The Grecian-scrolled chairs relate to parlour chair patterns issued around 1800 by Thomas Sheraton (d. 1806), and evoke lyric poetry with their tablets of laurel-framed 'Venus' shells; while embowed dolphins also serve to recall the history of the poet Arion. Such dolphin-supported arms featured in Sheraton's pattern for a French-style couch-bed published in The Cabinet Dictionary, 1803 (pl. 17), and also on the 'Courteney' suite of seat-furniture bearing the brand of the chair-maker B. Harmer (C. Gilbert, The Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture, Leeds, 1996, fig. 476).
These golden dolphin chairs are likely to have been commissioned for Nostell Priory, Yorkshire by Charles Winn (né Williamson), and formed part of the refurbishment of the house carried out with the assistance of the Soho interior decorator Thomas Ward (d. 1836) following Winn's marriage in 1819.
Ward also introduced to Nostell some elephant-head curtain-cornices (illustrated in E. Lennox-Boyd, ed., Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, p. 45, fig. 30), whose pattern derived from James Arrowsmith's Analysis of Drapery, 1819 (pl. X). Commenting on the contemporary fashion for grandly swagged curtains, Arrowsmith noted that such 'Antique cornice ends with their draperies may be used with effect in large Drawing Rooms, where the light modern cornices would not correspond with the other furniture, the heads may be of bronze or burnished gold'.
Here the chairs' combination of 'antique' architecture and Chinese figurative tablets and red japanning also reflect the Regency eclectic style that was popularised by W.H. Pyne's Royal Residences, 1817-19. The fashion had been introduced some decades earlier to Nostell's state apartments by the architect Robert Adam (d. 1792) and the cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale (d. 1779).
The vignettes of markets with fish and bird sellers reflect the interest in the Chinese way of life aroused by publications such as Sir George Staunton's Authentic Account of an Embassy From The King of Great Britain To The Emperor of China, 1797.