This suite of magnificent seat-furniture was supplied to Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, for 45 Berkeley Square circa 1766-1770. These eight chairs were originally part of a larger suite: Three sofas, four elbow chairs and 'twelve back stool chairs', 'with carved and gilt frames, scarlet damask with leather covers, and crimson serge cases', were recorded in the Great Drawing Room at 45 Berkeley Square at Clive's death in 1774 (O. Fairclough, 'In the Richest and most Elegant manner: A suite of furniture for Clive of India', Furniture History, 2000, p. 110). The large sofa from the suite is now in the National Museum of Wales. The remainder of this splendid suite, apart from the current lot and one small sofa which remains untraced, is at Powis Castle, Powys, Wales, where it was moved from Berkeley Square in 1936.
45 BERKELEY SQUARE
The furnishing of Berkeley Square was overseen by George III's architect Sir William Chambers (1723-1796) between 1763-1767. Lord Clive expressed his concern with improvements to the state rooms on the first floor at Berkeley Square writing 'I would have the Grand Flight of Rooms furnished in the richest and most elegant manner, a man of great taste and judgement should be consulted ...… I do empower you o5 make the House at Berkeley Square as fine and convenient as you please immediately' (Ibid, p.107). Lord Clive returned to Bengal as Governor in June 1764, so his wife Margaret became responsible for overseeing his planned improvements at Berkeley Square. Lady Clive was influenced by the Duke of Marlborough's refurbishments at Marlborough House, especially the planning of the principal rooms. She subsequently decided to employ the Duke's upholsterer, Charles Arbuckle, to work under Chamber's direction. She wrote to her husband explaining this decision 'RE: Berkeley Square, I should tell you that I have employed Mr Chambers and a very excellent upholsterer employed by the D. of Marlborough, named Arbuckle, to fit up and adorn this house' (Ibid, p. 107).
Charles Arbuckle, was recorded as an upholsterer at St. Alban's Street, Pall Mall between 1765-66 and was a Fellow of the Society for Arts and Manufacturers (G. Beard, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p.16). Arbuckle's connection with the Marlboroughs was a lengthy one, he had worked for the 3rd Duke at Marlborough House in 1754-55, and in 1763-64 he supplied the 4th Duke with upholstery and furniture for Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (Fairclough, op.cit., p.107). Arbuckle's bills for his work at 45 Berkeley Square are not among Clive's records, but his work there was clearly extensive: He received £1,200 on account between October 1766 and March 1767 (on which Chambers charged 5 commission), and another £1,100 for 'upholstery furniture' between June and December 1767, making up his balance (Ibid, p. 108). These payments appear to have been solely for his work at Berkeley Square, which included the fitting up of the principal apartment and the hangings of the Great and Middle Drawing Rooms and Lord Clive's Bedchamber with 'Scarlet Damask and rich Carv'd & Gilt Border' (Ibid, p. 108). Arbuckle certainly supplied cabinet work for Berkeley Square, as Chamber's bill for 1768-69 includes his commission on 'bookcases made by Arbuc [sic]' for £95 (Ibid, p. 108). Arbuckle received further payments on account 'for furniture' in March 1769 and May 1770, and this bill, totaling £1,104 5s 3d, was cleared in February 1771. (Ibid, p. 108). The Clive records do not record any other cabinet maker working at Berkeley Square between 1766-1770, hence it seems probable that Arbuckle supplied this suite of furniture as part of his fitting up of the principal apartments.
Sir William Chambers claimed to be 'a Very pretty connoisseur in furniture' (Ibid, p. 109). He prided himself on his expertise with carved giltwood, taking considerable trouble to secure the appropriate colour of gilding for chairs, mirrors and tables where it affected the overall uniformity of a decorative scheme (J, Harris & M.Snodin, editors, Sir William Chambers: Architect to George III, London, 1997, p. 163. He was also used to dealing with the details of clients' whims in the furnishing and finishing of rooms. The commission Chambers was paid on Arbuckle's bills, despite having not worked with him before, implies this payment may have been due to him because of his involvement with the design of the seat-furniture for Lord Clive. Significantly, his account with Clive for 3 April to 29 August 1769 includes 'To my Trouble in ordering furniture & directing the fitting up for the Concert £5 5s od' (Fairclough, op. cit., p. 109). Therefore it is probable that the Clives consulted Chambers about the seat-furniture for the Great Drawing Room, and that the design was in keeping with his suggestions.
DESIGN AND SETTING
The shell crestings of this suite recall Chambers' conservative Franco-Palladian manner, which he also employed at Blenheim in the early 1770's. The suite of furniture is designed in the French style, with scrolling serpentine backs and cabriole legs: It is a formal and symmetrical version of the rococo style. It can be compared to the celebrated suite of 'French' chairs supplied to Sir Lawrence Dundas by Thomas Chippendale in 1764, though it is devoid of the neoclassical elements which feature in the Dundas suite. The Great Drawing Room at Berkeley Square, for which this suite was designed, archictecturally remains virtually intact today. Chambers' sumptuous ceiling with fine rococo plasterwork still dominates a grand room with a white marble chimneypiece. The walls were hung with sumptous scarlet silk damask and Old Master pictures including 'Venus and Adonis' by Rubens, 'The Salutation of the Virgin and St. Elizabeth' by Veronese and 'Madonna' by Carlo Dolci (Ibid, p. 110). With these scarlet hangings, giltwood 'French' furniture and Baroque paintings the room would have had a luxurious conservatism, not unlike the Second Drawing Room at Buckingham House, refitted for Queen Charlotte, and recorded in Johann Zoffany's 'George, Prince of Wales and Prince Frederick', painted circa 1765.
Lord Clive's son, Edward, 2nd Lord Clive (1754-1839), married the Herbert heiress and became 1st Earl of Powis (of the 3rd creation) in 1804. The descendants of Lord Clive sold 45 Berkeley Square in 1936. The 1937 Country Life interior photograph of 45 Berkeley Square shows a sofa, originally part of the suite, sold at Christie's, London 16 October 1958, lot 75 and purchased by the National Museum of Wales. The interior photograph also shows a smaller sofa with open arms, an armchair and three side chairs, plus other giltwood seat furniture of a later date (Ibid, p.102). Hussey, author of the Country Life article, noted that other pieces of the suite were at Powis Castle and these comprised a second, open-armed sofa; two armchairs and six further side chairs. Thus the current chairs may already have been removed to Powis Castle prior to the 1937 interior photograph taken at Berkeley Square. A year after selling the sofa, another eight chairs, comprising six side chairs and two armchairs, with a Powis Castle provenance, were sold at Christie's, London, 18 June 1959, lot 56: The same chairs as the current lot.
CLIVE OF INDIA
Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, KB (1725-1774), 'Clive of India', was a soldier of fortune and the commander credited with having established the military supremacy of the East India Company in 1742 as a writer, or clerk, he transferred to the Company's military service three years later. Over the period of the next fifteen years Clive's career dramatically strengthened until he was one of the most distinguished generals within the company, and eventually became President of Bengal.
When Clive returned to Britain in July 1760 it was to a hero's welcome and numerous official honours. Even so, he was disappointed in his attempt to secure an English peerage, receiving instead an Irish barony, as Baron Clive of Plassey in March 1762 - a reference to his great victory at Plassey on 23 June 1757. In spite of this setback, Clive was immensely wealthy: The Annual Register declared that 'It is supposed that the general can realize £1,200,000 in cash, bills and jewls … So that he may with propriety be said to be the richest subject in the Three Kingdoms'. With his great fortune Clive bought himself several houses including an estate in Ireland which he renamed Plassey, two country houses - Claremont in Surrey and Walcot on the Welsh border, and a fashionable town house, 45 Berkeley Square. Clive had leased this house since 1960 from the original inhabitant of the house, Willam Kerr, Earl of Ancram, later 4th Marquess of Lothian, at a cost of £600 a year, and bought it outright complete with Lord Ancram's furniture, for £10,500 in July 1763 (Ibid, p. 106).
THE STEINBERG COLLECTION
The collection of Mr and Mrs Saul Steinberg which evolved over many years included important English and Continental furniture, Old Master paintings, works of art, silver and porcelain. The setting for the collection was Apartment 15, 740 Park Avenue, a prime location in Mahattan: The apartment was previously owned by John D. Rockeller, Jnr. This apartment block was designed by Rosario Candela and Arthur Loomis Harmon, the design partners of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, architects of the Empire State Building. The Steinberg's apartment was carefully redecorated by the renowned interior decorator Mark Hampton. Besides the Clive suite, the Steinberg collection included several other pieces of English Furniture with outstanding provenance, such as a dressing and writing-commode attributed to John Channon, circa 1765. This commode was one of a pair supplied to Alderman William Beckford (d. 1770), for the State Bedrooms at Fonthill Splendens, Wiltshire. Its companion is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.