This magnificent carved, pierced and richly-gilt ivory throne chair or musnud, originally the pair to that acquired by the 1st Viscount Astor of Hever (d.1919) (sold in these Rooms, 29 November 1979, lot 7), belongs to a distinctive group recently identified by Dr. Amin Jaffer as being executed in Murshidabad, the nawabi capital of Bengal. Although such ivory furniture has traditionally and optimistically been linked with both Warren Hastings and Tipu Sultan (1750-99), the 'Tiger of Mysore', Dr. Jaffer has convincingly refuted the romantic notion that any of them were seized following the fall of Tipu's palace at Seringapatam to British forces in 1799 in his paper entitled 'Queen Charlotte, Warren Hastings and Tipu Sultan - the mythology of Ivory furniture from British India' ( presented at the Furniture History Society Annual Symposium, 7 February 1998). Hastings' involvement is, however, comprehensively corroborated in contemporary correspondence, which reveals that Mani Begum repeatedly presented Hastings with ivory furniture (Bengal Past & Present, January-June 1918, XVI, pp.81-2, 100, 149, 225). As Hastings himself wrote on 14 November 1784, 'she' (the Begum) 'had prepared an elegant display of your couches and chairs for my entertainment... There are two couches, eight chairs, and two footstools, which are all of the former patterns...'; these were 'highly finished'. This continued even after Hasting's return to England in 1785, 'The Begum' sending a further 'four chairs and a very beautiful table all of ivory for Mrs. Hastings' in March 1786, which were perceived by Hastings as being 'of very great value'.
Queen Charlotte's considerable hunger for 'exotic' Indian ivory furniture was well-known at Court, and is revealed by both George III's purchase for his consort of the celebrated suite of seat-furniture supplied to Alexander Wynch, Governor of Fort St. George from 1773-5 (which remains in the Royal collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace), as well as by Christie's sale catalogue of her effects, which ran from the 7-9 May and the 24-26 May 1819, which describes over forty pieces of ivory furniture. The catalogue for the 1848 Stowe sale conducted by Christie's between 15 August-31 September 1848 included:- 'A PAIR of magnificent FAUTEUILS, of SOLID IVORY, the panels filled with carvings of palm branches, in very noble taste, the legs also finely carved and enriched with gilding, the oval seats of crimson velvet'...'sent by Warren Hastings as a present to Queen Charlotte'. The Aberconway chair and its pair do not appear to be described in the catalogue for either the Daylesford House sale (22 August 1853) or that of Queen Charlotte's effects (May 1819). Thus whilst the fact that it was sold by Queen Victoria's grandson, Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg, certainly opens up the possibility that it may originally have also belonged to Queen Charlotte, this is purely speculative.
A closely related suite of seat-furniture, acquired by Sir John Soane from the sculptor Richard Westmacott, R.A. before 1827 and published as being 'Four richly carved ivory chairs which formerly adorned the palace of Tipoo Saib' in J. Britton's The Union of Architecture, Painting and Sculpture of 1827, is preserved in the Sir John Soane Museum, Lincoln's Inn Fields.