Designed in the Chinese manner expounded by Sir William Chambers in his Designs for Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and
Utensils of 1757, these exotic 'Pagoda' chairs are derived from chair-leg patterns published by Thomas Chippendale in The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director, 3rd edn., London, 1762, pl. XXVII, where nine such designs were published. Originally from a larger suite of seat-furniture, at least eight side chairs have since been recorded:- a set of four side chairs, but with elements of the fret carving to the back lacking, was sold anonymously at Christie's London, 30 June 1932, lot 48; a single chair was sold anonymously at Christie's New York, 19 April 1991, lot 274 (previously the Estate of Richard W. Weatherhead, sold Christie's, New York, 23 April 1988, lot 186); and a further side chair is illustrated in L. Synge, Great English Furniture, London, 1991, p.121, fig. 135. Two further open armchairs, but with a mahogany show-rail to the front seat-rail, may well have originally also been supplied en suite, of which one, lacking elements of the fret carving to the back, is illustrated in F. Lewis Hinckley, Metropolitan Furniture of the Georgian Years, New York, 1988, p. 101, ill. 146, whilst the other is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and is illustrated in Anthony Coleridge, Chippendale Furniture, London, 1968, pl. 192, p. 193. Finally, a virtually identical armchair, undoubtedly by the same hand but with differing front legs, which are carved as twin-balusters like the back legs , rather than cluster-columns, was formerly in the Leopold Hirsch Collection and is illustrated in Percy Macquoid and Ralph Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, London, 1924, p. 246, fig. 123,
Whilst the 18th Century provenance of this suite of seat-furniture remains tantalisingly elusive, it is of almost identical pattern to the celebrated suite of supplied to Ingress Abbey, Kent. Undoubtedly executed by the same hand, this latter suite was probably commissioned by the 2nd Earl of Bessborough shortly after purchasing Ingress Abbey in 1748, and it was almost certainly Sir William Chambers provided the design, as Chambers is known to have carried out improvements at Ingress up until, and beyond 1760, when the Abbey was sold to John Calcraft. That Chambers continued to be employed at Ingress is revealed in a letter of 4 September 1772, written by Chambers to an agent of Calcraft's, requesting payment of a long outstanding debt of 84 (J. Harris, Sir William Chambers, Knight of the Polar star, London, 1970, p.212). The Ingress suite is illustrated in Ralph Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture , rev. edn., London, 1954, Vol. III, p. 84, fig. 33 and Georgian Furniture in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1969, pl. 78, whilst two pairs of armchairs were sold anonymously at Christie's New York, 17 October 1987, lots 143-44.
Further related suites of Chinoiserie seat-furniture include that supplied to Lytham House, Lancashire (illustrated in Country Life, 28 July 1960, p. 189, pl. 3), another suite supplied to Sir John Mordaunt Cope, 9th Baronet (d.1770) for Bramshill, Hampshire (see the pair of stools sold from the estate of Mrs. John Hay Whitney, Sotheby's New York, 22-25 April 1999, lot 119), and a final suite commissioned by Christopher Griffin (d.1776) for Padworth House, Berkshire (illustrated in H. Avray Tipping, 'Padworth House - II', Country Life, 23 September 1922, pp.372-7).
While these chairs do not relate to any specific drawings of Chambers', certain motifs such as the pagodas and trellis do have parallels in Chambers' plates of Chinese temples, published in his highly influential Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines and Utensils of 1757, pls. II-VII.