This finely crafted English Rococo pier glass, with its Chinoiserie motifs of playful monkeys sporting jesters’ caps, Ho Ho birds and rocaille, was supplied in 1760-61 by William Mathie, an Edinburgh wright (furniture maker), and contemporary of Thomas Chippendale, to Francis Charteris, 7th Earl of Wemyss (1723-1808), for his new house at Amisfield, near Haddington, Scotland. It remained in the collection of the Earls of Wemyss, from the late 19th century, at Gosford House, Longniddry, until sold by Christie’s in 1947 (Christie’s, London, 29 May 1947, lot 72).
Francis Charteris, 7th Earl of Wemyss, Amisfield House and William Mathie
The pier glass was part of the important furnishings commissioned by Lord Wemyss for the house he had built between 1756 and 1759 at Amisfield (originally known in this period as ‘New Milns’) to the designs of Isaac Ware, illustrated in his Complete Body of Architecture (1756), and since demolished (1928). The mirror was one of several supplied by William Mathie in 1760-61, as recorded in Lord Wemyss’ ‘Cash book’:
‘1760 / Decr 26 / Paid Wm Mathie Carver in Edinr to an Accot for looking Glasses & Frames pr Rect being an Order of this date on Messrs Coutts Bross & C of my Bankers in Edinr £100’;
‘1761 / June 24 / Paid Will. Mathie Carver in Edinr as his Expences to Moffat, packing Glasses & bringing them to Edinr £6 5’
‘1761 / Decr 31 / Paid Will Mathie Carver in Edr in full of looking Glasses £56 19 11d
(Private archive, NRA(S) 208/40, vol. 2, ‘being the expenses of the Hon. Francis Charteris relating to his new house at Amisfield, Haddington, East Lothian, his Edinburgh houses, and other estates’).
It is closely related to other mirrors and a picture frame still at Gosford House that based on their stylistic affinities are also undoubtedly by Mathie, and it was almost certainly en suite with a large overmantel mirror, now in the ‘Pink or South Sitting Room’, which is closely comparable in its overall form and decoration of sinuous and entwining foliate branches, with similar seated anthropomorphic monkeys, likewise sheltering under palm trees. The reverse of this mirror is inscribed with a ‘no. 3’, and a rare, probably preliminary, drawing of a Ho Ho bird, undoubtedly in the craftsman’s hand. The numbering suggesting that this mirror was one of several supplied by Mathie to Lord Wemyss.
Mathie’s skill lay in the panache with which he executed his carved mirror frames: ‘Mathie knew a real joy in their creation. Trailing flowers cascade from one rococo scroll to another; aspiring plants with spiky leaves entwine themselves about the more solid framework of the glasses; gilded grass grows thickly about the inner frame’ (F. Bamford, ‘Two Scottish Wrights at Dumfries House, Furniture History, vol. 9, 1973, p. 86).
The commission for Lord Wemyss occurred a year after Mathie supplied a set of magnificent mirrors, probably while journeyman wright to the Edinburgh furniture maker, Alexander Peter, for William Crichton-Dalrymple, 5th Earl of Dumfries at Dumfries House, Ayrshire. Amongst these were a pair of pier glasses for the 'Dining-Room', supplied in 1759 at a cost of £28, and a pair of Chinese mirrors, originally painted in white and gold. Mathie also supplied mirrors for the principal bedrooms at Dumfries House in addition to picture frames, the most splendid being the frame for a Jacopo Bassano (c. 1510-1592) painting. Mathie’s mirror frames at Dumfries House were to be sold as part of the contents by Christie’s in 2007 (‘Dumfries House: A Chippendale Commission’, Christie’s, London, 12-13 July 2007, lots 55, 210, 240, 250) before the house and its contents were saved for the nation. The discovery of the Mathie commission for Lord Wemyss is particularly significant when compared with the work he undertook for Dumfries House, which came to £240.
Mathie had other notable commissions in Scotland: in 1757, he created a picture frame for Sir James Clerk, 7th Baronet (d. 1784) at Penicuik House, which still remains there to this day, and between 1760-2, he worked for Lord Milton at Saltoun Hall, East Lothian, deploying his skills as a carver to produce mirror frames and other carved work.
In the same period, Lord Weymss acquired a remarkable pair of Chinoiserie daybeds for Amisfield, which is still in the Wemyss collection, and now at Stanway House, Gloucestershire that are related to a design for ‘A Chinese Sopha’, specifically the notion of a pagoda-like canopy, in Thomas Chippendale’s first edition of the Director (1754), plate XXVI (C. Hussey, ‘Made by Chippendale? The Amisfield Day-beds’, Country Life, 15 July 1965, p. 184). Such canopies were probably added to existing settees inspired by Chinese taste and Chippendale’s design (ibid.). Both Lord Wemyss, ‘The Hon. Francis Chartres of Ampsfield Esq.’ and his spouse, ‘The Rt. Hon. Lady Catherine Chartres’, were subscribers to Chippendale’s 1754 Director, and one of their copies survives at Gosford. To date, no craftsman has been identified as the maker of these daybeds although they were almost certainly Scottish, possibly Peter, and inspired by Chippendale’s canopy design.
The 1947 sale catalogue from which this pier glass was sold includes a number of other ‘Chinese’ works of art, some of which may have originated from Lord Weymss' collection at Amisfield, including lacquer cabinets, chests, ‘Chippendale’ mirrors - one with a pagoda ornament - and ormolu-mounted Chinese porcelain.
The furniture from Amisfield is unlikely to have been moved to Gosford before the late-19th century. Although work on Gosford started in the 1790s to the designs of Robert Adam (d. 1792), it was not completed until 1800, and was initially intended as a villa. Neither Francis Charteris’s grandson, the 8th Earl, or his son, the ‘hunting Earl’ (1795-1883) liked Gosford (the 8th Earl demolished its wings), preferring to live at Amisfield or Stanway, and it was not until the tenure of Frank ‘the collector’ (the 10th Earl, 1818-1914), who succeeded his father in 1883 that Gosford became the principal Scottish family seat. The 10th Earl rebuilt the wings of Gosford on a magnificent scale soon after inheriting the title in 1883 and the possibility of a late-19th century move to Gosford is supported by the gilding analysis of this pier glass, which has evidence of just two periods of gilding, the original mid-18th century water-based gilding, and a second late-19th century oil-based gilding, a date that ties in with the 10th Earl’s rehabilitation of Gosford.
The form of this pier glass undoubtedly derives from the designs of Matthias Lock, a disciple of Chippendale; the title page and plate 6 of Lock’s Six Sconces, first issued in 1744, and re-issued in 1768, and particularly Lock and Copland’s subsequent designs, published in A New Book of Ornaments, 1752, show ‘Looking Glass Frames’ of similar form that fully embrace the Chinoiserie style of the present pier glass (M. Heckscher, ‘Lock and Copland: A Catalogue of the Engraved Ornament’, Furniture History, vol. 15, 1979, plates 1, 6, 37, 39). Singerie (monkey) subjects make a first appearance in England in the late 1730s and ‘40s and are found on panels and ceiling paintings at Syon House, Middlesex and Wentworth Castle, Yorkshire, the latter executed by the Frenchman, Andien de Clermont, who made great use of prints particularly by Jacques Callot and Jean-Antoine Watteau. The title page of Jean Pillement’s A New Book of Chinese Ornaments (1757) shows a similar poised anthropomorphic monkey (J. Cornforth, ‘Of Gods, Grapes and Monkeys’, Country Life, 11 March 1993, p. 60; M. Gordon-Smith, Pillement, Cracow, 2006, pl. 7).
We are grateful to Dr Sebastian Pryke for his assistance in the compilation of this note.