Purchased Mallett and Sons, 40 New Bond Street, 1964, where they were recorded as 'An important pair of George II carved gilt wood open armchairs with boldly carved show wood frames. The legs carved with scrolls at the ends, on cabriole legs. Circa 1750. £1850'
The chairs were secured for the vendor by the celebrated interior decorator John Fowler of Colefax and Fowler who had been engaged to decorate the vendor's home, Notley Abbey, Buckinghamshire. Notley Abbey had formerly been the home of the actors Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh and was sold after their divorce. John Fowler bought items selected from London dealers to Notley for his client's approval.
The inspiration for the design of these chairs, with the acanthus decoration and and the cartouche shaped back, lies with the fauteil a la reine of the Louis XV period and is a strong example of the French 'picturesque' style which was illustrated by Thomas Chippendale in The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director 1754-62. Chippendale's 'French Chair' engravings produced in 1759 were added to the 1762 edition of the Director, pl.XXIII. Chippendale was to use the image of the French chair on his St.Martin's Lane trade label reflecting its position as the pinnacle of fashion and sophistication.
The robustness in design of the chairs offered here, with the low broad seat and the tight 'kick' to the cabriole leg, clearly reflects the design of Matthias Lock (c.1710-1765) which has been likened to the chair known as 'The Sitter's Chair' of the artist Richard Cosway and in which many of his notable sitters were painted during the 1760s and 1770s. Both the chair and the original design are now in the collection of the V&A Museum, part of a collection of designs by Lock which were purchased by the museum from Lock's grandson in 1862. Lock is thought to have had some kind of working relationship with Chippendale and to have assisted with the 'Director'. The V&A album acquired from Lock's grandson includes a design for a pedestal pattern which is featured in the 1762 edition of the Director. A pair of chairs reflecting the Lock design were sold at Christies, New York, 16 October 1993, lot 312 which were originally part of a suite supplied to Henry Bromley, 1st Baron Montfort, for Holt Castle in Worcestershire, which later passed into the collection of George IV at the Palace of Westminster. The stylised relief of the carving on the suite offered does, to an extent, reflect the highly stylised carving of that of the Spencer House Palm Room Seat furniture, the design of which is attributed to the architect John Vardy, and the execution to John Gordon (part of the suite sold Sotheby's, London, 29 November 2002, lot 154 and 155) supplied to John Spencer, later 1st Earl Spencer (1734-83).
There were several leading exponents of the French taste among the leading cabinetmakers of the 1760s-1780s. Chippendale himself produced a close variant in form of the chair offered here for the Long Drawing Room at Arlington Street in 1766 (Collection of The Countess Rosse). John Linnell (1729-1796) produced two large sets of seat furniture circa 1765 for Robert Child at Osterley and for the 1st Duke of Northumberland for Alnwick Castle (see H Hayward and P Kirkham, William and John Linnell, 1980, figs 50-57). Linnell is thought to have produced chairs of similar scale and proportion although less ornamented for the Duke of Argyll at Inveraray Castle which display a similar accentuated outward scroll to the arm as the chairs offered here. More simplified versions of chairs similar to these in overall form are also characteristic of the work of Paul Saunders (1722-1771) notably at Hagley Hall,Worcestershire (see C Hussey, English Country Houses, Early Georgian, 1715-1760, 1955, fig.335), and a suite of fourteen open armchairs supplied in 1763 to Petworth House, Surrey, and illustrated in G Beard Upholsterers and Interior Furnishing in England 1530-1840 1997, pl.276. The suite of giltwood furniture in the State Saloon and Blue Drawing Room at Woburn Abbey by Paul Saunders, possibly in conjunction with Samuel Norman (1746-67), have a similarly shaped leg and stylised ribbing to the frame, illustrating a further connection to the French taste favoured by Saunders.
A fine pair of George III carved giltwood Open Armchairs,
Fine Furniture and Works of Art