These carved and painted hall chairs conform to Chippendale’s ‘mature Neo-Classical idiom’ and show close similarities to chairs supplied for two of his most prestigious commissions: to Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood (1712-95) at Harewood House, Yorkshire from 1767-78, and to Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet (1739-85) at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire and 11 St. James’s Square, London from 1766-85 (1).
The most sophisticated of Chippendale's hall chairs are the set of eight in the entrance hall at Harewood, designed with arms but of a closely related form with circular foliate-carved backs, centred by the Lascelles family crest, and guilloche border above ‘altar’ plinths carved with geometric borders, the seat edge decorated with guilloche and the tapering front supports terminating in spade feet (2). The Harewood chairs were supplied in circa 1770, although they do not appear in Chippendale’s account which is incomplete for this period, but their carved ornamentation reflects the decorative plasterwork of the hall, undertaken by the stuccoist Joseph Rose (1745-99) (3). In 1819, John Jewell in his The Tourist’s Companion, or the History and Antiquities of Harewood in Yorkshire, described the entrance hall which, despite having undergone some Regency embellishment, retained its character as designed by Robert Adam (1728-92), and referred specifically to the hall chairs:
A magnificent room of the Doric order, forty feet four inches, by thirty-one feet five inches, nineteen feet two inches high; lately fitted up in the Egyptian style, here are some elegant Grecian stools and chairs, eight two-arm chairs with the family crest on them; twelve elegant fluted columns, and four pilasters in the corners, highly painted, resembling porphyry marble, the walls are resembling siena marble, by Mr. Hutchinson on London. The panels on the walls, are richly adorned with trophies of war, by Rose. Here are six niches, wherein are placed the following bronzed statues, viz. a Bachante, Flora, Night, Minerva, Iris, and Euterpe, under the dome are two small niches, in them are two beautiful urns. Over the two fire-places are the triumphs of Mars and Neptune, by Collins. From the centre of the ceiling is suspended a beautiful lamp, under which, is an elegant slab of dove marble, six feet by three feet six inches, on a Grecian frame (4).
The Nostell hall chairs, also a set of eight, with a centred Winn family crest, were probably commissioned in circa 1775 (5). Like the Harewood chairs they were originally painted but were later 'grained’ by Thomas Ward in 1821 as part of the re-decoration for Charles Winn, who inherited Nostell in 1817. As at Harewood, the Nostell accounts are also incomplete; there is a long gap from the last entry dated 28 October 1771 until April 1778 when the agent, Samuel Thompson, informed Sir Rowland: ‘Chippendale’s Men have been here ever Since Thursday the 23. They have done the Carpets, fix’t up the two Peire Glasses, they are now placieing the Gerandoles and setting up the rest off the Ornements’ (6). In this ‘lost period’, Adam was completing the interiors at Nostell and although no bills survive it is reasonable to assume that Chippendale was supplying furniture including the hall chairs.
Another set of ten hall chairs displaying the crest and initials of Sir Gilbert Heathcote and formerly at Normanton Hall was almost certainly supplied by Chippendale (7). In 1759, Sir Gilbert Heathcote (d. 1785), 3rd Baronet, succeeded to the vast inheritance established by his grandfather, also Gilbert, 1st Baronet (1652-1733), who was reputed to be ‘the richest commoner in England’ (8). The 3rd Baronet employed both Chippendale and his son, Chippendale Junior, in the furnishing of his Palladian mansion, Normanton Hall in Rutland, and his London houses, 29 Grosvenor Square, London and Browne's House at North End, Fulham. Surviving Chippendale accounts show that the firm was working periodically for members of the Heathcote family from 1768 to 1821.
The present chairs in their aesthetic simplicity, ‘altar’ plinth and colouring also relate to a set of four chairs made for the hall at David Garrick’s (1717-79) villa in Hampton, Middlesex. While such hall chairs often featured the owner’s coat of arms like the Lascelles, Winn and Heathcote sets, Garrick, the actor-theatre manager, had no coat of arms, and thus his hall chairs are enriched with a guilloche cresting above ribbons and beading surrounded by a triumphal laurel wreath emblematic of his triumphs in the London theatre (9). They were subsequently sold with the house where they remained for the following eighty-five years until 1864 when sold again by Rushworth, Jarvis & Abbott, 22-23 June 1864, lot 182 (£42 hammer price).
Chippendale may have been inspired in his designs for hall chairs by a preliminary drawing by Robert Adam for Lord Edward Stanley, later 12th Earl of Derby, at 23 Grosvenor Square, London, which is closely related. The drawing is signed and dated September 1774, but it is not known if it was ever executed (10). The design was subsequently modified to a plainer version and reused by Adam on 28 March 1778 for Sir Abraham Hume, presumably for his house in Hill Street, London (11).
Four chairs from the same set were in the collection of the late Field Marshall William Riddell Birdwood (d. 1951), sold by a descendant Christie’s, London, 26 April 2017, lot 352 (£30,000 inc. premium). Though these, and the pair offered here along with a further three, lack 18th century provenance, the numbering of the chairs sets suggest that they must have originally formed part of a set of ten chairs.
A further related set of four mahogany and painted hall chairs with pierced circular backs was sold anonymously Sotheby's, London, 14 July 2010, lot 130 (£30,000 inc. premium).
(1) C. Gilbert, The Life & Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 199.
(2) Ibid., vol. II, p. 97, fig. 159.
(3) Ibid. vol. I, p. 199.
(4) J. Jewell, The Tourist's Companion or the History and Antiquities of Harewood in Yorkshire, Leeds, 1819, p. 21.
(5) Ibid., p. 172; R. Edwards, Shorter Dictionary of English Furniture, London, 1964, p. 168, fig. 3.
(7) Ibid., vol. II, p. 96, fig. 154.
(8) Ibid., vol. I, p. 248.
(9) VAM W.32-1937.
(10) Soane Museum Adam volume 6/158.
(11) E. Harris, The Furniture of Robert Adam, London, 1963, p. 95, no. 119.
These hall chairs have been recently decorated with the present white and green-painted scheme. While they have previously been cleaned, small traces of the original pale grey oil paint layers have survived. This initial scheme of decoration was applied directly to the wood without any ground layer, most likely due to the fact that they are not ornately carved. While there are no traces of any colour scheme found in association with the original grey paint, the cleaning was thorough and additional coloured decoration could have been lost. These hall chairs were then later painted a plain brown with a glossy varnish layer. In the late 20th century, the brown decoration was cleaned and the hall chairs were painted white and blue. They were decorated once more with the present colour scheme, the green paint applied to the areas previously painted blue.