Attributed to Giles Grendey (1693-1780)
ENGLAND, circa 1745
Width of seat: 22.25 inches (56.5cm)
Depth of seat: 17.75 inches (45cm)
A single chair in walnut, with a hooped back design – an open convex strapwork in the form of a shell, supported by a flat double loop merging into the curves of the uprights. With applied carved ornament on the veneer of the frames. Standing on cabriole legs, the front legs being hipped at the knee and carved with foliate decoration, terminating in paw feet, with outswept legs to the rear. Stamped ‘RB’ under a crown.
In ‘A Critical Survey: The Curator’s View’, Christopher Gilbert describes ‘the most interesting ‘pre-Director’ furniture’ to be ‘two sets of mahogany chairs that have traditionally been attributed to Giles Grendey’s London workshop, both dating from c.1740-5. Four, of open-shell back design with rococo detailing, match a suite which he almost certainly supplied to Stourhead in 1746: so many variations in this pattern exist that they must all have emanated from the same large establishment.’ (Part I: 2: A Critical Survey: The Curator’s View, Christopher Gilbert in Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, Edward Lennox-Boyd (ed.), Christie’s Books, London, 1998, p.37-38, plate 24) (see image below).
Ralph Edwards, in ‘The Dictionary of English Furniture: Volume One’ (Antique Collectors’ Club, 1983) explains that, from about 1745, ‘the influence of the French rocaille style becomes increasingly apparent in the design of English chairs, and the rapidly growing demand for mahogany furniture led to the creation of a lighter and more fanciful fashion in which sinuous lines, subtle curves, and delicate carving in low relief usurped the place of baroque solidity.’ He goes on to assert that: ‘[a]t this date a noticeable change occurs in the treatment of the back. The solid splat is opened out into simple tracery, strapwork, or a symmetrical arrangement of scrolls.’ He cites a chair very similar to this one (see fig. 154 below), in which the design occupies the whole area of the back. ‘Baroque ornament was gradually superseded by the naturalistic motives of the rococo style; but this new decorative convention was not widely adopted until the middle of the century; nor was it ever exploited to an extreme degree in chairs’ (p.273). Figure 154 is described: ‘Walnut chair with gilt enrichments; open-work splat in the form of a shell occupying the whole of the back. c. 1750. (Stourhead, Wiltshire).’
Lucy Wood, in her book ‘The Upholstered Furniture in the Lady Lever Art Gallery: Volume I‘ (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008), references and illustrates a chair similar to this one: ‘The Hinton chairs are all stamped ‘W.F.’, a mark that recurs on chairs of another pattern associated with Grendey, with a pierced shell back (Fig. 175) – the type of the well-known suite at Stourhead, thought to relate to payments by Henry Hoare to Grendey. The unusual carving on the knees is replicated on a mahogany suite and square upholstered seats and backs from Gunton Park, Norfolk, parts of which bear Grendey’s shorter label combined with the stamp ‘W B’; while ‘W F’ is again recorded on some chairs of the same model in walnut.’ (p.268, Fig. 175 – see image below).
R.W. Symonds illustrates a similar walnut chair in his article ‘The Chair with a Shell Back’, which appeared in ‘The Antique Collector’ in October 1956 (pp.177-182). He states that: ‘The design of the shell back of this chair is complete and satisfying; it is not only highly decorative but comfortable, for the ribs of the shell serve as a support to the shoulders of the person seated… The designer in place of the solid vase-shaped splat has filled the space with an openwork shell, and for strength he has connected the base of the shell by scrolls in the form of the figure eight to the shoe piece fixed to the back seat rail’.
Symonds also illustrates a settee of similar design in this article. However, it is made of mahogany and has claw and ball feet. Housed at Temple Newsam, this settee is illustrated in Christopher Gilbert’s ‘Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall: Volume II’ (W.S. Maney & Son Ltd, 1978)¸ fig. 326, p.326. This settee is also illustrated in Herbert Cescinsky, ‘English Furniture of the Eighteenth Century: Vol. II’ (The Waverley Book Company Limited, London), fig. 41, p.49. Cescinsky also illustrates a number of related chairs in figs 38-40, pp.47-48.
Francis Lenygon, ‘Furniture in England from 1660 to 1760’ (London, 1924), fig. 83, p.59, illustrates a chair of the same model.
An issue of ‘Country Life Magazine’, published on 13th April 1912, features an article on Kirtlington Park in Oxfordshire, The Seat of The Earl of Leven and Melville. One of the interior shots, published in Christopher Hussey, ‘English Country Houses: Early Georgian 1715-1760’ (Country Life Limited, London, 1955), plate 303, shows a chair of the same model, placed to one side of the fireplace in the Dining Room (see image below).
Giles Grendey (1693–1780): Giles Grendey was born in Gloucestershire in 1693 and, in 17089 he was apprenticed to William Sherborne in London. Grendey completed his apprenticeship in 1716 and became a freeman. By 1726 he was taking on his own apprentices and was recognised as the most accomplished English cabinetmaker incorporating ‘japanned’ decoration. Grendey’s workshop was in Aylesbury House, St. John’s Square, Clerkenwell. He labelled some of his products and one of his surviving labels advertised that he: ‘MAKES and Sells all Sorts of CABINET GOODS, Chairs, Tables, Glasses, etc.’ Newspaper accounts from 1731 indicate the status which Grendey had achieved, as it was recorded that, early in the morning on 3rd August 1731, his workshop had a fire, which destroyed furniture to the value of £1,000 which he: ‘had pack’d for Exportation against the next morning’. Fortunately, both his premises and his stock were insured, but this record underlines the importance of the export market for his business: notably in Spain; in Italy (for the King of Naples); and in Portugal.
During his career, Grendey supplied furniture to: Richard Hoare of Barn Elms; Sir Jacob de Bouverie of Longford Castle; Lord Scarsdale at Kedleston Hall; and Henry Hoare at Stourhead. In 1755 Grendey’s daughter, Sukey, married John Cobb, a cabinet maker who partnered with William Vile and served as a cabinet-maker for George III. On his wife’s death in 1740, Grendey was described as: ‘a great Dealer in the Cabinet Way’ (see ‘London Evening Post’, 9 August 1790).
Grendey’s most celebrated export order was for a suite of at least seventy seven items of furniture with scarlet japanning which were supplied to the Duke of Infantado for his castle at Lazcano, near San Sebastian in Northern Spain, circa 1740. A large number of items from this suite are now in important international collections including The Metropolitan Museum, New York and The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
For more information see: ‘Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840′, Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (eds), (Furniture History Society, W.S. Maney and Son Ltd, 1986), pp.371-2.