These exotically flowered chairs once comprised part of a suite of furniture which included eight armchairs, three window seats and a pair of pier-tables that were supplied by the fashionable Berkeley Square cabinet-maker John Linnell (d. 1796) for Culham House, Oxfordshire.
Culham House was the Oxfordshire property of John Phillips (d. 1775), celebrated master carpenter, architect, Mayfair developer and Lord of the Manor of Blewbury, Berkshire (H. Colvin, Dictionary of British Architects, London, 1995, p. 751). Culham was bequeathed by John Phillips to his father Matthew Phillips (d. 1777) and the family continued to live at the house until 1935, at which time the suite was sold in Sotheby's house sale, 9-11 April 1935, lots 83-85. The eight chairs then appeared in the sale of property belonging to the late Miss Rachel M. Parsons, from Lansdowne House, Newmarket at Osmond E. Griffiths, Newmarket, 26 September 1956, lot 286. The pier-tables are currently in a U.S. private collection.
JOHN LINNELL AND THE NEO-CLASSICAL DESIGN OF THE SUITE
John Linnell studied French ornament at the St. Martin's Lane Academy before working for his father and eventually inheriting his father's cabinet-making and upholstery workshops in Berkeley Square in 1763. By the mid-1760's, Linnell displayed a growing interest in Neo-classical form and ornament. His designs from the mid-1760's reveal the influence of the architect designer Robert Adam, who worked on many of the same houses as Linnell such as Robert Child's Osterley Park, William Drake's Shardeloes, and Lord Scarsdale's Kedleston Hall.
The chairs are exotically veneered in black amaranth and golden fruitwood in Robert Adam's 'Etruscan' fashion with trompe l'oeil flower-vases that are laurel-festooned in celebration of Flora's Triumph and the Season of Spring. The antique-lined flutes and flowered paterae on the seat-rails are reversed on the 'hermed' and fluted legs. A Linnell design for a parlour chair of circa 1768-1770 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London features the same rectilinear vase, fluted rail and 'antique tripod' form of hermed, fluted and patera-capped leg (H. Hayward, op. cit, p. 41, fig. 76). Another closely related pattern is illustrated ibid, p. 40, fig. 75. A suite of seat and writing-furniture supplied by Linnell to Robert Child for Osterley Park circa 1768-1769 exhibits the same strongly patterned contrasting timbers, and squared legs with slight inset angles. The chair backs (of which there are eight) are inlaid with medallioned busts arranged in facing pairs, similar to the Culham House chairs which display floral arrangements grouped in reversed pairs.
In the late 1760's, Linnell was employing the specialist 'inlaying' skills of the Paris-trained Swedish ébénistes Christopher Furlogh (d.c. 1787), later cabinet-maker to George, Prince of Wales, and Georg Haupt, later cabinet-maker to the King of Sweden. A commode at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, designed by Linnell with related marquetry of a laurel-festooned vase, bears Furlogh's signature and the date 1767 (H. Hayward & P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell, London, 1980, vol. II, p. 53, figs. 108-109).
The Culham pier-tables, of hollow-sided form and inlaid with laurel-wreathed and palm-fronded portrait medallions, are mounted with ormolu-festooned laurel which also appears on other pieces supplied by Linnell, such as the card-tables supplied for the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle (ibid., fig. 280) or for Lord Scarsdale at Kedleston Hall (ibid., fig. 282). The incorporation of this laurel mount was clearly inspired by the French marquetry bureau-plat inlaid à la Grec and attributed to Jacques Dubois, which was supplied to Linnell's patron the 6th Earl of Coventry in 1765 through the marchand - mercier Simon-Philippe Poirier (later copied by Linnell (ibid., fig. 276).
The Grecian-fretted brackets which head the legs of the Culham pier-tables match those on the Osterley chairs. It is possible that Linnell's 'Eating or Back Parlour' wall-elevation for a window-pier with tripod console table beneath a vase-capped mirror was an early proposal for Culham (Ibid., fig. 287). It is also likely that the Culham vase-splat chairs were intended to be upholstered in floral needlework, like those executed for the Breakfast Parlour at Osterley Park.