These elegant mahogany chairs have taper-pillard legs embellished with reed-filled flutes, while their 'antique' medallioned backs display Grecian acroteria flowered with golden palms emerging from reeded volutes. Palm-flowers provide the brackets supporting the volute arm-trusses.
These chairs are likely to have been designed in the mid-1770s by Thomas Chippendale Junior (d. 1785), and supplied for Normanton Hall, Rutland by the St. Martin's Lane firm established by Thomas Chippendale Senior (d. 1779). The Chippendale firm also supplied a set of related medallion-back hall chairs for Normanton Hall, and these feature 'sunflower' fluted backs that are painted with Sir Gilbert's cypher and crest on a gold ground (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, pp. 248-252, and vol. II, fig. 154).
Sir Gilbert had succeeded in 1759 to the vast inheritance established by his grandfather Sir Gilbert Heathcote, 1st Baronet (d. 1733) and his father, both of whom served as members of the board of directors of the Bank of England. As well as employing the Chippendale firm in the furnishing of the Palladian mansion at Normanton Hall, he also employed them at his Mayfair house, in Grosvenor Square, London and at Browne's House, Fulham, which he acquired in 1761. Surviving accounts indicate that the firm was still working at the latter house, at Normanton, and at Sir Gilbert's other London properties in the late 1770's and early 1780's.
Although a number of payments and bills between Sir Gilbert and Thomas Chippendale still survive between 1768 and 1778, none can conclusively be linked to this suite. The closest, although it refers to 'large arm armed Chairs', is that dated 7 May 1778 for providing
Tape thread and making Cases of do fringed Cmplt to 10 large arm armed Chairs, a settee 4 small Chair seats in drawing room at North End, Cutting out there 2.5.0d.
It is interesting to note, therefore, that an identical pair of armchairs from the collection of Louisa Heathcote of Friday Hill House, Langford, Essex, a direct descendant of Sir Gilbert - bringing to 10 the recorded number of armchairs of this model - was exhibited by Peter Lipitch Ltd. at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair, London, June 1997, illustrated in both the Catalogue, p.133, and in Country Life, 12 June 1997, p.128.
The palm-flowered ornament features on several suites of furniture executed by the Chippendale firm in the 1770's, such as the medallion-back chairs supplied circa 1778 for Burton Constable. (C. Gilbert, ibid., vol. II, figs 192-194), whilst the distinctive fluted front legs are shared with the suite of giltwood seat-furniture supplied by Chippendale to George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont for either Egremont House, London or Petworth House, Sussex in that same year.
Elegant mahogany-framed chairs, with related 'medallion' backs, were also introduced at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, when the Great Drawing-Room was fitted out in 1778 with fashionable silk wall-hangings and upholstery woven in flowered sprigs and striped festoons.