CHIPPENDALE'S BROCKET HALL SALOON SUITE
By Christopher Gilbert
Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire, set in classic English parkland, was built for Sir Penistone Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne, between 1760 and 1775 by James Paine, the only architect who subscribed to Chippendale's Director, 1754. He devoted twelve plates in his folio work Noblemen and Gentlemen's Houses (1783) to plans, elevations and sections of this sumptuous building which, he stated in the prefatory notes 'the noble owner has spared no expense in furnishing and perfectly compleating'. The Saloon, he remarked, 'is hung with an exceeding rich flowered damask ... the sides and piers of this room are furnished with large superb glasses and rich pendant lustres and the remainder of the furniture is perfectly suitable to that here described'. Paine was clearly immensely proud of the interior; he in fact illustrates one of the end walls featuring a lavish ensemble of neo-classical furniture which Chippendale had supplied for the room. The billowy seat squabs and loosely stuffed roll bolsters are of particular interest to students of upholstery, they were illustrated again, still remarkably covered in their original crimson floral silk damask when Country Life published a series of articles on the house in 1925. Although the 'large superb glass' was displaced at an early date by Reynolds' great equestrian portrait of the Prince of Wales - a gift to Lady Melbourne from the Prince in 1784 - the sofa and torcheres remained in the positions for which they were commissioned, until sold from Brocket, in these Rooms, 16 November 1995, lot 157.
Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria's favourite Prime Minister, spent time at Brocket but during the second half of the 19th Century it was let as a furnished house and when Lord Mount Stephen, who held the lease for many years, died in 1922, the property was sold. Fortunately, the new owner, Sir Charles Nall-Cain, purchased many of the finest indigenous furnishings with the house, including Chippendale's magnificent parade of four pier glasses and five window pelmets in the Saloon and bought other important lots at a sale held on the premises by Messrs. Foster of Pall Mall in 1923. H.F. du Pont, famous collector and founder of the celebrated Winterthur Museum in Delaware, acquired the set of eighteen dining-chairs, while the six eloquent lyre-back library armchairs also ended up in America. Happily, the Chippendale Society succeeded in bringing one back in 1976 and Christie's sold a pair in London in 1992.
It is clear from the 1923 sale catalogue that the original suite of seat-furniture for the Saloon comprised twelve armchairs, twelve single chairs and four sofas. We know from Paine's engraving that sofas were placed against each end wall flanked by torcheres. Sir Charles (created Baron Brocket in 1933) acquired the full complement of armchairs, sofas and candlestands, which originally supported glass lustres. This was one of the largest suites ever ordered from Chippendale, and because the chairs were paraded formally round the walls there seems never to have been any space for pier tables under the looking glasses.
The oval-backed chairs and the sofas conform to Chippendale's standard 1770s drawing-room chair pattern, which was available in either utility, standard or deluxe versions. The frames are not quite as luxurious as the set made in 1773 for the State Bed and Dressing Rooms at Harewood House at a cost of £10 each (excluding silk damask) but they are richly styled with husks, foliage, guilloche ornament and tied ribbons. Having developed a supremely elegant and successful chair design, Chippendale had the good sense to stay with it, resisting the temptation constantly to innovate, although he never exactly repeated the same decorative permutation on the carved frames. The nearest equivalent in terms of detailing is a set of eight armchairs and two sofas in the Royal Collection which were at Windsor Castle in Victorian days and are likely to have been ordered by HRH Prince William Henry, 1st Duke of Gloucester, who is known to have patronised Chippendale in 1764-6.
This introduction was written by the late Christopher Gilbert (d. 1998) for the Christie's magazine for the 7 July 1994 Christie's sale, of a pair of torcheres, two pairs of armchairs and a pair of sofas, all from the Brocket Saloon suite. Christopher Gilbert was one of the foremost furniture historians of the late 20th Century, Chairman of the Chippendale Society and author of the definitive work on Thomas Chippendale. His obituary was published in the Autumn 1998 Newsletter of The Furniture History Society.
A PAIR OF CHAIRS FROM THE BROCKET HALL SUITE
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN