This pair of George III mahogany stools from Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, the principal seat of Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet (1739-85) and his wife, Sabine Louise d'Hervart (1734-98), where Thomas Chippendale was employed on one of the most important and valuable commissions of his career between 1766 and 1785.
They relate to a near pair of stools that have remained at Nostell Priory, which differ only in their square-section legs having a groove to the outer corners (1) and aptly fit Christopher Gilbert's description of the simple furniture supplied by Chippendale to houses including Paxton and Nostell which reflect 'the sturdy values of country-made oak cabinet-work ..... entirely free of fashionable influences'. The related stools at Nostell are tentatively attributed to Chippendale’s firm since they bear such a distinct similarity to a group of five armchairs and sixteen mahogany and walnut back stools thought to have been supplied by the London cabinet-maker in 1766 (2). Although these twenty-one chairs are not a true set being made variously in walnut and mahogany, the latter may be those cited in the accounts dated 24 June 1766: ’10 Mahogany parlour chairs cover’d with horse hair and double brass nail’d… £12 0s 0d’ and ‘2 Mahogany elbow Chairs to match… £7 0s 0d’ (3). On 9 October 1766, a further ’10 Mahogany parlour chairs the same as before… £12 10s 0d’ and ‘2 Elbow chairs to match… £7 0s 0d’ were supplied (4). The Nostell Priory accounts and correspondence between Chippendale and Sir Rowland Winn lists about twenty stools of various types but only one entry dated 18 May 1767 might correspond to this stool pattern: 'A Mahogany hollow-seated stool stuff’d and cover’d with hair cloth to match your chairs’ at a cost of £1 2s 0d' (5).
The third stool, en suite with the stools offered here, also has ash rails but is stuffed with marsh grass – neither of which are characteristic of Chippendale's workshop. This suggests that these three stools may have been outsourced by Chippendale to another local cabinet-maker such as Wright & Elwick of Wakefield, Yorkshire. It was customary practice to contract out this type of work (6). Recent research into the Wakefield firm suggests that ash seat-rails are a Wright & Elwick characteristic as is the use of marsh grass in their upholstery – the marsh grass stuffing usually surrounded with more expensive (and comfortable) horse hair on the outer edges (7). Ash seat-rails were a feature of a distinguished set of George III mahogany chairs comprising six side chairs and two armchairs, formerly at Cusworth Hall, Yorkshire, sold at Christie’s in 2008, which was unattributed at the time but is possibly by Wright & Elwick (8). Furthermore, Wright & Elwick made furniture in both mahogany and walnut, which might account for chairs of the same model at Nostell being made in both timbers, as noted above.
Wright & Elwick were undoubtedly employed at Nostell; in a letter to Sir Rowland Winn dated 26 August 1767 Chippendale was obliged to confess why he had failed to dye some old crimson wall hangings: ‘I find it will not take a garter blue as the Ingenious Mr. Elwick said it would, I trusted his knowledge for which I am sorely vexd, it will take a dark blue and no other coloure’ (9). From this reference it is apparent Chippendale outsourced work to Elwick and that Elwick had worked at Nostell.
A sabicu commode attributed to Wright & Elwick and supplied to Charles, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham for Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire, sold at Christie's house sale, London, 8 July 1998, lot 69, and is the same model as one at Nostell; another commode of this type from Wentworth Woodhouse sold at Christie’s at Spencer House, 15 July 1948, lot 110. The Nostell connection is also illustrated by a mahogany and parcel-gilt dressing table cabinet sold as lot 70 in the Wentworth Woodhouse sale, which is virtually identical to one at Nostell (10). Additionally some of the plainer furniture formerly at Wentworth Woodhouse, for example a mahogany dressing-table, lot 63 in the 1998 sale, has similar grooved square-section legs, which relate to those on the stools still at Nostell.
Wright & Elwick are known for their close adherence to designs from Chippendale’s Director, and as individuals they subscribed to the first edition (1754). Their trade card demonstrates the diversity of the firm, and proudly alludes to their formative years in London:
‘Wright & Elwick Upholders
At the Glass & Cabinet Ware House in Northgate
Make & sell all sorts of Beds & Beding, Coach & Looking/Glasses, in
Burnish or Oil Gold, Cabinet work of ye Newest Fashion,/Together
with all sorts of Household Furniture,/Mr Wright haveing been in ye
direction of ye Greatest Tapestry/Manufactory in England for Upwards
of Twenty Years’ (11)
The reference to the ‘Greatest Tapestry Manufactory’ is almost certainly an allusion to ‘The Royal Tapestry Manufactory, Soho Square’ where Richard Wright worked as a director alongside the upholder (upholsterer) and cabinet-maker Paul Saunders (1722 - 71), yet another subscriber to the 1754 Director, who also made furniture to Chippendale’s designs.
(1) NT 959767.1, 2.
(2) Armchairs: NT 959792.1-2; 959769.1-3. Side chairs: NT 959704.1-16.
(3) L. Boynton, N. Goodison, ‘Thomas Chippendale at Nostell Priory’, Furniture History, 1968, p. 40
(5) Ibid., p. 42.
(6) Ibid., p. 12.
(7) Information supplied by Andrew Cox-Whittaker.
(8) ‘Dealing in Excellence: A Celebration of Hotspur and Jeremy’, Christie’s, London, 20 November 2008, lot 50.
(9) Ibid., p. 22.
(10) Exhibited at Leeds, Temple Newsam House, Thomas Chippendale, June-July 1951, no. 26.
(11) C. Gilbert, ‘The Temple Newsam Furniture Bills’, Furniture History, 1967, p. 24.