PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF
PROFESSOR AND MRS. CLIFFORD AMBROSE TRUESDELL
These elegantly serpentined 'French Elbow Chairs' or 'cabriolet' armchairs are designed in the George III antique fashion promoted in the 1750s by the Berkeley Square cabinet-maker John Linnell (d. 1796).
Their reeded frames evoke an Arcadian Age, and with their golden fusion of the elements of Earth and Water, would have suited contemporary floral tapestry upholstery, such as that manufactured at the Gobelins tapestry works in Paris. Their laurelled shell ornament, which serves to celebrate 'lyric poetry's triumph', was particularly appropriate for 'Roman' styled drawing-rooms or music-rooms created by the Swedish-born and Rome-trained architect Sir William Chambers (d. 1792), author of a Treatise on Civil Architecture, 1759.
The chairs are garlanded with Apollo's Parnassian laurels, which wreath the Venus-shell badges that repose in bubbled and water-scalloped cartouches crowning the triumphal arched crestings, and they further enrich the hollowed flutes of the wave-voluted arms. Related 'French Chair' patterns, engraved in 1759 by Thomas Chippendale, feature floral upholstery, or scenes from Aesop's Fables, worked in 'tapestry or other sort of needlework' (see Chippendale, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 3rd edn., 1762, pls. 22 and 23). Their original design, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, was executed by John Linnell following the establishment in 1754 of his cabinet-making and upholstery workshops in Berkeley Square in partnership with his father William Linnell (d. 1763) (see H. Hayward and P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell, London, 1980, vol. II, fig. 54).
Their ornament is inspired by Ovid's Metamophoses or Loves of the Gods, where flowers are described as springing up at the touch of the foot of the nature-deity Venus, following her triumphal birth and transport from the sea in a 'shell' carriage. The laurels, wreathing the hollowed flutes of the back and wave-voluted arms, also recall the triumph of the sun-god Apollo in his role as god of poetry and companion of the Mt. Parnassus Muses of artistic inspiration.
Linnell's training at William Hogarth's academy in St. Martin's Lane and skill as a designer in the 1750s French 'picturesque' fashion is well demonstrated by the frontispiece to his 1760 publication of A New Book of Ornaments useful for Silver-Smiths etc (ibid., fig. 314). The present chairs can also be compared with one of the Victoria and Albert Museum's Linnell watercolors for a reeded 'French chair', that is wreathed in Roman foliage in harmony with its foliated red acanthus damask upholstery (ibid., fig. 50). The latter pattern in turn relates to a suite of damask-upholstered furniture that Linnell designed for Osterley Park, Middlesex in the late 1750s, and whose acanthus-tied reeds corresponded with those of the drawing-room's marble chimneypiece (which has since been moved to the breakfast room) (op.cit., fig. 51). It is likely to have been Chambers who proposed the design for the Osterley drawing room's 'Apollonian' ceiling, whose stuccoed ornament was inspired by Robert Wood's Ruins of the Temple of the Sun at Palmyra, 1753. It is therefore possible that the present chairs were also designed for one of the houses designed by Chambers, who was architectural tutor to George III when Prince of Wales and was appointed Court Architect in 1760.