The fine giltwood pier glass is attributed to Richard Cranfield (d. 1809), carver and gilder of Hog Hill (from 1765-8), and 3 Church Lane, College Green, Dublin (1769-98), based on its stylistic affinity to a set of three George III Irish pier glasses with closely related rope-twist and pierced branch and foliate frames supplied to Castletown House, Co. Kildare in 1768. The accounts for the mansion show payments made to Cranfield for carving and gilding from 1764 in the period of the creation of a large dining room at Castletown up until 1792 amounting to more than £600. The plate glass was probably supplied by James Jackson, glass manufacturer and grinder of 5 Essex Bridge, Dublin who on 19 August 1768 received a payment of '£100 on a/c of looking glasses’ (OPW, Castletown Decorative Arts, Co. Meath, 2011, p. 117).
The design for these mirrors may have been inspired by the work of Thomas Johnson (d. 1778), 'one of the most influential English designers of the 18th century’, and a renowned carver and gilder (J. Simon, 'Thomas Johnson’s “The Life of the Author”, Furniture History Society, vol. XXXIX, 2003, p. 1). In 1746-48, Johnson was in Dublin working for a 'Mr. Houghton’, possibly John Houghton (d. 1761) of Duke Street, a leading Irish carver, and between 1753 and 1755, on a return visit to the city he was employed by a 'Mr. Partridge’, possibly William Partridge, a 'principal carver’ supplying frames to looking-glass shops. Johnson’s One Hundred & Fifty New Designs (1761) includes a very similar oval frame mirror with branch and foliate decoration (plate 33).
This style of mirror has traditionally been associated with John Booker (for information on Francis & John Booker, see lot 60). Another closely related pier glass is illustrated in Glin and Peil (sold 'The Property of the late Mrs. B.W. van Moppes’, Christie’s, London 11 November 1999, lot 167) who suggests that prior to employing their own carvers and gilders the Bookers may have gone to Cranfield, Dublin’s most renowned carver and gilder, for their frames (The Knight of Glin and J. Peill, Irish Furniture: Woodwork and Carving in Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Act of Union, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 144; p. 147, fig. 201). Alternatively, John Booker may have copied Cranfield’s design or perhaps have been working from the same pattern (ibid., p. 145).
The following includes an extract from Glin and Peill, op. cit., pp. 136-8.
Cranfield was certainly of the same if not a greater standing than his contemporaries, Francis and John Booker of Essex Bridge, Dublin. In 1767, he was engaged in the Dublin Society’s new house on the western side of Grafton Street, responsible for the carved work in the Great Room and the carved brackets. Cranfield’s finest achievement was carving the ‘Presiding Member’s New Chair’ for the Society for which he was paid £28 8s 9d on 17 December 1767.
Cranfield was a founding member, and contributed to the building for the Society of Artists. The new exhibition room in William Street with its octagonal domed room still stands and now houses the Civic Museum. It was the first custom-built exhibition space in Dublin and the site itself had been bought by Cranfield and the well-known Irish stone carver, Simon Vierpyl. The two may well have designed and built the rooms themselves. Before the building was even finished, its building committee stated that it was, ‘of the greatest Advantage to the Arts and Manufactures of this Kingdom, particularly to Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Engraving, Carving, Pattern Drawing, Upholsterers, Coach-Makers, Silver-Smiths, Weavers, Carpet-Makers, Stucco Workers, Embroiderers, Carpenters, Smiths etc.’ Cranfield, thrice Master of the Carpenters’ Guild, eventually ended up buying the premises of the Society of Artists which broke up after the exhibition held in May 1780.
Cranfield’s name appears in the Newbridge account books in 1759: ‘Cranfield’s bill for sconces £2 2s 5d’. This may refer to the pair of sconces which still hang on either side of the chimneypiece at Newbridge. Cranfield’s partner, James Robinson, also worked for the Cobbe family as a pair of oval pier glasses with his label survives in the drawing-room at Newbridge. They were probably commissioned for the Dublin town house in Palace Row and later moved to Newbridge. A more elaborate pier glass, also from Newbridge, could be by Robinson or Cranfield. The general form relates to a design by Thomas Chippendale in his Director, and the chinoiserie cresting, with its pagoda roof, relates to designs by Matthias Lock in his A New Book of Ornaments for Looking Glass Frames (1752).
Stylistically, it seems highly likely that Cranfield was responsible for the very elaborate giltwood frames for Sir Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of the lord lieutenant, Hugh, second Earl of Northumberland and Thomas Hickey’s portrait of another lord lieutenant, Viscount Townshend, both of which are in the Mansion House, Dublin. The portraits were painted for the Dublin Corporation in 1766 and 1769 respectively. The rococo frames are lavishly carved with serpentine scrolls of rocaille, acanthus and palms interspersed with flowers and fruits which also burst forth from cornucopia on the lower corners.
Cranfield is also recorded as having carved and gilded two frames for pictures, hung in the Provost’s House. His bill, dated 9 September 1767, is for £10. Anne Crookshank suggests that these may be the frames for the pair of Leandro Bassanos from the Madden Bequest still hanging in the Provost’s House. Perhaps the most elaborate frame of all is that found on The Descent from the Cross, a huge painting by J.S. Beschey, dated 1755 and now in St. Andrew’s church, Westland Row, Dublin. The Descent is in the Rubens manner and was originally the altarpiece of the Townsend Street chapel which preceded the Westland Row church. The delicately carved giltwood chinoiserie frame is surmounted by a pagoda motif reminiscent of the work of Thomas Johnson who was actually in Dublin, on his second visit, at this time. It is tempting to attribute this frame to him. The sides of the frame are decorated with blind Chinese fretwork and the lower corners have boldly carved acanthus scrolls.