This pair of library armchairs are probably from the set of ten chairs supplied to the Hon. George Shirley (1705-1787), for Ettington Park, Warwickshire. Shirley was the eldest son from the second marriage of the 1st Earl Ferrers (1650-1717) from whom he inherited the estate. The chairs can almost certainly be identified with the '8 Elbow Chairs with Carved Legs & claws in crimson velvet' listed in the Drawing Room in the 1882 probate inventory of E.P. Shirley Esq (Warwickshire RO). The set was sold in the 1946 house sale at Ettington Park and subsequently pairs of chairs from the set were sold Christie's, London, 4 July 2002, lot 20 (£259,650 including premium) and 10 July 2003, lot 120 (£218,050 including premium).
The chairs can be firmly attributed to the Clerkenwell workshop of Giles Grendey on both stylistic grounds and by the presence of the journeyman's stamp 'WF'.
They relate closely to a set of chairs bearing Grendey's label from Gunton Park, Norfolk, differing only in the form of the foot and in the presence of the flowerhead at the base of the arm (see C. Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700- 1840, London, 1996, p.243, fig.437). Another chair identical to the present lot was in the celebrated collection of Percival D. Griffiths at Sandridgebury, Hertfordshire (illustrated in Symonds, op.cit, p.155, fig.102) which was sold as part of the Griffiths sale, Christie's, London, 11 May, 1939, lot 285 (£210), and again 7 April, 1983, lot 155 (£11,340 including premium).
Giles Grendey (d.1780), cabinet-maker of St. John's Square, Clerkenwell, London ran a substantial business from 1726, when he took on his first apprentices, until at least the late 1760s, following his appointment as Master of the Joiners' Company in 1766. Described at the time of his wife's death as a 'great Dealer in the Cabinet way', in 1755 at the time of his daughter's marriage to the Royal cabinet-maker John Cobb he was called an 'eminent Timber Merchant'. While few payments to him have been traced in country house archives, he supplied a good number of walnut and mahogany pieces to aristocratic houses including Longford Castle, Stourhead and Barn Elms. He was also very involved in the timber and export business. In fact, Grendey is probably best known for the extensive suite of scarlet-japanned furniture he executed for the Duke of Infantado's castle at Lazcano, Spain, whilst recently discovered labelled mirrors in Norway also indicate that Grendey exported goods to Scandinavia.
A common feature among furniture associated with Giles Grendey's workshop is the presence of stamped initials, presumably those of the cabinet or chair-maker. While none of these workmen have been positively identified thus far, in several cases the initials seem to correspond to apprentices taken on by Grendey from the late 1720s onwards. Some of the Ettington chairs are recorded as being stamped with the initials 'WH', almost certainly for the journeyman chair-maker William House who was apprenticed to Grendey on 24 February 1746/7 (see L.Wood, The Upholstered Furniture in The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool, 2008, vol.I, p.278). A further set of chairs attributed to Grendey and like the present lot bearing the stamp 'WF' were almost certainly supplied to John, 1st Earl Poulett (d.1743) for Hinton House, Somerset (see E. Lennox-Boyd [ed.], Masterpieces of English Furniture The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, pp. 2-3, pp.110-111 and pl.85, and p.208, fig.34). Another pair of armchairs attributed to Giles Grendey and also bearing the 'WF' stamp were sold Christie's, London, The Legend of Dick Turpin Part 1, 9 March, 2006, lot 75 (£78,000 including premium).
As noted above, chairs of this model vary slightly in the presence or lack of the rosette at the base of the arm support. It is impossible to be certain whether all the chairs of this model had flowerheads on the bottom arm-support terminals, as well as the upper. Some retain the lower flowerheads but others are upholstered over and may have originally had them.
Other examples of this model of library chairs include:
1. The Percival Griffiths chair, referred to above, and illustrated in Symonds, loc.cit.
2. The Ward chair illustrated in Cescinsky, Connoisseur, loc. cit.
3. A pair in the collection of Henry Hirsch Esq., sold in these Rooms, 22 March 1934, lot 84.
4. One illustrated in Cescinsky, Eighteenth Century, loc. cit.
5. A pair from the collection of Henry Nyburg, Esq., sold Sotheby's London, 2 December 1966, lot 154.
6. A pair, previously with Partridge, sold Sotheby's New York, 29 October 1988, lot 382 ($220,000).
7. A pair sold Christie's New York, 27 January 1990, lot 105 ($264,000).
8. A single chair sold Christie's New York, 13 April 2000, lot 188 ($110,500)
9. A chair from the collection of Dr Frank Crozer Knowles, upholstered very similarly to Griffiths's chair (no. 1 above), and possibly once associated with it, sold Christie's New York, 22 October 1988, lot 234, and again Christie's New York, 18 October 2001, lot 232 ($70,500).