Attributed to Thomas Chippendale
ENGLAND, circa 1765
Each with a pagoda roof top-rail above pierced paling backs with drop-in seats on square chamfered legs terminating in a geometric carved foot, comprising two armchairs and nine singles, with one single chair of recent manufacture.
Exhibited: On loan at Aston Hall, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, 1983-2010.
George II’s reign witnessed the proliferation of such railed and pagoda-crested chairs in both the ‘picturesque’ Chinese tea pavilions of the landscaped parks as well as in fashionable bedroom apartments hung in Chinese flowered papers (see W. and J. Halfpenny, Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste, 1751-2).
However, the very striking design of this set of chairs, with their delightful pagoda carving on the top rail and striking geometric arrangement of rails below, is only known to have been executed on two other occasions:
Saltram, Devon: A set of Chinese Chippendale style chairs in padouk wood, of the same pattern, are on display in ‘The Chinese Chippendale Bedroom’ at Saltram, Devon (C. Johnson, Saltram, 2005, pp.35 and 36). These chairs have latticed backs in Chinese paling, surmounted by the same pagoda-shaped cresting rails as our set. The armchairs’ square arms have similar trellis filling and the square chamfered legs have shaped mahogany brackets. One of the single chairs is illustrated in Christopher Hussey, ‘English Country Houses, Mid Georgian’, in ‘Country Life’, 1956, p. 134, pl. 261. The images above show an armchair from this set (National Trust Inventory Number 871417.1) and two of the chairs in situ.
Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire: A set of two armchairs and ten single identical chairs formerly at Normanton Hall (now missing). Illustrated in Christopher Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale: Volume II (Studio Vista, Christie’s, London, 1978), page 101, fig. 167 (see image below).
While Chippendale is known to have supplied furniture to both Saltram and Normanton Hall, no detailed records have survived to demonstrate he supplied the set of chairs at either house. His involvement in the houses, together with the correlation with his designs for Chinoiserie chairs, and the quality of craftsmanship, all suggests that he may well have been responsible for supplying them. Furthermore the single armchair pattern, with plain central lozenged compartment, relates to one of Thomas Chippendale’s 1750s ‘Chinese Chair’ patterns, which appear in plates XXVI, XXVII and XXVIII in The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director. He thought these nine chair designs ‘very proper for a Lady’s Dressing-Room’ and hoped they would ‘improve that Taste, or Manner of work, it never having yet arrived to any Perfection’ (Thomas Chippendale, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director: Reprint of the Third Edition, Dover Publications, 1966, p.4). Please see the ‘Chinese Chair’ patterns plates below:
A similar set of four later George II mahogany cockpen open armchairs appeared in the Christie’s catalogue for the proposed contents sale of Dumfries House – Dumfries House: A Chippendale Commission – a sale which was to take place on 12th July 2007, lot 85 (see image below). This set of chairs were catalogued as possibly by Chippendale, circa 1759 and have a similar serpentine top rail, centred by a canopy, above a pierced lattice back and conforming arms. Again, the design included pierced angle brackets on each leg.
Literature: Illustrated in Tabellenbuch Holztechnik, Verlag Handwerk und Technik GmbH, 2013, p.271 as an example of Chippendale’s work.