This pair of bergères is designed in the ‘French’ taste promoted by Chippendale in the third edition of his Director (1762). Bergères are relatively rare in his oeuvre, and no designs exist for them, and this pair of bergères are particularly unusual having cabriole rather than straight legs. They are part of a suite whose closest parallel is one supplied by Chippendale in 1766 to Sir Lawrence Dundas for the Long Drawing Room at 19 Arlington Street, which comprised ten chairs and three sofas, and was sold by the Marquess of Zetland in the Arlington Street sale, 26 April 1934 (1). An armchair from the Dundas set is exhibited at the Chippendale tercentenary exhibition at Leeds City Museum (2).
The model evidently derived from ‘Sofas’ and ‘Couches’, plates XXIX, XXX and XXXII in the Director. Chippendale’s rivals, Mayhew and Ince, included ‘Burjairs [sic]’ in their The Universal System of Household Furniture (1762), plate LX, describing them as: ‘Two Designs of Birjairs, or half Couches [sic]’, although many of their other designs show they were copying Chippendale.
There are few examples of bergère chairs executed by Chippendale which survive today. This is possibly because only pairs or a maximum of four comprised part of a Chippendale suite of seat-furniture and indeed not all such sets included bergères. For Harewood House, Yorkshire, Chippendale’s most prestigious and valuable commission, a pair of bergères (later covered in Beauvais tapestry and ‘assimilated’ into the Music Room suite) and two large sofas ‘richly Carved, neatly Japann'd yellow and white and Covered with your Damask’ were supplied for the Yellow Damask Sitting Room in 1775 – the suite remains at Harewood (3). Between 1775 and 1778, Chippendale supplied another large suite of seat-furniture for the new Grand Drawing Room at Burton Constable, and this set also included armchairs, sofas, bergères, firescreens and curtain pelmets to match (4). These bergères resemble those at Harewood, with high curved backs and steeply sloping arms; a form described as between a ‘bergère en cabriolet’ and ‘à oreilles’ (5). A pair, their frames originally 'japanned' green and white, was supplied by Chippendale in 1772 to the acclaimed actor-manager of the Drury Lane theatre, David Garrick (1717-79) for his house in Royal Adelphi Terrace, London, and another set of four in mahogany was made in 1776 for the dining room at Paxton House, Berwickshire for Ninian Home (1732-95) (6).
What differentiates the above bergères from the pair offered here is that their form, with straight front and back legs and neo-classical carving, belongs to Chippendale's post-Director work. The closest related bergères are a pair of 'japanned' blue and white that feature a similar shell or palm-flower motif on the seat-rail, acquired by Garrick, in 1768, for the Blue Bedroom at his villa at Hampton, Middlesex (7). In Chippendale’s invoice, which runs from 21 May to 23 September 1768, the seat-furniture is listed on 3 August 1768 as: 'To 2 large Tub Chairs carv’d & painted to match stuff’d & Cover’d with damask & large Down Cushions for the seats - £12’. These bergères or ‘Tub Chairs’ were part of a suite described by Chippendale in his account as ‘French’.
THE ROTHSCHILD AND ROSEBERY PROVENANCE
These bergères have an eminent 20th century provenance having formerly been in the magnificent collection of Albert Edward Harry Mayer Archibald Primrose, 6th Earl of Rosebery (1882-1974) at Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire, and sold in the house sale in May 1977 (8). At this date, the bergères were offered with three side chairs from the same set. The 6th Earl was the son of Hannah de Rothschild, the sole heir of Baron Mayer de Rothschild. Mentmore was built between 1852 and 1854 by Baron Mayer, who needed a house near London and with close proximity to other Rothschild homes at Tring, Ascot, Aston Clinton and later Waddesdon and Halton House. The plans for the mansion imitated Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire and were drawn up by the gardener turned architect Joseph Paxton, celebrated for his Crystal Palace, completed a year earlier. Sumptuously furnished with extraordinary works of art in every field, among the most outstanding of their kind anywhere in the world, Lady Eastlake was prompted to comment: 'I do not believe that the Medici were ever so lodged at the height of their glory'. On his death in 1874, Baron Mayer left Mentmore and a fortune of some £2,000,000 to his daughter, Hannah, who became the richest woman in England. Following her marriage to the 5th Earl of Rosebery, the couple added considerably to the collections assembled by her father and it remained intact until the dispersal of the contents in 1977.
(1) ‘The Property of the Late Sir Guy Millard’, Christie’s, London, 22 May 2014, lot 1160; sold anonymously Christie’s, New York, 9 April 2003, lot 155.
(2) A. Bowett, J. Lomax, Thomas Chippendale 1718-1779: A Celebration of British Craftsmanship and Design, Leeds, 2018, pp. 86-89, no. 5.1.
(3) C. Gilbert, ‘Chippendale’s Harewood Commission’, Furniture History, 1973, p. 3.
(4) I. Hall, ‘French Influence at Burton Constable’, Furniture History, 1972, p. 72.
(6) C. Gilbert, The Life & Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, p. 99, fig. 162.
(7) sold ‘Property of the Estate of Mary, Viscountess Rothermere’, Christie’s, New York, 16 April 1994, lot 142.
(8) Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., 21-27 May 1977, lot 1265.
These bergères have been cleaned and re-gilt with water gilding during the late 20th century. Fresh layers of gesso were applied, then the clay layer, which is made of manufactured clay including some white pigment, followed by the present water gilding. Below the present layer of gilding, fragments of late 19th century oil gilding were found as well as remnants of some original 18th century gesso, although no original gilding or paint was found. The fact that gesso was used as a ground explains why it was possible to clean the chairs so thoroughly, removing all traces of the original gilding or paint.