Harewood House, Yorkshire, one of Thomas Chippendale's (d.1779) most significant commissions, enabled England's pre-eminent 18th century cabinet-maker to display the full virtuosity of his craftsmanship providing Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood (d.1795) a complete decorating service that included wall paper, textiles, carpets and furniture in a range of styles, Neo-classical, Rococo and Chinoiserie. The duration and size of the commission is exemplified by the final amount, in the region of £10,000, paid to Chippendale in installments over seven years.
These remarkable mirrors, extremely rare survivors from Thomas Chippendale's oeuvre in their original burnished silver finish, were supplied for the Yellow Damask Sitting Room at Harewood, and invoiced on the 1st December 1775 as follows:
'2 Exceeding neat & Rich Carved Gerandoles
with ornaments and Treble Branches highly
finished in burnished Silver and varnished and
wrought Pans and Nossels silvered &c £40'
Described by Christopher Gilbert as 'excessively rare', the mirrors with their elaborate ornamentation were preserved at Harewood having been dismantled, crated and removed to store when Charles Barry extensively refurbished the principal storey of the house in 1844 - 5 and remained untouched until the mid-1980s (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 198). One mirror survived in the private rooms at Harewood, painted red and green, traces of which are just still visible in the carving, though lacking its cresting (Gilbert, ibid., vol. II, p. 180, fig. 322). The peripheral ornaments of the second, by then overgilded but with the original silver preserved beneath, were in the Carpenter's Store. Christopher Gilbert illustrated some of these pieces prior to their extensive restoration under the direction of Hugh Roberts and Carvers and Gilders of London (Gilbert, ibid., p. 70, fig. 108).
Designed in the George III French 'antique' manner, each 'medallion' frame, with ribbon-twist guilloche, is ribbon-tied to a floral wreath and festoons and to 'triumphal' laurel-branches and candle-branches (now missing) which spring from a laurel-enriched tablet garlanded with flowers. Their elegant design, described in Chippendale and Haig's account of 1775 as being 'Exceeding neat' may represent the hand of Thomas Chippendale Junior (d. 1822) who was considered by one of his contemporaries as having 'a very great deal of taste, with great ability as a draughtsman and designer' (Ed. G. Beard, C. Gilbert, Dictionary of English furniture makers, 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p. 168), and was the author of Sketches of Ornament (1779) which displayed a similar hand (Gilbert, op.cit., vol. II, p. 16, fig. 28).
THE YELLOW DAMASK SITTING ROOM
The Yellow Damask Sitting Room was remarkable for its splendid colour scheme of yellow, white and silver, and was reputedly the family's favourite room. Robert Adam (d.1792), given free rein by Lord Harewood to design ceilings, friezes and chimneypieces in the principal apartments, designed a star-shaped ceiling in purple, yellow, light and dark green colours after an engraving of an ancient Roman ceiling in the reissued edition of Bartoli's Gli antichi sepolcri (1697). The frieze comprised cameos of putti riding sea-horses, Adam's favourite motif, and the room's overdoors, inspired by the King's bedroom doors at Versailles, were carved with tablet-supported medallions of festive boys and with nymphs bearing garlands. Adam's brother, James later wrote, 'it affords me the greatest pleasure that you have tickled it [Harewood] up so as to dazzle the eye of the squire [Lord Harewood]' (Susan Morris, 'Nothing in Excess', The Antique Collector, April, 1995, p. 48).
Chippendale's complete accounts for the room describe the extravagance of the furniture and furnishings comprising 10 cabriole chairs without arms, a pair of bergères, and two large sofas, all 'richly Carved neatly Japann'd yellow and white and Covered with your [yellow] Damask', yellow damask was also used for wall hangings, and curtains that fell in festoons from two carved and highly finished burnished silver cornices with 'Antique Ornaments'. A remarkable ivory-inlaid marquetry topped table incorporating Apollo's medallion and poetic trophies (sold Christie's, London, 1 July 1965, lot 56), a pier glass, chimney glass and the present mirrors all similarly styled with 'Antique Ornaments' and finished in burnished silver also graced this particularly striking room (Gilbert, op.cit., vol. I, p. 198).
EDWIN LASCELLES, LORD HAREWOOD
Harewood House took over 10 years to complete and cost Lord Harewood approximately £50,000, more than one million pounds in today's currency, to build, furnish and landscape. Informed of progress on a regular basis by his steward, Samuel Popplewell, Chippendale's tardiness caused by a large number of simultaneous commissions from other clients must have sorely tried his Lordship's patience, however, the latter remained on good terms with the cabinet-maker through his steward. Additionally, Lord Harewood's quest for perfection seems to have been contagious for Chippendale supplied some of his finest work. Lord Harewood, with a vast inheritance from his West Indian estates at his disposal, spent lavishly but discriminately at Harewood laying out considerable expense for craftsmen and merchandise of the highest quality from London, but was also prepared to use local materials if deemed adequate for the job. He rarely used an agent to act on his behalf, supplying many of the materials from his own estates and negotiated contracts separately with building craftsmen and tradesmen, the best architectural practice of the day.