but the bill is headed 1780 so it may be a continuation of an earlier series. There is also a reference to a dinner service being supplied by Wedgwood in 1783.
Kennett's 1790s account book shows an extensive business with the Anglo-Irish aristocracy of which Lord Sheffield was a leading member. There is no evidence that Kennett was himself Irish or Irish-trained, other than his client list, but if he was Irish-trained and he was the maker of these chairs it would explain the unusual use of oak inner seat-rails, a feature much more common on Irish dining-chairs of this period than on English examples.

A.C.J. Wall was a Birmingham industrialist who formed his collection in the years immediately before and after the Second World War. His collection was of a more eclectic type than his many contemporaries who were influenced by the writings of Robert Symonds. Wall's collection included a carved mahogany commode of the same type as the Raynham Hall commode now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the 1930s, these commodes were confidently attributed to Thomas Chippendale because of their Director source and superb carving, but this attribution is not now accepted. Wall also owned a pair of library armchairs from a superb set with dolphin arm-terminals and feet. This pair is illustrated in the first edition of The Dictionary of English Furniture and is now in an American private collection. Although Wall bought many things at Partridge, these did not include the Sheffield Park chairs.

A.C.J. Wall had been Lord Mayor of Birmingham and after his death his widow loaned several of his more important pieces to Aston Hall Museum in the city until the sale at Christie's in 1970.

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