This superbly-carved mahogany armchair is part of a set of at least four including one armchair with an identical label now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, which based on the superior quality of the carving together with the chairs' proximity to a design by Thomas Hope (1769-1831), Regency designer and connoisseur, suggests they were conceivably from Hope’s collection at his mansion/museum in Duchess Street (1). The design derives from an ‘Egyptian’ pattern, illustrated in his Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1807), plate XI, nos. 3-4, as are other variants without arms, plate II, nos. 2-8. A chair of this exact pattern is shown in an 1819 watercolour by R.W. Billings of the Flemish Picture Gallery at Duchess Street, and again, in 1825, in Illustrations of the Public Buildings (1825) by J. Britton and A. Pugin, plates 2, 3 (2).
DUCHESS STREET STYLE: THE DESIGN
Hope, whose first language was French, had travelled extensively in Greece and Egypt and was the author of Anastasius (1819), the tale of a Greek youth seduced by the allure of Egypt. He designed this chair in the Greek klismos form, with chimerical winged lionesses sacred to the deity Apollo, emblematic of sovereignty and power. Replicas of the celebrated Egyptian lionesses of the Campadiglio, Rome provided inspiration for its design, while the back's X-scrolled supports may derive from a tabouret pattern from Recueil de décorations Intérièures (1801), which illustrated a sphinx-armed seat; this book was included under ‘A List of the different Works which have been most use to me’ in the preface of Household Furniture. In Hope's engraving, the mille-raies flutes to the lioness's plinth and the rosette were omitted. Also, while the armchair is illustrated by Hope with three striated bands around the seat-rail, the single chairs are correctly drawn with only two. They relate to a sphinx featured on one of Hope's Roman marble candelabrum (3).
MARSH & TATHAM
This chair and its companions are attributed to Marsh & Tatham, the Mount Street firm of court cabinet-makers run by Charles Heathcote Tatham's (1772-1842) brother Thomas Tatham in partnership with William Marsh. The crisp quality of the carving of the winged lionesses is also found on other Hope furniture with secure provenance (4), for example, on the base to a pedestal in Household Furniture, plate XXIV, no. 6 (sold Christie’s, London, 22 May 1986, lot 149). It is possible that the chair, like much of Hope's richly carved furniture, was executed by the talented Dutch craftsman, Peter Bogaert (1792-1819), trading at 142 Tottenham Court Road from 1792, who may have assisted a firm such as Marsh & Tatham in the execution of the chair. Interestingly, Bogaert's name is associated with two of Marsh & Tatham’s patrons in the first decade of the 19th century: on 17 December 1807, he, together with Paul Storr, the silversmith, submitted a bill to the Prince of Wales for supplying to Carlton House two carved and gilt candelabra of nine lights each, nine feet high, ‘to stand one on each side of the Throne’, £410 (5), and on 1 February 1809, ‘Bogart carver’ was paid £8 11s 6d by Edward, Lord Lascelles, probably for work at Harewood House, Hanover Sq., London (6).
SAMUEL ROGERS, POET, AND CONTEMPORARY OF THOMAS HOPE
A comparable chair, which sold at Christie’s in 2006, was commissioned by Samuel Rogers (1763-1855) F.R.S., F.S.A., for his new house overlooking Green Park at 22 St. James's Place. In January 1803, Rogers (sold Christie's, London 8 June 2006, lot 96, £72,000 incl. premium) 'was fitting it up with great care' and 'had designed the furniture himself, with the assistance of Hope's work on the subject' (7). Household Furniture was not published until 1807, 3-4 years after Rogers was refurbishing his house. However, it is more than likely Hope showed Rogers designs for the Duchess Street furniture. Rogers, like Hope, employed the same craftsmen, such as Flaxman, Chantrey and Bogaert. Hope and Rogers moved in the same Whig literary circles and their social worlds very much overlapped. Both men were close friends and occupied a position at the vanguard of Regency artistic avant-garde and were determined that their interior décor led fashionable taste (8). Clayden's contemporary account of Rogers' house mentions that 'Much of the work was done under Rogers' personal supervision ... The furniture and decorations followed the Greek models' (9). Rogers may have displayed this chair in the Library at St James's Place in the manner of a George Smith design of 1804 for a Grecian Library chair with griffin supports and raised on a dais (10).
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY RUSSIAN REINDEER LEATHER
The two hundred-year old Russian reindeer leather is embossed by hand with the same crossed hatched grain evident on upholstery and book bindings of the late eighteenth century. This leather was part of the cargo of Dutch Brigantine, Die Frau Metta Catharina von Flensburg. By 10 December 1786, the “Catharina”, which was bound for Genoa, had completed a two-thousand-mile journey through the Baltic, the North sea and the English Channel, but was forced to take shelter from stormy weather in Plymouth Sound. That night, it struck Drake’s Island and sank. All crew members survived but the entire cargo was lost. In 1973 divers from the British Sub Aqua Club discovered the wreck and a sea bed littered with bundles of hides. The supple and durable nature of this leather has been enhanced by its preservation in the black sea mud for centuries. Research into the cargo has demonstrated that the leathers were treated with the traditional Russian method of tanning, soaking in pits with willow bark and then currying with birch oil. To fund further excavation of the wreck, a limited quantity of this unique leather was sold to specialist traditional craftspeople.
(1) ‘The late Mrs. Marjorie Beatrix Fairbarns’, Christie’s, London, 9 July 1992, lot 82 (£32,407.50 inc. premium), sold to Blairman & Sons, from whom purchased by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum with a contribution from the Museums and Galleries Commission Regional Fund administered by the Victoria & Albert Museum; ed. D. Watkin, P. Hewat-Jaboor, Thomas Hope Regency Designer, New Haven and London, 2008, pp. 372-373.
(2) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum no.
(3) T. Hope, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1807, pl. 1.
(4( Watkin, Hewat-Jaboor, op. cit., p. 372.
(5) RA 25282.
(6) WYAS, Harewood MS 192.
(7) P. W. Clayden, The Early Life of Samuel Rogers, 1887, pp. 448-449.
(8) D. Watkin, Thomas Hope and the Neo-classical Idea, London, 1968, p. 229.
(9) Clayden, op. cit.
(10) G. Smith, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1808, pl. 47.