This magnificent and ornate giltwood overmantel mirror in the mid-18th century 'Modern' or 'French' style was designed by the cabinet-making father and son firm of William (d. 1763) and John Linnell (d. 1796) of Berkeley Square, London, and supplied to George William, 6th Earl of Coventry (d. 1809) for his Worcestershire country seat of Croome Court. An invoice dated 18 August 1759 issued by William Linnell describes an overmantel of these proportions, which was intended for the Dressing Room, part of a suite of private rooms, of Lady Coventry, the 6th Earl's first wife, formerly Maria Gunning (d. 1760) of Castle Coote, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, as follows;
'August 18 1759
'To wood & making: and Carving a large Chimney Frame very handsome, by Drawing, & Gilt In Burnish Gold for Lady Coventry's Dressing Room at Croome. A Large Glass 49 in by 30 in & Glass Borders
To Do All Compleat 78 11 6
To 128 ft of pink stuff Glew'd Battens, tow and
Packing the frame at 5 1/2 2 13 4
Paid Chairment for Carrying it to the Join & My Men
Helping to Load 8 6'
Traditionally this invoice had been identified with a chimneypiece frame with an integral mirror with a large shell in the tablet still in situ in Lady Coventry's Dressing Room at Croome Court. However, the latter mirror has been recently acknowledged as of later date, possibly 19th century, and does not have 'Glass Borders'. Another mirror from Croome Court and now on display at Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire, as well as the present overmantel, closely match the invoice description. The measurements for the glass plates of the two mirrors are approximately the same, although standard sized glass was usual in this period with craftsmen adapting their frame designs to the glass manufacturer's restrictions. The superb artistry of the present overmantel, the cost and description in the invoice for an extremely expensive piece of furniture (especially when compared with other Croome Court furnishings of this period) and above all its location until sold in 1948 must imply the mirror described in the invoice can be none other than the present overmantel.
The present overmantel is recorded in two inventories for Croome Court, An Inventory of Heirlooms at Croome Court (by Morant &Co. of New Bond Street) dated 1902, which describes it in the 'Countess of Coventry's Boudoir' (p. 103) as, 'A fine Chippendale chimney glass in sundry compartments & centre filled silvered plate glass scrole & waterfall outer & inner frames swags of flowers & fruit surmounted by a basket & trails of fruit & flowers on a scroll ornament. The whole 5ft. 9 wide & about 7ft. high'. It was still located in this room in 1930 when it was included in The Inventory of Furniture, Pictures and General Effects at Croome Court, the property of the late 9th Earl of Coventry (J. & R. Kemp & Co., 125 High Holborn, April, 1930, p. 84, 'Countess of Coventry's Boudoir') as 'A Chippendale carved & gilt chimney glass, with oblong centre plate surrounded by smaller plates, in serpentine moulding and acanthus foliated frame, surmounted by a basket of flowers and with festoons and swags of fruit and flowers - 5ft. 9in. wide, 7ft 6in. high'. Despite references to Thomas Chippendale, there are no records to suggest that his firm worked at Croome Court prior to 1764, and his contribution was not a major commission. The present overmantel stayed in the Earl of Coventry's collection in that room until 1948 when it was sold at auction (Sotheby's, London, 25 June 1948, lot 143).
The catalogue note for a triple-chair-back settee sold recently (Sotheby's London, 18 November 2008, lot 247), refers to an 1866 inventory for Croome which cannot be traced but reputedly listed in the 'The Countess's Boudoir' at Croome Court, a 'Richly carved and gilt chimney glass in gilt frame surmounted by basket of flowers' - a description that could be none other than the present mirror. This note also suggests that there is a 19th century photograph in the Croome Collection archive showing the present overmantel in situ in the Countess's Boudoir; though sadly this also cannot currently be traced.
The 6th Earl transformed the existing Jacobean mansion of Croome Court with the assistance of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (d. 1783) and his son-in-law, Henry Holland (d. 1806) into a fine Palladian mansion, and subsequently from August 1760, Robert Adam (d. 1792), the most fashionable architect-designer, was at Croome Court designing some of the interiors including the gallery, library and tapestry rooms and many of the furnishings post this date. The wealthy and long-lived 6th Earl was one of the great patrons, 'the Maecenas of the age', passionately endowing Croome Court of which he was particularly 'partial', and in 1764 his London property, Coventry House at 29 (now 106) Piccadilly, with furniture, objects and paintings of the finest quality, employing the best artists and leading London cabinet-makers including Vile and Cobb, Mayhew and Ince, Pierre Langlois, Gordon and Tait, France and Bradburn, and carver-gilder, Sefferin Alken. The Linnell firm had been in the 6th Earl's employ over a significant number of years at Croome Court, from as early as November 1752 until February 1762 spending up to eleven days at the site on any one occasion (H. Hayward, P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell Eighteenth Century London Furniture Makers, London, 1980, p. 29).
Most of Croome Court was furnished in the neoclassical style for which Adam was renowned, and included examples of the French 'à la grecque' acquired by the 6th Earl on one of the two trips that he made to France in August 1763 and 1764 to purchase French furniture and decorative art for his various properties. However, as early as June 1752, the 6th Earl and his new bride were in Paris, were as guests of Madame de Pompadour they were surrounded by the lavish rococo interiors of the French court of Louis XV, a style which was transposed to the early furnishings at Croome including the present overmantel, and confirmed the 6th Earl's enduring Francophile tastes.
Lady Coventry, for whom this overmantel was commissioned, was declared by Horace Walpole together with her younger sister, Elizabeth, 'the handsomest women alive', Lady Coventry's beauty was such that she was surrounded prior and during her marriage to the 6th Earl by throngs of Londoners who gathered to catch a glimpse of her as she passed by in a carriage, an adulation, which reached an apex in 1759 when she was mobbed at Hyde Park (Catherine Gordon, The Coventrys of Croome, Chichester, 2000, p. 95).
The design of the present example with its distinctive and beautifully-carved crest of a basket of flowers is reflected in a drawing of c. 1755-60 for a pier glass by the Linnell firm which was executed as a pair of mirrors, carved in rococo taste with glass borders and candle branches attached to the base, for Sir Molyneux Cope, 7th Bt. (d. 1765) for Bramshill, Hampshire (Hayward and Kirkham, op. cit., p. 98, figs. 187-188). Other related overmantel mirrors, slightly less sumptuous than the present example, were supplied by John Linnell in 1765 for Mrs. Child's Dressing Room at Osterley Park, London for which a design exists at the Victoria & Albert Museum (M. Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam period furniture, London, 1982, p. 102, pl. M/6a, 'Department of Prints and Drawings, E.281-1929'), and at Dyrham, Gloucestershire. Additionally, one of three window cornices at Croome designed by the Linnell firm displays an identical acanthus moulding to that found on the crest of the present overmantel. A design for an overmantel mirror surmounted by a basket of flowers by Thomas Chippendale circa 1753-4, also bears similarities to the Croome Court mirror (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund).
We would like to thank the Croome Estate Trust for their assistance in the compilation of this note.
Anthony Coleridge, 'English furniture supplied for Croome Court', Apollo, February 2000, pp. 8-19.
Catherine Gordon, The Coventrys of Croome, Frome, 2000, Chapter VII, 'The Grave Young Lord and his Grand Design', pp. 80-137.
Joan Lane, 'The furniture at Croome Court, the patronage of George William, 6th Earl of Coventry', Apollo, January 1997, pp. 25-29.
James Parker, 'Croome Court: The Architecture and Furniture', Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, November 1959, pp. 79-93.