This pair of blue and white-painted ‘French’ armchairs with backs ‘à medaillon’ is a fine example of Chippendale’s neo-classical painted furniture, fashionable in the 1770s, and considered particularly appropriate for a drawing room, bedchamber or dressing room.
The design is a standard model by Chippendale of this period, whereby the carving and/or shape of the supports could be altered to suit a patron’s taste. A drawing for an oval-back armchair showing some of these different treatments is in the collection at Burton Constable, Yorkshire, and inscribed ‘Chipindale’ by Chippendale’s client, William Constable (1721-91) (1). The design demonstrates some of the options available to the firm’s patrons (2). Christopher Gilbert notes, ‘This chair pattern is so characteristic of the firm’s standard 1770s drawing room model that views of the side profile and seat rails, revealing the distinctive V-shaped cuts to take glue cramps and holes where the frames were screwed to cross battens in packing crates, and also the visible back splat are reproduced’ (3).
Such chairs were usually part of a larger suite of seat-furniture that might comprise a pair of sofas, a large number of armchairs, bergères and window seats. For Edwin Lacelles, 1st Baron Harewood (1712-95), at Harewood House, Yorkshire, Chippendale’s most important and valuable commission, the cabinet-maker supplied ’12 rich Carved Cabriole Armd Chairs gilt in burnished Gold, Covered and finished as the others’ and ‘2 Sofas richly Carved to match the Chairs’ for the State Dressing Room, for which he charged £120 for the chairs, and £64 for the sofas. The reference in the accounts ‘to match the others’ suggesting there were yet more chairs of this design already at Harewood (4).
Large suites of painted or ‘japanned’ seat-furniture were manifestly ‘à la mode’. A set of armchairs, previously painted blue with parcel-gilt, with cartouche rather than round backs, intended for one of the family rooms at Harewood, are included in this sale (lot 18). These were probably acquired by Lord Harewood from Chippendale between 1770-72, and may have been listed in the missing Chippendale Harewood account, which was for the period ending December 1772 and amounted to £3024 19s 3d. Another set of fifteen chairs, initially numbering eighteen, of a similar model to the above but painted green and gold were made for the Music Room in circa 1770 and are still at Harewood (5). A further two sets of blue and gold chairs were recorded in the 1795 Harewood inventory in Lord Harewood’s bedchamber and adjoining blue dressing room; one of these sets is probably the oval back blue and gold chairs that have remained at Harewood.
RELATED CHAIRS BY CHIPPENDALE
Chairs by Chippendale most closely related to the present examples, with almost round rather than oval chair backs (the former superseding the latter) either painted, gilded or both, include: a set of sixteen armchairs, originally japanned blue and white, at Burton Constable; a set of ten armchairs, formerly gilt, ordered for the saloon at Mersham-le-Hatch, Kent, and a set of eight armchairs together with two sofas, also gilt, for the saloon at Nostell Priory (6). Between 1775-78, a large suite of blue and white 'japanned' seat-furniture was delivered for the new ‘Grand Drawing Room’ at Burton Constable, itemised in the 1791 household inventory as: sixteen armchairs, a pair of bergères and six sofas; most of this furniture has remained at Burton Constable but has since been gilded (7). Chippendale supplied yet another large suite of blue and white 'japanned' seat-furniture for the drawing and dressing rooms at Constable’s London house in Mansfield Street, invoiced in 1774; most of this set is also at Burton Constable but was fully gilded in the 1830s by Thomas Ward. The drawing room suite included ’12 neat Cabreole Armd Chairs Japand blue and white and part Gilt, Stuffd and Coverd with fine Blue mixt damask and brass naild’ at a cost of £50 8s, together with ‘A large Cabreole sofa to match the Chairs’ at £23. For the dressing room, a set of ten cabriole backstools and two armchairs ‘neatly Japand Blue and white and stuffd in linnen’ was supplied; the furniture between the two rooms differed only by the absence of parcel gilt in the chairs intended for what must have been considered the lesser valued dressing room.
Another of Chippendale’s clients, who was evidently an enthusiast for painted furniture, David Garrick (1717-79), the celebrated actor and theatre manager of Drury Lane, London, commissioned a large set of green and white-painted furniture between 1768-78 for his Thames-side villa in Hampton, Middlesex. In 1749, Garrick married the famous Viennese dancer, Eva Marie Veigel (1724-1822), whose reputation as ‘an excellent appreciator of the fine arts’ undoubtedly prompted the decoration of two rooms at Hampton, one created in 1757 with chinoiserie murals by Jean Pillement (1728-1808), the other furnished with Chippendale’s remarkable set of painted ‘oriental’ bedroom furniture. This comprised a bed, two wardrobes, a corner cupboard, a dressing table, a Pembroke table and a stool (8). The cost of painted furniture could be prohibitive; in a letter of 1778, Mrs. Garrick accused Chippendale of overcharging for the green and white furniture because the cost of painting was twice the price of the original pieces. The relationship deteriorated rapidly; Mrs. Garrick objecting to Chippendale’s charges for making up the hangings, subsequently seized from his shop by customs officers, and accusing him of either wasting or embezzling some of her own green silk. The dispute culminated in Mrs. Garrick demanding Chippendale furnish an independent valuation of everything that he had supplied (9).
(1) C. Gilbert, The Life & Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, p. 115, fig. 202.
(2) Ibid., vol. I, p. 278. This design has been attributed to Chippendale Junior because of the straight back legs rather than splayed legs. However, chairs supplied to Harewood for the Circular Dressing Room have straight back legs and these are dated circa 1772. Another set of armchairs ordered with a pair of sofas for the drawing room at Saltram House, and dated circa 1771-2, also have straight back legs. Both of these examples are by Chippendale Senior. See Gilbert, ibid., vol. II, p. 114, fig. 198 and p. 110, fig. 188.
(4) Ibid., p. 207
(5) Ibid., vol. II, p. 111, fig. 190.
(6) Ibid., vol. II, pp. 112-113, figs. 192-196; p. 115, fig. 201; p. 108, fig. 184.
(7) I. Hall, ‘French influence at Burton Constable’, Furniture History, 1972, pp. 71-72; Gilbert, ibid., vol. I, p. 278; vol. II, pp. 112-113, figs. 192-196.
(8) Some of this furniture is in the Victoria & Albert museum - W.70-1916 and W.21 to 32-1917, and the dressing-table is now at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.
(9) A. Bowett, J. Lomax, Thomas Chippendale 1718-1779: A Celebration of British Craftsmanship and Design, Catalogue of the Tercentenary Exhibition Leeds City Museum, 2018, p. 64, no. 3.5.
These armchairs were restored by Carvers and Gilders in 2005 in collaboration with Arlington Conservation. During the restoration, a later gilded scheme was removed, revealing the original blue and white-paint above a gesso ground. This original decoration was then refreshed throughout except for a panel to the rear seatrail of one armchair, which has been left with the original decoration visible.