This recently identified suite of dining room furniture, part of a newly discovered extensive commission by the Broad Street cabinet makers Ince and Mayhew, is a significant addition to their documented oeuvre. Supplied in 1781 to Sir Cecil Bisshopp, Bt. for Parham Park in Sussex, it illustrates their sophisticated use of neoclassical ornament that they had developed through the 1770s and is an eloquent testimony to the firm’s style and output in the years of their greatest success through the 1770s and early 1780s.
Soon after inheriting the ancient baronetcy of his forbears in 1779, Sir Cecil Bisshopp, 8th Bt set about updating his family’s seventeenth century house Parham Park, nestling gently the lee of the South Downs, which had been begun in 1577. That he chose the successful firm of Ince and Mayhew to carry out these refurbishments may have been partly influenced by the fact that Ince and Mayhew had worked in a number of sixteenth and seventeenth-century houses, bringing modern comfort to these ancient seats in a sensitive and sympathetic way- Burghley and Cobham Hall are two notable examples. But despite their ‘antiquarian’ credentials, the furniture and fittings they supplied to Sir Cecil were in the most up-to-date neoclassical idiom.
The first of the two extensive bills, dated July 1781, begins with the Winter Dining Room on the south east corner of the house. The room was fashionably fitted up with two fringed, festooned curtains of green mixed silk damask lined with green tammy, as well as ‘2 Venetian Sun Blinds painted Green’ which set the predominant colour of the room. The elegant suite of dining-room furniture, a large sideboard table with two urns and pedestals, an oval wine cistern and a smaller sideboard table were all ‘neatly painted & pick’d in Green and White’.
The two sideboard tables, both supplied with ‘Damask’d leather Covers’, with their fluted friezes carved with anthemions and patera, ornament echoed on the window cornices, also supplied by Ince & Mayhew and painted green and white, and their tablet centres carved with vases use motifs that appear in different combinations in other dining room furniture the firm supplied in the 1770s, but all in mahogany, which would perhaps have been less appropriate in the early setting of Parham. While the ‘therm’ legs with the idiosyncratic roundel-filled blocks heading the tapering feet are on much favoured device, appearing on the yew-wood and marquetry sideboard table made for the Earl of Kerry, 1769-71 (C. Cator, ‘The Earl of Kerry and Mayhew & Ince, Furniture History, XXVI, 1990, pp27-33) and the mahogany sideboard table made for Edward Bouverie c.1769-1772, sold Christie’s London, 6 July 2017, lot 12. The Ionic capitals are similar to those on the pair of giltwood pier tables supplied to Viscount Palmerston at Broadlands, Hampshire c.1771 (H. Roberts. Furniture at Broadlands, Hampshire’, I, Country Life, 29 January 1981 , pp. 288-290,figs.1 and 8 . The distinctive drapery swags echoing architectural ornament on the pedestals and wine cistern recur in various guises, ebonised as ornament for commodes or on a smaller scale as on the pedestals supplied to Sir Thomas Rumbold for Woodhall Park circa 1780 sold Christie’s London, 6 July 2017, lot 11. The japanned cutlery ‘vases’ on the pedestals ‘finely Jappan’d to imitate Porphyry Marble’ are not found elsewhere in their identified work and were most probably supplied by a specialist supplier. They still retain their fittings for knives and forks while the pedestals are still fitted with a cellaret for nine bottles in one and the other as a plate warmer.
In 1815 Sir Cecil succeeded in his claim through his mother to the ancient barony of Zouche, in abeyance since 1625, becoming the 12th Baron Zouche of Haryngworth and Parham then descended through the Zouche family. His daughter and heir Harriet, and her bibliophile husband the Hon Robert Curzon, made extensive alterations to the house, sweeping away much of her father’s late 18th century modernisation and employing Anthony Salvin to give the house a more ‘ancient’ air.
In 1922 the 17th Baroness Zouche (1875-1965) sold Parham to the Hon. Clive Pearson, who with his wife Alicia returned the house to its house original late 16th/ early 17th century guise with great love and care . Lady Zouche kept some of the furniture, including this suite, which was sold at Christie’s on 21 April 1966 after her death. At the time of the 1966 sale, it still retained its original green and white painted decoration and the large serving table still had the: ‘Brass Rod for Side Board with 4 Plinths and Strong Brass Pillars with nuts and Screws & ornamented with Vases and c’ for which Ince and Mayhew charged an additional £3 3s.
After the 1966 sale the suite was acquired from Mallett’s by the banker George Ansley, whose Paris apartment at 6 rue de Presbourg was decorated by Henri Samuel, when the pair to the smaller table was probably added. Subsequently acquired in the later 1970s by Mr and Mrs Charles Wrightsman, either for Blythedunes their home in Palm Beach or their New York apartment at 820 Fifth Avenue to possibly replace pieces that they had given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The circular dining-table, with its base taking the swagged drapery from the pedestals and the anthemion and flute frieze from the tables, was probably added then. ‘The Oval Cistern neatly painted Carv’d & Ornamented to match the Side Board with Copper lining’, which was lot 137 in the Christie’s 1966 sale, must have become separated from the suite which Susan Gutfreund acquire privately from Mrs Wrightsman, and was sold in the Sotheby’s New York sale of the Wrightsman’s Palm Beach residence, 5 May 1984, lot 176.
The Parham dining-room suite and Ince and Mayhew’s commission for Sir Cecil Bisshopp, Bt. will be included in the forthcoming monograph on their work by Hugh Roberts and Charles Cator, Industry and Ingenuity: The Partnership of William Ince and John Mayhew to be published in 2022