THE WIMPOLE HALL AND LANHYDROCK SUITE
These armchairs relate closely to and indeed may be part of the suite comprising at least ten armchairs, a pair of settees and a pair of sofas which were originally supplied to Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire. Six of these chairs and a sofa were sold from the Lanhydrock collection at Christie's in 1953.
The connection between Wimpole and Lanhydrock is a fascinating one. Lanhydrock was the great 17th century house of the Robartes family. Charles Bodville, 2nd Earl of Radnor (1660-1723) owned both Lanhydrock and Wimpole Hall but by 1710 his extravagance had forced the sale of Wimpole to the Duke of Newcastle. Alexander Pope (d.1744) the poet and satirist described Radnor as:
'...mad good-nature, bounty misapplied.
In lavish Curio blazed away and died'.
From the Duke of Newcastle, Wimpole Hall quickly passed to his son-in-law, the bibliophile and patron of the arts Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (d.1741). Oxford himself was an extravagant collector, his manuscripts forming the nucleus of the British Museum.
From 1740 until 1894 Wimpole belonged to the Earls of Hardwicke, it was probably bought fully furnished. An inventory from 1835 entitled An inventory of Furniture Fixtures and effects the Property of the late Earl of Hardwicke deceased of Wimpole Hall, Cambridge, taken January 1835, Banting and Son, 22 Pall Mall lists in the 'Long Gallery':
'2 large square sofas with squabs 6 back cushions & 4 round bolsters & crimson striped throwover cases
2 large walnut tree carved sofas with stuffed Backs seats and Elbows covered with Crimson silk damask & finished brass nails
10 large carved Elbow chairs stuffed backs & seats covered and finished to Match sofas
which are likely to be this suite. In 1931, Lord Clifden expressed his belief that the set was 'recovered in 1842 when Queen Victoria stayed with the fourth Lord Hardwicke' - its rose-medallioned petit point needlework is visible in the old Country Life photographs.
Wimpole changed hands again in 1894 through bankruptcy, for the third time in its history. The principal creditor of the 5th Earl of Hardwicke was the Robartes bank, whose major shareholder was Lord Robartes, owner of Lanhydrock and direct descendent of the Earl of Radnor. Lord Robartes bought the house and thus Wimpole and Lanhydrock were once again under single ownership. The chairs remained at Wimpole when it was reacquired by the Robartes family and were still present when the house was photographed by Country Life in 1927 and 1931. However, much of the original furniture from Wimpole was removed to Lanhydrock during the first half of the 20th century and it appears that this suite was no exception since six of the chairs were sold in 1953 from Lanhydrock (Christie's, London, 10 December 1953, lot 27 [£819 to Kulikundis]). A pair of chairs almost certainly from this set was sold Christie's, New York, Property from the Collection of Nelson Grimaldi Seabra, 22 October 2003, lot 120 ($253,900 including premium). Another pair which was purchased from Messrs. Frank Partridge Inc., New York in 1961 was sold Sotheby's, New York, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Gersh, 18 October 2006, lot 65 ($520,000 including premium).
A pair of chairs, possibly from the Lanhydrock set were left to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (accession no W.48 & a-1962). These were formerly in the collection of Claude D. Rotch (1882-1962).
Another very similar set of six, was sold anonymously (Mrs. L. Urquhart of 10 Palace Gardens, Kensington, London), Christie's, London, 17 July 1930, lot 123, and purchased by F. Partridge. They were subsequently exhibited at Messrs. Mallett & Son (Antiques) Ltd., London, in their Exhibition (1939) of Old English Furniture, Needlework and Silver, no.134.
The examples from the Wimpole Hall suite, like the present lot, are distinguished by the quality of their carving. In particular they feature prominently a double flower to the scrolled arm terminal and superb acanthus carving to the arm support with a distinctive upright leaf to the base. In this way they can be differentiated from the Urquhart set in which the carving is slightly less accomplished.
THE ST. MARTIN'S LANE SYNDICATE
The Wimpole suite relates to a group of mid-eighteenth century chairs made by a group of cabinet-makers who have become known as the St. Martin's Lane Syndicate. The significant members of this group were Royal cabinet-makers William Hallett, William Vile and John Cobb who in addition to working in neighbouring premises shared further common interests. Both Hallett and Vile originated from Somerset, and indeed Vile had worked for Hallett, who later gave Vile financial backing when starting his own career. Maintaining their links with their home county they are thought to have supplied a suite of furniture for John, 2nd Earl Poulett at Hinton House, Somerset, a pair of chairs from which was sold anonymously Christie's, New York, 16 October 1998, lot 333.
A suite supplied to the Earl of Lichfield for Ditchley, Oxfordshire, and illustrated in situ in C. Latham, In English Homes, London, 1909, vol.III, p.322, compares in its richly carved foliate legs and strong stature. William Hallett is known to have supplied the 2nd Earl of Lichfield 'tables, stands and screen' (G. Beard and C. Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, 1986, p.389) in 1742 and so it is possible by association that this suite of seat- furniture, very much in Hallett's oeuvre, may have been supplied by the St. Martin's Lane maker.