This extraordinary mirror is the crowning glory from the most celebrated of mid-Georgian chinoiserie interiors -- the Chinese Bedroom Apartments at Badminton House, Gloucestershire. Conceived in the 'Chinese Chippendale' style popularized by the publication of Thomas Chippendale's Director, the bedroom apartments were at the forefront of fashion as appointed by one of London's pre-eminent cabinet-making firms, William and John Linnell. This mirror, together with a companion pier mirror surmounted by a lacquer Chinese figure, was accompanied by the suite of spectacular blue, red [and yellow] japanned furniture, now largely dispersed primarily among public collections. The bedroom and its adjoining dressing room were located prominently at the center of the first floor on the impressive North Front of the house, directly above the Great Hall. The rooms were covered in Chinese paper decorated with bamboo, blossoming flowers and exotic birds which Chippendale claimed 'very proper for a Lady's Dressing Room'. Indeed, one is tempted to view the suite as 'The Duchess of Beaufort's Apartment' if one considers the fantastical bed, now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, as a marriage bed, modelled after the wedding-kiosk or temple with its whorled eaves as depicted in J.-B. Du Halde's A Description of the Empire...of China in 1741. However, it would appear that the rooms served as State suites for visiting dignitaries - at least as early as 1835 when the inventory lists the Duke and Duchess's bedrooms elsewhere in the house. Interestingly, from 1928, Queen Mary, the 10th Duchess's aunt, considered these rooms her own and gave the Duchess furniture in the Chinese taste to refurbish the bedrooms after the suite was sold. It was in 1929 that the firm of C. Angell in Bath was commissioned to copy the original bed.
The mirror is conceived as a Chinese garden vignette, its golden frame enclosing a watery surface that reflects the flowery porcelain that sits upon its foliated scrolls. Its bridge with its double-braced Chinese railings, was intended for porcelain figures and its trellised canopy provides a throne for the pagod. The 'jardin Chinois' style was introduced in English landscaped parks by Lady Beaufort and her Gloucestershire neighbor at Marybone House, and was painted by artists such as Thomas Robins (see A. Hellyer, Country Life, 15 June 1989, p.156). Following the imperial visit of the Siam Ambassadors to Paris and the creation of the Trianon de Porcelain at Versailles, this taste was very much associated with France. This indoor 'jardin chinois' provides the Roman concept of the 'Ver Perpetuum' or poet's paradise of everlasting spring, perpetual youth and an environment where love never grows cold. The English were interested at that period in the similarity of the serpentined and natural forms of the Chinese pleasure gardens with those of the Roman villa, as described by Pliny and illustrated in Robert Castell's Villas of the Ancients, 1728. The Chinese world was presided over by genial 'pagods'. The genial pagod - polychrome decorated to resemble colorful porcelain - presided over the hearth of the Beaufort apartment and its triumphal-arched and flower-festooned overmantel mirror which resembles a Chinese park, its rocks and dripping cascades evoking the 'horror' of the dragon-inhabited grotto. The base is gently rounded to accomodate the shape of the chimneypiece beneath (as seen in the in situ photograph reproduced here).
The Badminton estate came into the Somerset family in 1612 and was remodelled from the original 15th and 16th century courtyard house by the 1st Duke of Beaufort from 1664 until 1691. The North Front, where the bedroom suite is located, was modelled on the gallery of Somerset House built by John Webb for Queen Henrietta Maria in 1662. The 3rd Duke, keenly interested in architecture, continued to modify Badminton and its interiors. It was the 3rd Duke who commissioned the remarkable 'Badminton cabinet' while on the Grand Tour in 1726. This extraordinary cabinet which was sold at Christie's London in July 1990 remains the most expensive piece of furniture ever sold at auction fetching £8.58 million ($15.1 million). It was following the Grand Tour that James Gibbs was called in to add the flanking pavilions to the all-important North Front.
The 4th Duke of Beaufort inherited Badminton House upon the death of his brother in 1745. He employed William Kent to remodel Gibbs's pavilions and added the double pediment and cupolas to the center of the facade. Like his brother, the 4th Duke was an enthusiastic patron and apart from Kent and Canaletto, employed other great craftsmen including Paul de Lamerie, William Vile and William and John Linnell. He was actively involved in the construction and furnishing of the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford and it was through this project that he was likely to have met William Linnell, who designed and executed the woodwork and moldings in the library. William Linnell, a specialist carver, established his workshop in Longacre and later moved to his fashionable premises at Berkeley Square. He was joined by his son John in 1749. John had trained as an artist in the St. Martin's Lane Academy to become the firm's designer. Linnell received payments from the Duke between 1750 and 1761 while the Duke's account at Hoare's Bank records a substantial sum of £800 paid to the firm between October 1752 and December 1755. The largest payment during these years was 300 [pounds] in 1753 which suggests that the bedroom furniture was installed by the end of that year (H. Hayward and P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell, New York, 1980, vol.I, pp.107-108). Certainly, the suite was completed before 22 June 1754 when Dr. Richard Pococke remarks (writing from Bristol) 'one bedchamber is finished and furnished very elegantly in the Chinese manner' (The Travels through England of Dr. Richard Pococke, Camden Society, New Series, vol. 44, 1889, p.31). The mirror appears in the 1835 inventory at Badminton listed in the Chinese Room as a 'Chinese Chimney Glass'. While there are earlier inventories of the paintings in the house, the 1835 inventory is the earliest inventory to list the furniture.
John Linnell's watercolor drawing of a chair in the suite was one of his first major responsibilities as a designer for his father's firm. The drawing is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (reproduced on the following page). Although no other designs by Linnell for the room survive, it is reasonable to assume that he was responsible for the remaining furniture in the apartment. A closely related mirror drawing by Linnell with similar platforms for mounting chinese porcelain and centered by a 'pagod' figure (c.1755-1760) is reproduced in H. Hayward, 'The Drawings of John Linnell in the Victoria and Albert Museum', Furniture History, 1969, fig.142. Another, which can be identified with the accompanying pier-glass in the Chinese Bedroom, is illustrated in H. Hayward and P. Kirkham, op.cit., vol.II, p.94, fig.181. Other clients for whom the firm provided chinoiserie furniture and schemes included The Duke of Bedford at Woburn in 1749, Mrs. Montagu at Hill Street, the 1st Lord Lyttelton and Sir Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Lord Scarsdale (G. Beard and C. Gilbert, eds., The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, Leeds, 1986, pp. 543-548). A japanned writing-table by Linnell made for Hill Street and now at Came House, Dorset is closely related to the commode from Badminton (see H. Hayward, 'Chinoiserie at Badminton: The Furniture of John and William Linnell', Apollo, August 1969, p. 138, fig. 6).
An overmantel mirror of remarkably similar design was sold by the Marquess of Bath and was removed from 29 Grosvenor Square, Sotheby's London, 22 November 1940, lot 81. This was later installed in the Tapestry Room at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, the country seat built by George Lee, 2nd Earl of Lichfield (and later sold from the Estate of Marietta Tree, Christie's, New York, 17 October 1992, lot 129). An obvious parallel can be drawn between the mirror and the carvings from the Tapestry Room at Ditchley. Both incorporate unusual elaborately painted figures - at Ditchley, the carvings featured two polychrome-painted 'India figures' (as noted in the 1776 inventory). Elements from the Ditchley carvings were sold, the property of a European Foundation, in these Rooms, 18 October 2002, lot 325. Much has been written about the close friendship between the Lees and the Dukes of Beaufort - both were Jacobites and used hunting as a cover for their activities - and it is tempting to attribute the Ditchley carvings to Linnell (J. Cornforth, 'Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire-II', Country Life, 24 November 1988, p.85). A further mirror, virtually identical to that of the Marquess of Bath, and retaining its seated pagod figure is in the Irwin Untermyer Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This example is illustrated in Y.Hackenbroch, English Furniture with some furniture of other countries in the Irwin Untermyer Collection, Cambridge, MA, 1958, pl.143, fig.172. Another mirror of related design appears in the Drawing Room at Wardour Castle, Wiltshire (Country Life, 29 November 1930, p.681, fig.9). A further example from the Hochschild Collection, sold Sotheby's London, 1 December 1978, lot 52 and later Sotheby's, London, 16 November 1984, lot 100 also compares. Each of these examples relates to Linnell designs.
The spectacular polychrome japanned furniture supplied for the Bedroom Apartments comprises many pieces which are on view in public collections, including the fantastical bed, whose double-braced railings correspond with the balustrade on this mirror. A number of the pieces from the suite are illustrated in Percy Macquoid's A History of English Furniture: The Age of Satinwood published in 1908. The entire suite was dispersed among the 36 objects sold by the 9th Duke of Beaufort at Christie's on 30 June 1921. The mirror appears as lot 74 in the sale, where it was described as:
'A CHIPPENDALE MIRROR, in gilt frame of scroll outline, the centre formed as an open balcony, surmounted by a figure of a Chinaman, with a pagoda ornament at the top, the sides carved with branches of foliage - 6 ft. 6 in. high, 6 ft. 6 in. wide'
(purchased by the porcelain dealer Amor)
The remaining furniture from the suite includes:
* The pagoda-canopied bed
Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1921 (W.142-1921)
(illustrated here in situ at Badminton)
* The tray-topped pier commode
Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1952 (W.55-1952) (D. Fitz-Gerald, Georgian Furniture London, 1969, no.79)
* Two pairs of night tables/china-cabinets
One pair acquired by the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight (P. Macquoid, Catalogue, 1928, no.168); the other pair acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (W. Rieder, The Untermyer Collection, 1977, no. 150)
* Set of eight armchairs
Four chairs: the Collection of the Earl Beatty, sold Christie's London, 17 December 1959, lot 128. A pair from the set of four was sold again, Christie's, London, 7 July 1988, lot 65 and is now in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery and exhibited in the Linnell Loan Exhibition, Christie's, 1980, no.2 and The Treasure Houses of Britain, National Gallery of Art, Washington, November 1985-April 1986, no. 369. The remaining pair from the set of four was sold Christie's, London, 19 April 1990, lot 33 and is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
A pair of chairs: The Property of a Gentleman, sold Christie's, London, 5 December 1991, lot 252. These are now in a private American collection.
A pair of chairs: The Property of a Gentleman, sold Christie's, London, 19 November 1992, lot 67. Sold by Mallett's to the Huntington Library, San Marino, California in 1996.
*The pier mirror with chinese figure - probably part of the original suite. Purchased by Arthur S. Vernay in the 1921 sale. Present location unknown. (shown on the left of the bed in the 1908 photograph)
The 1908 photograph in The Age of Satinwood (cited above and reproduced here) appears to show a subsequent layer of gilding on the Chinese figure. This layer has since been removed to reveal the polychrome painting. The mirror frame itself may accordingly have been stripped of a later layer of gilding. A gilding analysis will be available upon request.
We are extremely grateful to Margaret Richards, archivist at Badminton House, for her kind assistance in preparing the footnote for this piece.