The elegant settees' 'vase' backs are veneered and serpentined in the Italian scgabella manner and, with their compass-rounded 'tablet' handles, evoke the early 18th Century 'India' patterned parlour chairs, named after the Chinese imports of companies trading to the 'East Indies'. The settees are designed in the early Georgian 'Roman' fashion with Ionic-voluted arms, while their hermed and truss-scrolled legs are wrapped by golden reeds and Roman acanthus-husks festooned in antique-stippled lambrequins. The settee design well suited the fashionable reception/dressing-rooms of bedroom apartments, which were enlivened at the time with flowered porcelain and flowered Chinese silk.
THE COMMISSION AND PROVENANCE
The settees may have been comissioned by Sir William Lowther, 1st Bt. (d. 1729) of Swillington House, Yorkshire as in the 19th Century they formed part of the furnishings of Campsey Ashe, Suffolk, the Tudor-style mansion rebuilt for the Hon. William Lowther (1821-1912), younger brother of the 3rd Earl of Lonsdale. The settees which undoubtedly originally formed part of a suite, were designed in harmony with a set of walnut India-backed parlour chairs also from Campsey Ashe, displaying Jupiter's eagle-heads on their vase-splats and Venus' shells on their compass-fronted seats and truss-scrolled legs (L. Synge, Great English Furniture, London, 1991, fig. 34). When the contents of Campsey Ashe were sold in 1949 after the death of James Lowther, 1st Viscount Ullswater, the settees were purchased by Mallet from whom they were bought by the present owner's family.
A related settee, but japanned black with gilt enrichments, formed part of a set including two chairs that was acquired by the Victoria and Albert museum in 1870 from the London collection of Mr. G. A. Burn (Museum no. 1443-1870).
THE ATTRIBUTION TO ROBERTS
Their manufacturer can be attributed to the court chair-maker Richard Roberts (d.1733), who traded at 'The Royal Chair' in Marylebone Street. Richard succeeded his father, Thomas Roberts (d. 1714) as carver and joiner to the Royal Household and supplied a suite of twenty-three chairs and two sofas with related legs to Sir Robert Walpole, later 1st Earl of Orford (d. 1745) for Houghton Hall, Norfolk, eight chairs for the 'Cov'd or Wrought Bedchamber' and the remainder in the 'Cabinett'. With their foliate-headed channelled cabriole legs and distinctive spreading hoof feet, the Houghton chairs and these sofas are closely related to those upholstered with Italian cut velvet and supplied circa 1714-15 for Sir William Humphreys, Lord Mayor of London (R. Edwards, The Shorter Dictionary of English Furniture, London, 1964, p. 135, fig. 75). Two pairs of chairs from the Houghton walnut and parcel-gilt suite were sold in the Houghton sale, in these Rooms, 8 December 1994, lots 126 and 127 (see also G. Beard and J. Cross, 'Thomas and Richard Roberts', Apollo, September 1998, pp. 46-48 and G. Beard, Upholsterers and Interior Furnishing in England 1530-1840, London 1997, p. 149 and fig. 167).