This remarkable piano case, embellished with Chinese lacquer panels, japanning and giltwood mouldings, is the only known lacquer piano attributed to Chippendale, based on the similarity of its form and lacquer decoration to furniture at Harewood House, Yorkshire, and Osterley Park, Middlesex (1). It was in the collection of Helen Percy, 8th Duchess of Northumberland (1886-1965) at Syon House, Middlesex in 1929. Chippendale had dedicated the 1st and 2nd editions of the Director (1754, 1755) to Hugh Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland (1715-86, from 1766, 1st Duke), and it seems likely it was supplied to him for Northumberland House, Charing Cross. For the first time in its recent history, it has been possible to identify the 18th century maker of the musical instrument as Johannes (John) Pohlman (fl. 1767-93); this is despite it being unsigned on the nameboard. Interestingly, and contrary to many such pianos, the case and instrument shows that the cabinet-maker and the instrument-maker worked together on its creation. Pohlman was active in the Soho area of London in the mid-1770s, and because of his workshop's proximity to St. Martin’s Lane, and his relative celebrity, he would have undoubtedly been known to Chippendale.
CHIPPENDALE AND THE 1ST DUKE AND DUCHESS OF NORTHUMBERLAND
The piano was in the collection of Helen Percy, 8th Duchess of Northumberland (1886-1965) at Syon House, Middlesex in 1929, and it is likely that it had been commissioned by Hugh Percy, 1st Earl (from 1766, Duke) of Northumberland (1715-86) for Northumberland House, one of London's treasure houses. Lord and Lady Northumberland were amongst the greatest collectors and patrons of the arts of the 18th century, commissioning works from leading artists, architects and craftsmen including Robert Adam (1728-92), ‘Capability’ Brown (1715/16-83), Canaletto (1697-1768), and Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92). Adam, who Chippendale worked with throughout the 1760s and 70s, was employed at Northumberland House until 1770 to remodel the dining room, drawing room and elsewhere, creating the perfect backdrop for the Northumberland’s antiquities collected on the Grand Tour, and their elegant and fashionable furniture.
Chippendale almost certainly hoped to attract the Earl of Northumberland’s patronage when he dedicated the 1st and 2nd editions of the Director (1754, 1755) to ‘The Right Honourable Hugh Earl of Northumberland’:
‘My Lord Your intimate acquaintance with all those Arts & Sciences, that tend to perfect or adorn life, and your well known disposition to promote them give the following Designs a natural claim to your protection, they are therefore with great respect laid at your feet by My Lord Your Lordships most Humble and obedient Servant Thomas Chippendale’.
Lord Northumberland’s personal subscription copy of the Director (1754) is still in the library at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, the family’s country seat, although it has since been rebound (2). In fact, while Chippendale was preparing designs for this edition, he was living in a tenement adjacent to Northumberland House; the rate books show that Chippendale occupied the first house on the west side of Somerset Court from Midsummer 1752 until Lady Day 1753 (3).
Only one isolated payment dated June 1763 to Chippendale survives in the Northumberland records, and this is for an unidentified piece of furniture, probably for Alnwick: ‘Mr Chippendale for Writing Table £24.0.0’ (4). There are no other payments to Chippendale listed in the Duke’s bank records at respectively Hoare’s and Child’s banks. However, the Duchess, Lady Elizabeth Percy (1716-76) was possibly ‘even better informed than her husband in matters of taste’, and her notebooks list various cabinet-makers including some of Chippendale’s competitors, William Vile (circa 1700/05–67) and John Cobb (circa 1715-78), John Mayhew (1736-1811) and William Ince (1737-1804), and Paul Saunders (1722-71). In 1766, she recorded the outcome of a shopping excursion in which she noted the cost of fabrics stocked by Chippendale (5).
Some of the furniture from Northumberland House was moved prior to its demolition in 1874 to Syon House, possibly including the present piano. In 1929, this piano featured in the 8th Duchess of Northumberland's privately printed photo album whose purpose was:
‘to secure a permanent record of the principal articles of furniture, china, needlework, tapestries, clocks, bronzes, books, plate, glass, and other objects which are of artistic importance or of historic or family interest in the collections at Alnwick Castle, Syon, Albury, and 17 Prince's Gate, London’ (6).
Probably intended for a music room or drawing room, by 1929, the piano was placed in an upstairs corridor off the main staircase. Curiously, however, the piano can not be identified in the extant inventories of 1786, 1847 or 1865 for the Northumberland mansions: Northumberland House, Syon House, Alnwick Castle or Stanwick Hall, nor does it appear in photographs or renderings of the interiors. While its earlier history remains elusive, its status as an object of artistic, historic or family importance within the Northumberland family is supported by the late Duchess's inclusion of the piano in her photograph album of heirlooms.
Few such elaborate piano cases of this date have survived. A square marquetry piano, possibly by Chippendale, after two preparatory drawings dated 30 April 1774 by Adam, was made for Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia (1729-96). This now stands in the boudoir of Maria Feodorovna (1759-1828), Catherine’s daughter-in-law, at the palace of Pavlovsk, outside St. Petersburg (7). The attribution to Chippendale is based on the similarity of the marquetry ornamentation to his documented furniture at Harewood and Nostell Priory, Yorkshire (8). Furthermore, Catherine had a French edition of Chippendale’s Director in her library. The ‘Pavlovsk’ piano case has a nameboard bearing the inscription: ‘Johannes Zumpe et Buntebart Londini fecerunt 1774 Princes Street Hanover Square’. As will be discussed, Zumpé and Pohlman had a close working relationship.
With regard to musical instruments, Chippendale is perhaps better known for his designs for architectural and monumental organ cases. A mahogany and parcel-gilt organ formerly at Polebarn House, Wiltshire, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, is after a design in the third edition (1762) of the Director, plate CV (9). A further preparatory drawing for two organ cases by Chippendale is held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (10).
CHIPPENDALE AND LACQUER FURNITURE
The taste for exotic Chinese-style interiors, particularly for bed and dressing rooms, was embraced by Chippendale as well as other leading cabinet-makers including William (circa 1703-63) and John Linnell (1729-96), and Pierre Langlois (1759-81). Whimsical imitations of Chinese design and decoration were provided by Chippendale for his best clients including Sir Rowland Winn (1739-85) at Nostell Priory, and Sir Edward Knatchbull (d. 1789) at Mersham-le-Hatch, Kent. While European-japanned objects remain iconic examples of Chippendale's more fantastical designs, the most luxurious and costly items - veneered in rich gleaming imported lacquer - display the maker's more refined classicism of the 1770s. This piano is associated with this small but distinct group which comprises:
-A dressing commode and ‘lady’s secretary’ supplied by Chippendale to Edwin Lascelles for the State Bedchamber at Harewood House. Both pieces were invoiced by Chippendale, Haig & Co. in 1773 and cost £30 and £26 respectively. The commode, which was sold from Harewood in 1951, is one of the highlights of the Jon Gerstenfeld collection (11). The fall-front secretaire was an exciting discovery when it appeared for sale at Christie's in 1997; it is now in the collection at Temple Newsam House, Leeds (12).
-A fall front secretaire supplied by Chippendale to Robert Child for Osterley Park, Middlesex in circa 1775. The secretaire has been reinstated to Osterley Park, now a National Trust property (13). There are two undocumented lacquer commodes made for the State Bedchamber and Etruscan Room at Osterley also thought to have been supplied by Chippendale and are part of this group; mention is made in the 1782 inventory for Osterley of ‘A large Japanned Commode with gilt Ornaments’ and ‘A large Japanned commode with carved ornaments gilt and leather Cover’ (14).
Chippendale describes the Harewood secretaire as: ‘A Ladys Secretary vaneer'd with your own Japann with additions of Carved Ornaments Japann'd & part Gilt, the front of the Secretary to rise with Ballance’; likewise, the commode as ‘A large Commode with folding Doors vaneer'd with your own Japann with additions Japann'd to match with a dressing Drawers fine locks’ (15). The utilisation of the patron's own Chinese lacquer was not unusual at the time but what is most intriguing is the apparent re-use of Lord Harewood's screen for the Osterley commission - the distinctive scale and details to the architectural vignettes compare closely. In a parallel event, a 1766 letter from George Montagu to his friend Horace Walpole observes that ‘three parts of the japan that you gave to Langlois to make into commodes is still there’ suggesting that these panels also were reserved for future use and a common practice.
Both of these secretaires share a very similar foot to this piano, and interestingly, Chippendale's competitors, Mayhew and Ince used similar feet on a marquetry commode in the collection of George Arthur Philip, 7th Earl of Chesterfield (1831-1871) at Bretby Park, Derbyshire. However, Mayhew and Ince did not use lacquer in their cabinet-making.
The instrument is attributed to Johannes Pohlman based on distinctive variances that are unique to this maker; these are described below. Although his date of birth cannot be established, he was almost certainly a German émigré, working in London between 1766 and 1793 (16). Sun Alliance Insurance records show his workshop was located in Compton Street, Soho, in 1766, and following his marriage to Dorothea Ludewigen in 1769, he moved to Frith Street, on the west side, near or next to the corner house occupied by the painter John Zoffany (1733-1810). His business evidently prospered because by 1777 he was settled at 113 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury where he remained until at least 1790. Pohlman was one of four of the principal early makers of the square piano, which had been created by Johannes Zumpé but never patented – the other three were Zumpé himself, Buntebart and Beyer. Pohlman’s pianos became as celebrated as those of Zumpé (17). He was frequently patronised by Dr. Charles Burney, music historian and father to the celebrated writer, Fanny Burney. In a letter dated 21 January 1774, Dr. Burney writes that he considers ‘Pohlman the best maker of the small sort, by far’. Burney acquired several of Pohlman’s pianos for his pupils or friends, ‘and did not hesitate to recommend them when the Revd. Thomas Twining asked for advice on his intended purchase of a piano’ (18). In 1772, the composer, Christoph Willibald Gluck used a Pohlmann square piano at the Paris Opera (19). Pohlman also worked for Zumpé on a sub-contractual basis as the square piano had become highly fashionable throughout Britain and abroad and Zumpé was unable to meet the demand. According to Burney, Zumpé, who ‘could not make [square pianos]… fast enough to gratify the craving of the public’, employed Pohlman to make ‘an almost infinite number for such as Zumpé was unable to supply’ (20). However, instrument makers ‘wasted very little effort on decorative embellishments… ‘ and ‘elaborate veneer work and decoration were never part of Zumpé’s scheme’ or presumably Pohlman’s, thus reinforcing the argument that ornate piano cases with lacquer or marquetry were supplied by highly skilled cabinet-makers like Chippendale (21).
Another square piano of similar date inlaid with marquetry has been ascribed to Chippendale’s contemporary, Christopher Fuhrlohg, and is now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery; the instrument is signed and dated Frederick Beck, 1775 on the nameboard (22).
Exceptionally small pianos were made by Pohlman as early as 1772, as shown by an elaborate marquetry example formerly owned by the art collector Mrs. Nellie Ionides of Buxted Park, Sussex and Twickenham (23). Another miniature instrument, apparently designed as a travelling piano, is now in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (1938.34.661). A further Pohlman instrument encased in a plain mahogancy cabinet dated 1778 is in the collection of the National Trust at Buckland Abbey, Devon, (NT 809824). The number of surviving square pianos likely signed on the nameboard by Pohlman equate to a relatively modest eighteen.
Pohlman also made harpsichords. For example, ‘a fine toned double keyed harpsichord’ was sold by Christies on 14 January 1793, but no harpsichord by Pohlman is now known to survive.
IDENTIFYING THE MAKER, BY MICHAEL COLE
Normally, instruments by German émigré piano-makers working in London in the mid-late 18th century can be easily attributed because they are signed above the keyboard on a holly or boxwood cartouche inlaid into the nameboard. In examples where this inscription is missing, individual idiosyncrasies can be used to identify the maker:
It will be seen that the balance pins are in two rows or ranks: the white notes have pins in the near row, while the black notes have their balance point to the rear – except for top E flat. The balance point for that note is in the front row. Also, the pins for the adjacent two keys (E and F) are reduced in height, and the limewood keys carved on a downward slope between the balance pin and the ‘ivory’. The reason for this idiosyncrasy is that Pohlman enlarged his soundboards after 1772 extending them to the left, supported by a curved pine structure (with a woodscrew showing). This made it difficult to extract these top three keys from the piano, owing to the limited clearance beneath this overhang. This modification of the balance points is apparently unique to Pohlman, and may be seen in a piano, which is signed 'Johannes Pollman, Londoni, fecit 1773' at Osterley Park (NT 771964). This unusual feature of Pohlman’s pianos was continued in succeeding years until 1778.
Chippendale and Pohlman worked together on the construction of this piano as cabinet and instrument are integral to each other. By extracting the drawer at the left end of the cabinet there is a view of the left side of the piano itself. It is plain mahogany, closely matching the drawer and the panels above and below, never inlaid or finished for external exposure. This end of the piano also extends continuously to meet the bowed front of the cabinet, thus indicating that it was always part of the construction. Another indication is revealed by the top inside edges of the rectangular carcass; the surfaces here are plain – normally they would be relieved by a quadrant moulding around the entire perimeter of the instrument.
Most such instruments have the lowest note as G (sometimes omitting G sharp), but Burney further says: ‘for two guineas more he [Pohlman] has made me two or three with an octave to double F, & F sharp, with a double G sharp’. This shows that Pohlman was providing, on request, small pianos with a 61-note keyboard as early as 1773, when commonly such instruments had only 58 notes. The 61-note version is what we see in lacquered piano offered here, and several other surviving specimens signed by Pohlman.
The above is an abbreviated version of Michael Cole’s report; the full report is available online.
We would like to acknowledge Michael Cole’s identification of the instrument maker, Johannes Pohlman.
(1) C. Gilbert, The Life & Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, p. 122, fig. 215; A. Bowett, J. Lomax, Thomas Chippendale 1718-1779: A Celebration of British Craftsmanship and Design, exhibition catalogue, Leeds, 2018, pp. 70-73, no. 3.8; NT 771939, NT 771791, NT 771783.
(2) Gilbert, op. cit., vol. I, p. 153.
(3) Ibid.; Survey of London: Volume 18, St Martin-in-The-Fields II: the Strand, London, 1937.
(4) Gilbert, op. cit., vol. I, p. 153.
(6) Helen Magdalen Percy, Duchess of Northumberland, Syon House, Middx. and its contents, privately printed, 1929, no. 150 (the piano photographed on its own) and no. 195 (in situ in the gallery).
(7) L. Libin, ‘Robert Adam’s instruments for Catherine the Great’, Early Music, August 2001, pp. 355-67.
(8) Ibid., p. 365
(9) Museum no. W.37:1 to 5-1931.
(10) Museum no. 20.40.2.
(11) E. Lennox-Boyd, Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, p. 193, pls. 62-64.
(12) Christie's, London, 3 July 1997, lot 80 (£309,500 including premium).
(13) NT 771939
(14) NT 771783; NT 771791; M. Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam Period Furniture, London, 1972, pp. 75-76, nos. I/1, I/2.
(15) G. Beard, ‘The Harewood Chippendale Account 1772-7’, Furniture History, 1968, p. 70.
(16) Listed in Wakefield’s Merchant and Tradesman’s General Directory for London, 1790.
(17) R. Maunder, ‘The Earliest English Square Piano’, The Galpin Society Journal, August 1989, p. 77.
(18) G. Lancaster, ‘Thirty-One makers in London from whom George Bouchier Worgan may have purchased a square piano in 1780/86', The First Fleet Piano: a musician’s view, vol. II, appendix E, reprinted 2015, p. 289.
(21) Libin, op. cit. p. 364.
(22) Museum no. LL 53.
(23) M. Colt, ‘Early Piano Design’, Country Life, 17 March 1950, p. 745, fig. 2.
Analysis was carried out to the samples taken from the gilded mouldings surrounding the Chinese export lacquer panels, and feet. The results suggest that the decoration to these mouldings have been restored at least twice. The original decoration involved a black ‘glaze’ or lacquer laid directly on the wood without any ground layer, followed by red decoration done with vermilion, and gold leaf. The different layers were interleafed with clear lacquer. The first restoration evident, again used the vermillion layer. The lack of earlier layers suggest that the small moulding at the base of the removable upper part (containing the instrument) may have been added or replaced and that the tapered fillet to the upper edge of the base section was introduced at this time to fill the gap caused by shrinkage/tension from the strings. During the second restoration a solid layer of black was applied to the bare wood, and a dark red based on a synthetic red lake was used to restore the red areas. The red pigment points to this work being carried out no earlier than the mid-20th century.