THE COUCH AT EATON HALL
This exceptional daybed, probably executed by the Soho cabinet-maker and upholsterer Paul Saunders (d. 1771) to a design by Thomas Chippendale (d. 1779), was formerly at Eaton Hall, Cheshire, the country seat of the Dukes of Westminster. It was probably supplied to Richard, 1st Earl Grosvenor, who succeeded his father in 1755 and was possibly among the furnishings at his London home, Grosvenor House. It was recorded in the 'Ebury Rooms' at Eaton Hall between November 1881 and July 1884 (EV 476).
From 1881 to 1889, Hugh Grosvenor, 1st Duke of Westminster (d. 1899) commissioned the decorators Cowtan & Sons to undertake the refurbishment of at least five of his mansions, Eaton Hall, Grosvenor House, London, Cliveden, Berkshire, Halykyn Castle, Flintshire, and Kylestrome and Loch More Lodge in Scotland (London Metropolitan Archives, B/CWT/001). The daybed, which bears the stencil, 'from Cowtan & Sons/London/309 Oxford Street', appears in the firm's account book for Eaton Hall (EV 476),
'The following materials sent to our upholsterers to be used for covering a large Chippendale sofa bed for Ro. 106 [Ebury Dressing Room], the head and foot boards of... silk tabarette' (ibid., p. 11). 'A best wool and hair bordered mattress for the Chippendale sofa-bed in white swansdown...', and a 'holland case' was also supplied (ibid., p.12, 14). As the account book shows, the daybed was fully reupholstered, 'ripping a large Chippendale sofa [sic], spring and hair stuffing same and covering in the silk tabourette finished with plush border, cord and gimp...' (ibid., pp. 95-96). Finally, the daybed went to the 'Polisher' where, 'cleaning, bleaching and dull polishing Chippendale sofa bed' was effected (ibid., p. 119). All the furniture to be renovated including the present daybed was dispatched to the firm's London address by hired van, horse and carriage or rail (ibid., p. 121). The extent of the Cowtan & Son commission at Eaton Hall is illustrated by the total spend, which came to £14151.5.8 (ibid.).
In the 1885 Eaton Hall Inventory, the daybed is undoubtedly that listed in the 'Ebury Dressing Room' as '1 Mahogany Sofa Bed Stuffd [sic] and Covered with brown Silk Terry'. By 1928, however, it had been recovered and moved to 'The Japanese Dressing Room' where the 1928 Valuation and 1931 Declaration of Trust lists it as, 'A carved Chippendale mahogany day bed, upholstered with blue sateen', valued at £500 (EV 1452 and EV 1457a).
There was other Chippendale furniture at Eaton Hall in the 1880s, in particular, in the 'Library' a suite of seat-furniture comprising two settees, 16 armchairs, 12 dining chairs and a pair of window seats characterised by rams heads on the shoulders of cabriole legs and hoof feet, photographed by William Bedford in June 1887 (PRO, Copy 1/380/530; EV 1457a). The present daybed was almost certainlypart of another suite initially but to date no other furniture from this suite has been identified.
THE DESIGN BY THOMAS CHIPPENDALE
The daybed combines French 'picturesque' fashion with antique elements in the 'contemporary' Roman style inspired by designs for 'Couches' or 'Péché Mortel' by Chippendale, illustrated in the third edition of his Director, 1762, plate XXXII. It is possibly the sole surviving example of this design as no other has been found in the course of the present research. Chippendale described these as 'sometimes made to take asunder in the Middle; one Part makes a large Easy-Chair, and the other a Stool, Stool, and the Feet join in the Middle, which looks badly: Therefore I would recommend their being made, as in these Designs, with a pretty thick Mattrais. The Dimensions are six Feet long in the Clear, and two Feet, six Inches, to three Feet-broad'.
Chippendale's contemporaries Messrs. Mayhew & Ince of Golden Square, London, were undoubtedly inspired by Chippendale's designs, featuring a 'single headed Couch' in their Universal System of Household Furniture, 1762, plate LXIV.
'Péché Mortel', a French term to describe this type of daybed, appears in 18th century British inventories including one for 19 Arlington Street, London, for Sir Lawrence Dundas where two instances of daybeds were described as 'A Passamortel Chair'.
The daybed was almost certainly made by Paul Saunders of Soho Square, London, one of the preeminent cabinet-makers of the 1750s and 60s who was supplying furniture to an aristocratic clientèle for their London townhouses and country seats. Notable commissions include Holkham Hall, Norfolk, Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire and, Petworth House, Sussex. At Holkham a harlequin set of ten George II mahogany and parcel-gilt dining-chairs, probably supplied by Saunders in 1757 to Sir Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, display exuberant carving of acanthus foliage clasped in a band in a similar manner as featured on back of the present daybed. A chair from this suite is illustrated in R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, volume one, London, 1954, p. 275, fig. 155). A larger set of carved and parcel-gilt seat furniture supplied by Saunders for the Statue Gallery and Tribunes at Holkham features similar decoration (Anthony Coleridge, 'Some Mid-Georgian Cabinet-Makers at Holkham', Apollo, February 1964, pp. 122-123, fig. 2). The 1774 inventory for Holkham records three 'Couch Bed' but does not state that they were en suite with sets of seat-furniture. The fluting on the supports and arms of the present daybed, and the carved scrolls that terminate the arms, relate to a pair of George II open armchairs attributed to Saunders, almost certainly supplied to Thomas, 3rd Viscount Weymouth, later 1st Marquess of Bath (d. 1796) for Longleat, Wiltshire (sold 'Furniture, Porcelain and Silver from Longleat', Christie's King Street, 13-14 June 2002, lot 338, £81,260 including premium).