This remarkable pair of hall chairs, carved from solid walnut and of a strikingly robust form, derive from designs by William Kent (1685-1748), the leading architect and interior designer of the early Georgian period in England. Trained initially as a painter, Kent was a true polymath and one of the first designers to look at an interior as a whole- he would provide his clients with plans for not only the architecture but also the paintings, the sculpture and furniture and even their gardens. His inspiration was the Italy of Palladio and the sculptural, fantastical furniture of the baroque palaces of Rome, evoking the classical Grand Tour which was such a required part of any gentleman’s education.
‘Wooden settees and matching hall chairs were created by [William] Kent for the great halls and corridors of the Anglo-Palladian mansions, townhouses, and villas that he designed. Hall furniture, the first furniture a visitor would encounter, created a dramatic impression, communicating the importance of the house through the form, proportions, and quality of wood used in its making’ (S. Weber, ‘Kent and the Georgian Baroque Style in Furniture: Domestic Commissions’, William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, New Haven and London, 2013, pp. 482-483).
A pair of double-seated settees of identical Roman-pattern model, with voluted arms and backs are at Holkham Hall, Norfolk, almost certainly commissioned for the Palladio-inspired Marble Hall, designed by Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (d. 1759) and the architect William Kent (d. 1748). The original hall furniture at Holkham comprised the aforementioned settees, and possibly hall chairs en suite. Neither the 1760 nor 1774 inventories, surprisingly, include an entry for the Marble Hall thus raising the intriguing possibility that the present pair of chairs was formerly part of a larger Holkham suite intended for either this room or the adjacent Vestibule.
The form of the settees' pilaster-trusses, with volutes at the bases, correspond to profile trusses that flanked the hermed pilasters of Kent's chimneypiece (F. Hoppus, The Gentleman and Builder's Repository, 1737, pl. LVI). This truss form also featured in Kent's 1731 banqueting hall settee pattern, illustrated in Some Designs of Mr Inigo Jones and Mr William Kent, 1744, pl. 42, published by John Vardy (d. 1765), Kent's colleague in King George II's Board of Works (C. Gilbert, Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall, London, 1978, no. 324). Vardy appears to have assisted with the furnishing of Holkham's Great Apartment and is likely to have provided the design for hall seat-furniture (J. Cornforth, 'Vardy and Holkham', Country Life, 25 August 1988, p. 141).
A number of examples of related hall settees and chairs are known, all undoubtedly based on the original Kent design, and largely recorded in houses where Kent was involved in remodeling and interior decoration. These include a set of four settees designed by Henry Flitcroft (d. 1769) and executed by George Nix (fl. 1716-1751) in 1728 for John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu for the Banqueting Hall of Montagu House, Whitehall (T. Murdoch, ed., Boughton House: The English Versailles, London, 1992, pp. 134-135, pl. 133). A further suite of six settees based on this pattern but less robust than the Holkham settees, and the present chairs, were provided for Sir Robert Walpole's Norfolk mansion, Houghton Hall (J. Cornforth, 'Houghton Hall, Norfolk', Country Life, 28 March 1996, pp. 52-59 and fig. 2) and have been attributed to the workshop of James Richards, who executed numerous architectural carvings as well as furniture for royal commissions designed by Kent (A. Moore, Houghton Hall, London, 1996, p. 116). Raynham Hall, Norfolk, another Kent commission, and a near-neighbor of Houghton and Holkham, also has a pair of hall settees of related design situated in the entrance hall (ed. S. Weber, William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, New Haven and London, 2013, fig. 18.26).
Another comparable hall settee sold Christie’s, New York, 13 April 2000, lot 210, $80,000 inc. premium.
For a copy of M. Brettingham, The Plans, Elevations and Sections of Holkham in Norfolk, London, 1773, see lot 176.