ENGLAND, circa 1750
With a shaped, serpentine fronted Brocatello Di Siena marble top above a giltwood apron/frieze, pierced with foliate scrolls, rocailled and with bold cabochons at the front corners.
Both of the legs comprise of two carved ‘C’-scrolls, joined at the base by a pierced cartouche-shaped stretcher with a rockwork base supporting a hunting scene, consisting of a naturalistically depicted hound sporting gun and partridge. Terminating in acanthus scroll carved feet.
This console table can confidently be attributed to John Linnell as closely related drawings can be found within collection of over three hundred and fifty of John Linnell’s pen, ink and watercolour designs, which were acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1911. These drawings are from a volume of designs for furniture, interior decoration and architectural fittings which were gathered together by Charles Heathcote Tatham after Linnell’s death in 1796. Tatham made selections from Linnell’s portfolios, and arranged them into two volumes which he called: ‘A Miscellaneous Collection of Original Designs, made, and for the most part executed, during an extensive Practice of many years in the first line of his Profession, by John Linnell, Upholsterer Carver & Cabinet Maker. Selected from his Portfolio’s at his Decease, by C. H. Tatham Architect. AD 1800’. The V&A drawings with the Museum numbers E.195-1929 (see image above) and E.257-1929 demonstrate similar curving supports and feet; and drawings E.3690-1911 and E.202-1929 demonstrate a similar gilt carved frieze. In addition, in the image above – drawing E.195-1929 – the word ‘Dog’ can be made out, written to the right hand side of the table. Similar designs for tables below a pier-glass can be found in ‘William and John Linnell: Eighteenth Century London Furniture Makers: Volume Two‘, by Helena Hayward and Pat Kirkham (Studio Vista, Christie’s, London, 1980), pp.105-107 (see image below).
In her article ‘A Pair of Mirrors and Consoles by John Linnell’ in Connoisseur, Helena Hayward states that the drawing of a gilt mirror and a console table by John Linnell, illustrated and housed in the V&A’s collection (Museum number E.195-1929) was actually executed for an unknown client, as the pair of gilt mirrors and console tables based on that design still survive and can be found in the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, dated circa 1760 (see images below – Accession Numbers: 76.10.2a-c and 76.10.1a-c) (Helena Hayward, ‘A Pair of Mirrors and Consoles by John Linnell’ in Connoisseur, January 1976, pp.12-13). The slightly tilted scrolling of the feet on our console table – with almost identical curving legs and veneered marble tops – can be seen in these tables, as well as in the drawing by Linnell on which they were based.
A drawing by Linnell of an overmantel mirror dated c.1755-60, depicted in Helena Hayward’s ‘The Drawings of John Linnell in the Victoria and Albert Museum’ in The Journal of the Furniture History Society, vol. V, 1969, fig. 141, shows a mirror surmounted by drapery swags, suspended from a hunting horn and carved with a ribbon-tied fishing net, dead game, a quiver of arrows and a shotgun of the same design as the sporting gun on our console table. Hayward notes, in reference to one of Linnell’s designs for a drawing-room door, that: ‘[t]he hunting theme, introducing a fishing net and dead game, probably derives from an ornamental engraving by Pineau and occurs in other drawings (see also fig. 141).’ (p.107) (Design for an Overmantel mirror, V&A: Museum number: E.219-1929 – see image below).
The inspiration for the incorporation of a sporting gun and a hunting dog into the design may have come from the work of Thomas Johnson, one of Linnell’s contemporaries, as shown in Johnson’s ‘Collection of Designs 1759’, plates 19-23. In Helena Hayward’s book Thomas Johnson and English Rococo, she illustrates a drawing by Johnson in which a sporting gun and dog are used in the composition of a table base (Helena Hayward, Thomas Johnson and English Rococo, Alec Tiranti, London, 1964, pp.172-3). A drawing by Linnell for a mirror and a console table which depicts a similar sporting gun and a hunting dog is housed in the V&A’s collection, Museum number: E.247-1929 (see image below).
Another drawing by Linnell from the V&A’s collection (E.246-1929) continues the hunting theme, with two deer placed centrally within the table base, and demonstrates similar curving supports and feet; and a similar gilt carved frieze (see image below).
In his ‘Design for Rococo Chimney Piece’, a pen, ink and watercolour drawing on paper created by Linnell in 1754 and housed in a private collection, the legs of the chimney piece terminate in the same acanthus scroll carved feet as are used on this table (see image below).
John Linnell (1729-1796): The Linnell firm was created in 1730 by William Linnell (c.1703–63), and John Linnell joined his father in the business in 1749. The firm was based in London, but moved premises in 1750, from 8 Long Acre in St. Martin’s Lane to 28 Berkeley Square in the West End. He later took over the firm on his father’s death in 1763. From this time until his death in 1796, John Linnell continued to develop the business his father had established, and his reputation grew.
Linnell trained Charles Heathcote Tatham and his brother Thomas Tatham in drawing and design. In 1796, when C. H. Tatham learned of Linnell’s death, he compiled a selection of 355 of John Linnell’s original drawings and designs, which his brother Thomas Tatham had inherited. These drawings are the ones which now survive at the V&A, and they reveal Linnell’s preference for the Rococo, and his use of Chinoiserie and Gothic (‘Gothick’).
One of John Linnell’s first jobs as a designer in father’s firm was for a suite of furniture for Charles Somerset, 4th Duke of Beaufort’ Chinese Bedroom at Badminton House. Linnell was also commissioned by Sir Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron Scarsdale at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire; Robert Child at Osterley Park House, Middlesex; and Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland and his wife Elizabeth Percy at Alnwick Castle.
The reputation which John Linnell managed to establish is summed up in the opening statement of Patricia Anne Kirkham’s article for Furniture History: ‘William and John Linnell were furniture-makers of distinction.’ However, she points out that: ‘Until now little has been known of their careers’. (‘The Careers of William and John Linnell’ in Furniture History: The Journal of the Furniture History Society, Volume III, 1967, p.29). One of the main sources of information is: ‘the folio of drawings by John Linnell, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which has allowed several patrons to be traced and individual pieces of furniture to be identified.’ (p.29). Kirkham points out that: ‘The Linnells enjoyed a considerable reputation in their day and their customers and apprentices paid accordingly.’ (p.37)
Helena Hayward, ‘A Pair of Mirrors and Consoles by John Linnell’ in Connoisseur, January 1976, pp.12-13.
Ralph Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture: Volume Two (Antique Collectors’ Club, London, 1983, p. 292-3).
Helena Hayward and Pat Kirkham, William and John Linnell; Eighteenth Century London Furniture Makers: Volumes One and Two (Studio Vista, Christie’s, London, 1980).
Helena Hayward, ‘The Drawings of John Linnell in the Victoria and Albert Museum’ in Furniture History: The Journal of the Furniture History Society, Volume V, 1969.
Patricia Anne Kirkham,‘The Careers of William and John Linnell’ in Furniture History: The Journal of the Furniture History Society, Volume III, 1967.
‘John Linnell, an Eighteenth Century carver and Cabinet Maker’, M. Jourdain, Country Life, April 6th, 1929.