This magnificent mirror has an illustrious provenance having been in at least three important collections - firstly, at Chipstead Place, Surrey, where it was possibly commissioned by the wealthy brewer, Charles Polhill, or purchased by his successor at Chipstead, the great art collector, Frederick Perkins, secondly at Combe Bank, Kent, home to the President of the Royal Society, William Spottiswoode, and lastly, at The Hill, Hampstead, the London house of yet another significant art collector, William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme.
This mirror in the George II ‘picturesque’ manner was acquired on the 31 December 1915 by William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme (1851-1925), soap manufacturer, founder of Lever Brothers and philanthropist, from the antique furniture dealer, Litchfield & Sons of 3 Bruton Street, London. The mirror was acquired for the Music Room for Leverhulme’s Hampstead house, The Hill, where it remained until 1923. In February 1926, it is subsequently recorded at his Cheshire seat, Thornton Manor. The mirror is labelled with a Leverhulme inventory number, ‘X.900’, and, additionally, Leverhulme’s name is inscribed on the Druce & Co., Baker Street depository label to the back, showing that at some point it was in storage. It is not known when the mirror left the Leverhulme collection as it does not appear in any of the sales held after Lord Leverhulme's death. Today, Leverhulme’s extensive art and furniture collection forms the nucleus of the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight, created to share his personal art collection with the public, in the environs of the model village he had built to accommodate workers in his soap factory.
Intriguingly, a valuation of furniture at The Hill, dated 31 December 1924, reveals an earlier provenance. It lists this mirror as: ‘A carved and gilt Chippendale Mirror with mask of Neptune below, supporting a 4-tier fountain which rises up through the centre, figure of merman on each side blowing water into basin of fountain: fishnet festoons above, hung from female mask: eagle above in centre and water fowl above on each side. From the Spottiswoode Collection, Coombe [sic] bank, originally from Chipstead’.
The Spottiswoode Collection probably relates to William Spottiswoode (1825-1883) of Combe Bank, Kent, mathematician and physicist, who was elected president of the Royal Society in November 1878. He possibly purchased this mirror in the mid-19th century, and it may then have been privately sold subsequently because it does not appear in the Spottiswoode sale held at Christie’s, London, 17-18 July 1907, which included furniture from his estate. ‘Chipstead’ almost certainly refers to Chipstead Place, near Chevening, Kent, a Palladian-style mansion, destroyed following a fire in 1931. An advertisement for the demolition sale of this mansion in the Architectural Review, October 1931, describes interiors entirely in keeping with the mirror offered here: ‘Superb Grinling Gibbons Screen included in the Magnificent Collection of original 17th and 18th Century Period Oak and Pine Panelled Rooms, Marble and Wood Chimney Pieces…’ - although the hall screen was in reality in the Palladian style of Sir Robert Taylor of the 1750s (J. Harris, Moving Rooms, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 198). Part of a panelled room from this house is in the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, USA (ibid.). Chipstead Place was owned consecutively by two wealthy brewers, Polhill (also bankers and tobacconists) and Perkins (Barclay Perkins & Co.), who were related through marriage and mutual business interests. This mirror was possibly commissioned for Chipstead Place by Charles Polhill (1725-1805), the most senior magistrate in Kent, or alternatively, was purchased subsequently for the house by the prolific art-collector Frederick Perkins for Chipstead Place in the early 19th century.
The mirror reappeared in March 1961 when it was sold for £498.75 to Drue Heinz by the antique dealer, Kelso Ltd. of 61 South Audley Street, described as ‘Kent Marine Mirror – carved and gilt, Circa 1760’.
This mirror exemplifies the high-point of the English Rococo combining carved naturalistic foliage with fantastical chinoiserie ho ho birds and aquatic motifs, which recall the fashion for grottos in the English landscape garden. The central mask depicts the Greek sea nymph or Nereid, Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon and queen of the sea (in Roman mythology, Salacia, wife of Neptune). Her attributes are prevalent throughout this mirror: she is sometimes portrayed with nets in her hair; the son of Amphitrite and Poseidon was Triton, a merman; she is usually shown attended by mermen; as the personification of the sea, Amphitrite’s other progeny included dolphins and mythical sea creatures. The marine imagery continues with the garlands of gilded seashells and the presence of scallop shells. Possibly, the most effective ornamentation, however, is the central fountain with cascading water, which may have been conceived to display a prized collection of Chinese porcelain.
The mirror is attributed to Matthias Lock (d. 1765) based on its similarity to a mirror designed and made by Lock, circa 1745, for John, 2nd Earl Poulett (1708-1764), for the Tapestry Room at Hinton House, Hinton St George, Somerset, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum (W.8-1960). The original sketch for the Hinton mirror shows that the joint between the panels of mirror glass was concealed by garlands of flowers suspended from the rabbit's head above, and similarly the joints on this mirror are hidden by carved decoration. Another two virtually identical mirrors, probably a pair, attributed to Lock, also include aquatic ornamentation with a water-deity mask flanked by spouting dolphins, scallop shell and shell-laden swags and bulrushes, sold respectively: Christie’s, London, 20 November 2008, lot 550; Christie’s, London, 14 November 2013, lot 25. Another mirror of this type but representing a hunting scene sold Christie’s, London, 12 November 1998, lot 30.
The design is derived from the pattern books of Lock and his sometime partner, Copland, such as A New Drawing Book of Ornaments, Shields, Compartments, Masks (c. 1746) and A New Book of Ornaments (1752), re-issued in 1768, who were the first in England to publish ornamental designs in the Rococo or ‘French’ taste (M. Heckscher, ‘Lock and Copland: A Catalogue of the Engraved Ornament’, Furniture History, 1979, p. 1). In 1744, Lock was described as: 'the famous Matthias Lock, a most excellent Carver, and reputed to be the best Ornament draughts-man in Europe’ (J. Simon, ‘Thomas Johnson: The Life of the Author’, Furniture History, 2003, p. 3).
Other mirrors in the Rococo and theatrical style of the Palladian architect John Vardy (1718-1765) include those supplied in 1761 to the 5th Duke of Bolton at Hackwood Park, Hampshire, and 37 Grosvenor Square (one pair, sold Christie’s, London, 8 July 1999, lot 52, £716,500 inc. prem.; another pair, lot 54, £617,500 inc. prem.); the original drawings are held in the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA12203; 20139).
In some samples six layers of gilding were detected. The original decoration employed gesso built up in very thin layers, and then the mirror was water gilded using a dark brown clay. It was then re-gilded twice more, with water gilding, without the application of additional gesso layers. These earlier layers were then largely cleaned away prior to the application of the fourth scheme of gilding when a thick coat of fresh gesso was applied, followed by water gilding over an orange/brown clay in some areas, and oil gilding in other areas over a yellow oil size containing ochre elsewhere. The absence of lead white in this oil size layer suggests the work was carried out no earlier than the mid-19th century. The fourth scheme seems to be the last complete redecoration of the mirror as this scheme can still be seen in some areas, for instance on the body of the right-hand merman. The fifth and sixth layers appear to be localised, being detected only in areas, suggesting localised restoration, such as to central horizontal bar, here the earlier schemes seem to have been cleaned away prior to the application of these final schemes, there is also localised areas of retouching in gold paint. The early schemes were also absent from the eagle cresting, supporting the theory that it may have been added at the same time the mirror was restored in the 19th century.
We would like to acknowledge the assistance of National Museums Liverpool, Lady Lever Art Gallery in confirming the Leverhulme provenance for this mirror.