THE PATRON - THE 4TH EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 4th Earl of Shaftesbury (d.1771) inherited St. Giles's House, Dorset in 1713. While introducing Roman villa grandeur to the mansion, he contributed an Arcadian air to its landscaped park. The architects, Henry Flitcroft (d.1767) and Stephen Wright (d.1780), leading members of George II's Architectural Board of Works, assisted him with the embellishment of the house with richly-stuccoed cornices of scrolling Roman foliage and handsome marble chimneypieces. The Earl's first wife Lady Susannah Noel (d.1758) had shown her enthusiasm for promoting contemporary fashions by subscribing in 1753 to Thomas Chippendale's furniture pattern-book. In the year that Chippendale issued his Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1754, Dr. Richard Pococke visited St. Giles's House and commented on its rooms that had been 'lately furnished in a very elegant Manner'.
THE ST. GILES'S SUITE
This pair of mahogany chairs, entered for sale by the 4th Earl's descendant, the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, belongs to the grand suite of drawing-room furniture, now known as the St. Giles's Suite. They are masterpieces of virtuosity and the sculptor-carver's art and, with their combination of Roman and French elements, reflect what Chippendale described as the 'Modern' style in his Director.
The grand suite of drawing-room or saloon furniture originally comprised four settees and twenty-five armchairs (perhaps more), that were fitted round the walls of the room. They were decorated in keeping with its architecture and the other furnishings, such as five mirrored sconces, whose frames displayed the head of Ceres, festooned with fruit and flowers (sold by the Earl of Shaftesbury, in these Rooms, 26 June 1980, lots 53-55).
Their commission may have been intended to celebrate the Earls' second marriage in 1759 to Mary Bouverie, daughter of Jacob, 1st Viscount Folkstone, and his appointment the following year as George III's Lord Lieutenant of Dorset. The latter was also commemorated by a portrait commissioned in 1760 from Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose flowered, trellised and shell-enriched frame well suited these chairs (illustrated in R. W. Symonds, St. Giles's House, Guidebook, 1956, p.5).
This form of easy chair was called a 'French Chair' in Chippendale's Director, 1754. He also included Doric guttaed plinths on his 'Gothick' and 'Chinese' Chair patterns, as well as on the flower-entwined pilasters of a china-cabinet in the Director (pls. XXI, XXVII and CVIII).
A set of Chinese fret-railed armchairs, upholstered in Aubusson tapestry, and known as 'The Dalrymple Suite' share certain features in common with the St Giles's suite, such as the flower-festooned legs terminating in guttae (two of this suite were sold from the Ira and Nancer Koger Collection, Sotheby's New York, 24 October 1998). The latter suite, described as '4 French elbow chairs with tapestry seats and cases' are reputed to have been in Soho, London in 1766, when they were purchased by Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes (d.1792) (information kindly supplied by Mr. Ian Gow).
The St. Giles's Suite introduced the ornament of Arcadia, the Poet's paradise, to the stately drawing-room. Their richly-flowered frames record the triumph of Venus as Nature Goddess and display her festive scallop-shell badge. According to the ancient poets when the goddess rose from the sea and was driven in a shell chariot to the land, so the flowers sprang up at her touch. Here shells emerging from flower-festooned Roman foliage, wreath the chair rails and are tied by moulded borders of flowered ribbon-guilloche. Symbolising 'Peace and Plenty', there are swagged garlands of flowers and fruit, emblematic of Ceres, the kindly harvest deity of Virgil's Georgics, entwining the arms and legs. These are further enriched, in the French fashion, with flowered 'mosaic' frets of garden-trelliswork sunk within arch-ended tablets. The foliage of Roman acanthus issues from the flowered volutes on the arms' hollow-scrolled trusses, and entwines the leg pilasters, whose fretted plinths of Doric guttae cleverly conceal the castors. The carved ornament provided an ideal framework for the foliated sprays that were woven on the original green damask upholstery, which was tufted in a trellised manner and finished with golden pearl-strings of brass nailing.
THE ATTRIBUTION TO WILLIAM VILE
Chippendale himself was credited with the manufacture of the St. Giles's suite in a memorandum drawn up by the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (d.1885), in the middle of the 19th Century. He described them as 'very valuable and fine, being by Chippendale'.
However, they are now attributed to the St. Martin's Lane cabinet-maker, William Vile (d.1767), who had worked with William Hallett (see lot 40 in this sale) before receiving his appointment as 'cabinet-maker' to George III. Guttaed feet were adopted by him for the stools, which he and his partner John Cobb supplied for the Vyne, Hampshire and invoiced in March 1753, as :- '8 large mahogany stools with carv'd feet and carv'd brackets...' (A. Coleridge, Chippendale Furniture, London, 1968, p. 27, fig. 28). The attribution arises from the superb carving of the suite, which is filigreed in the intricate manner adopted by architectural model makers. In particular it corresponds to the fashion adopted by George III and Queen Charlotte for the furnishings supplied by Messrs. Vile and Cobb for the Royal residences, including Kensington Palace, St. James's Palace and the Queen's House, now Buckingham Palace.
HISTORY OF THE ST. GILES'S SUITE
Vendor Saleroom and Date
The 9th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 23/6/49, lot 88
The 9th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 3/5/51, lot 68
The 9th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 22/10/53, lot 100 The 9th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 24/11/66, lot 122 The 10th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 26/6/80, lot 91
The 10th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 26/6/80, lot 92
The 10th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 26/6/80, lot 93
The 10th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 26/6/80, lot 94
Miss Elizabeth Humphreys-Owen Sotheby's London, 18/11/83, lot 54
A Private Collector Sotheby's New York, 21/4/89, lot 313 Various Properties Sotheby's London, 8/7/94, lot 94
A Private Collection Sotheby's New York, 22/4/95, lot 71
Various Properties Sotheby's London, 5/7/96, lot 67
The 9th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 23/10/53, lot 99 The 9th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 24/11/66, lot 123 The 10th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 26/6/80, lot 95
The 10th Earl of Shaftesbury Christie's London, 26/6/80, lot 96
Various properties Sotheby's London, 18/11/83, lot 55
Property of a Lady Offered: Christie's New York, 19/4/86, lot 90 A Private Collector Offered: Sotheby's New York, 21/4/89, lot 314 A Private Collection Sotheby's New York, 22/4/95, lot 72