Linnell's design for these chairs is preserved in the Victoria & Albert Museum, E.113-1929.
THE UPTON HOUSE CHAIRS BY JOHN LINNELL
The serpentine backs of the chairs are richly fretted, with festive vase-ribboned splats, whose double-entwined trusses are wrapped by acanthus. More Roman foliage features in pearl-and-reed enriched cartouches displayed in the scalloped hollows of their arched crest-rails. The beribboned rail trusses, embellished with Venus-shell scallops, are bolted to the back-uprights by Grecian palm-flowered bosses, while more flowers are framed in ribbon-scrolled medallions and tied by 'Venus' pearl-strings. These are sunk in the fluted pilasters of the stretcher-tied legs.
THE PATTERN AND COMMISSION
The design of these parlour chairs can be firmly attributed to the Berkeley Square cabinet-maker John Linnell (d. 1796), the author of A New Book of Ornaments, issued at the time of George III's accession in 1760. Their composition can be seen as a particularly elegant example of the type of 'Parlour Chair' for which patterns were issued by Robert Manwaring in his Cabinet and Chair-Maker's Real Friend and Companion, 1765, and in Household Furniture in Genteel Taste for the Year 1760 published by 'A Society of Upholsterers'.
Linnell's basic design for this pattern of tufted and leather-seated parlour chair, but lacking the rail and leg ornament, survives in an Album preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and entitled A Miscellaneous Collection of Original Designs made by John Linnell. The design is likely to have been executed in 1767, the year that Linnell was also supplying Dining-Room furniture to accord with the Roman architecture that Robert Adam (d.1792) had introduced at Osterley Park, Middlesex, another of Robert Child's properties, and also at Shardeloes, the Buckinghamshire villa of William Drake (d. 1796).
The parlour chair at this period was designed to stand against a wall and its ornament often followed the architecture of the room. In the case of these chairs, their pattern accords with Adam's 1761 design for Shardeloes' 'Great Parlour' chimneypiece, whose palm-flowered frieze incorporates a tablet of youths sporting at 'The Feast of Bacchus'; and whose pilasters comprise conjoined pairs of large scrolled trusses wrapped by foliage. This 'Double Truss Chimney' was invoiced by the sculptors Benjamin and Thomas Carter in 1765. So Linnell is likely to have invented the pattern for Shardeloes, where he also introduced palm flowers and antique flutes in the ornament of the sideboard-table pedestals, that were supplied in 1767 to support a pair of Adam-patterned vases. The latter, of bacchic wine-krater form, had serpentined 'truss' handles springing from bacchic satyr-masks, while their strigil-fluted bowls were acanthus wrapped. Adam labelled their pattern in The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam as being invented for Syon House, the Middlesex villa of Hugh Smythson, Earl and later Duke of Northumberland. However the sideboard vases were first introduced by Linnell at Osterley Park, and when he supplied similar ones for Shardeloes in 1767, he invoiced them as being 'like Mr. Child's' (Hayward and Kirkham, op. cit., vol. I, p. 101). The actual Linnell drawing is for chairs with plainer legs, although the Shardeloes set and the present chairs share beads bolted to the legs with flowered bosses. Twelve chairs of the plainer type were also in the Middleton Park sale in 1934 and were subsequently sold anonymously Sotheby's London, 15 November 1996, lot 61.
In the present case, it would seem that John Linnell provided Robert Child with a set of parlour chairs, like the ones he had supplied for Mr. Drake at Shardeloes slightly before.
THE PROVENANCE: UPTON HOUSE, BANBURY
These chairs, and the set with plainer legs mentioned above, were recorded in a photograph of the dining-room at Middleton Park, Oxfordshire, in the early 20th Century. Hayward and Kirkham (op. cit., p 116) stated that the chairs were ordered by Child for Middleton. This is clearly impossible as Middleton then belonged to Lord Jersey, whose son only married Child's granddaughter in 1804. It is far more likely that the chairs were commissioned for Upton House, Banbury, bought by Child's elder brother Francis in 1757, and enlarged by Robert Child himself. Linnell is known to have worked at Upton, supplying a chimneypiece and overmantel to Mrs. Child's dressing-room (Hayward and Kirkham, op. cit., p. 116).
In order to deprive the Fane descendants of his son-in-law Lord Westmoreland, who had eloped with his daughter, Child settled his property, including Upton House, on his granddaughter, Lady Sarah Fane, who married the Earl of Jersey in 1804. Thus Upton House passed to the Earls of Jersey, although Sarah, Lady Jersey, who died in 1867, had retained it after her husband's death in 1859. That Upton was her house is recorded in the memoirs of her granddaughter-in-law Fifty-one Years of Victorian Life, 1923, p. 56.
The inventory of Upton House taken after the death of Sarah, Lady Jersey in 1867, recorded in the Dining-Room (Warwickshire RO, CR 157/13):
12 mahogany chairs, leather covered and two armchairs to match
In 1934, the contents of Middleton Park were sold by Hampton and Sons, and the house demolished to make way for Sir Edwin Lutyens's last great country house. These chairs were included in that sale, together with the set with plainer legs referred to above. Initially, the auctioneers presented the two sets together as three consecutive lots, and so they appear in the printed catalogue. However, on the eve of the sale it was noticed that there were variations, principally in the treatment of the legs but also in the carving of the base of the splat. In the sale itself the chairs were divided into four lots of six. This is recorded in Dr. Till's own copy of the catalogue. Dr Till only bought one of the six at the time, subsequently acquiring the other six having borrowed the £95 from his new mother-in-law.