An early George III carved mahogany 'Gainsborough' type Library Open Armchair possibly by the Gillows associate John Romney,(1703-1778), father of George Romney the painter
Lot 179
An early George III carved mahogany 'Gainsborough' type Library Open Armchair
possibly by the Gillows associate John Romney,(1703-1778), father of George Romney the painter
Sold for £ 14,400 (US$ 19,306) inc. premium

Lot Details
An early George III carved mahogany 'Gainsborough' type Library Open Armchair
possibly by the Gillows associate John Romney,(1703-1778), father of George Romney the painter
the serpentine padded back and arms with leaf and flowerhead carved arm terminals, with shaped moulded downswept arm supports, above a rectangular padded seat and 'C' scroll carved cabriole legs with shells carved at the knee, on claw and paw feet, with castors.


  • The Whitestock Hall Library Chair

    Provenance: presumably the artist George Romney (1734-1802) and by descent to his son:
    The Rev. John (II) Romney (1758-1832) and by descent to his son:
    John Romney (III) (1817-1875) and then by descent to his sons:
    John Romney (IV) (b.1851 and Lawrence Romney (b.1857) and then by descent to their aunts:
    Mrs Brooks (d.1889) and Elizabeth Romney (d.1893) and then by descent to:
    John Orde Romney and sold in May 1908, purchased with Whitestock Hall, near Ulverston in the parish of Colton, Lancashire, home to the descendants of George Romney, by the family of the present vendor.

    Whitestock Hall

    George Romney spent little time in Cumbria, living in London and touring Italy, visiting Lancashire only for abbreviated painting tours only in the 1760s. He nevertheless returned to establish himself there in 1799, only three years before his death, when he purchased the land at Whitestock upon which his son, the Reverend John (II) Romney built Whitestock Hall, a fashionable country house, where he lived from 1806. He bequeathed the estate to his youngest son another John (III) (1817–1875), who was to take up the stewardship of the estates after his medical studies at Cambridge were complete (BD HJ 39/4/1/1). The Rev John Romney's eldest son George (1811–1865) was deemed by his father's will to be unsuitable to inherit both because of his 'incapacity of business' and 'his idleness and disregard for mental cultivation'. After John's (III) death in 1875, his sons John (IV) and Lawrence inherited, passing the estates thereafter to two of their aunts, Mrs Brooks (d. 1889) and Elizabeth Romney (d.1893).

    Four lots sold at Bonhams, Chester, 9 July 2009, lots 800-803 and attributable to Gillows, with the same provenance as the chair offered here were recorded at Whitestock Hall on the death of Elizabeth Romney in 1893. In the valuation and inventory of her goods undertaken in the following year for purposes of probate by Mr Salmon of Wilson & Co., 'Auctioneers, Printers and Stationers'. The chair offered here is presumably the 'mahogany armchair' listed in the same inventory as being in the library.

    Whitestock Hall was heavily mortgaged during the 1890's by the Romneys and was probably foreclosed on by the firm of mortgaging solicitors in 1902, the last member of the Romney family to own it being John Orde Romney. From 1902-08 the house appears to have been let and in May 1908 the whole estate was auctioned off by the solicitors, this is when the present owners family purchased the hall, some of the contents and surrounding woodland.

    John Romney (1703-1778) cabinet-maker and Gillow Associate

    John (I) Romney (or Rumney/Rumley), (1703-1778), father of the artist George Romney was a cabinet maker who is recorded as having purchased '9s. worth of mahogany from Gillows of Lancaster in December 1766', see Susan Stuart, Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730-1840, volume II, p. 277. His grandson, the Rev. John (II) Romney, B.D, in Memoirs of The Life and Works of George Romney, published London 1830, writes about his grandfather:
    'The first mahogany brought from the West Indies into Furness, if not into Lancashire, came in the form of a sailor's chest; and out of this he made a chest of Drawers, which was the first mahogany furniture introduced into that country[sic]. Prior to that, walnut or cherry-tree was in general use. His genious was as expert in making a fiddle as in constructing, or embellishing a gentleman's mansion. Every structure in wood, however great, or however small, was within the compass of his abilities.'.

    David A. Cross in his biography on the painter, A Striking Likeness, The Life of George Romney 2000, refers to John as the 'Jethro Tull of Furness', as he also worked in metal, designing the north of England's first plough with an iron mould-board and other agricultural and mining innovations. John had ten sons and one daughter, all of his sons, except George and his brother James, a Lieutenant Colonel in the East India Company, died before him.

    Susan Stuart dedicates a whole chapter on Gillow apprentices, workmen, tradesmen and apprentices bound to other Lancaster cabinetmakers, emphasising from the outset that Lancaster was home to a thriving cabinet-makers trade and not just for the firm of Gillows. The various firms, including Gillows, cooperated with each other and purchased materials and supplied expertise to each other. The Romney's (Rumney/Rumley's) were no exception, John (I) Romney, is listed in S.Stuart, ibid, volume II, p.277 as purchasing 9s. worth of mahogany from Gillow in Dec 1766 (344/50) and it could be his signature on the back of a drawer of a bureau (illustrated in S.Stuart, ibid, volume I, plate 424/5 p.359). It is also probably him listed as John Rumley of Kendal and mentioned in the Gillow Waste Book 1777-78 (1778 being the year of his death), which contains a note that he was sold bay mahogany for six chairs with cutting out. In January and November 1773 John Rumney of Cockin (presumably Cocken) purchased wood, including Jamaica wood and a piece of 'good mahogany', from Gillows (344/4, p.152, 13.11.1774). In October 1774 Gillows paid him 5s. each for making twelve Windsor chairs (344/33, p.454). It is this Rumney that is the uncle of a Thomas Romney (Rumney), a foreman at Gillows and brother of a further George Romney, another Lancaster cabinet-maker. The Gillow connection goes further into the 19th century with Thomas' son, yet another George, being a stainer and varnisher for the firm.

    George Romney – Artist and Cabinet-maker

    The artist George Romney was the third son, born at Beckside, near Dalton, Lancashire and moved to Upper Cocken, again near Dalton in 1742, which was his home until he was twenty one. At the age of eleven he was taken out of school and was employed by his father, training alongside him as cabinet-maker. The Reverend John recorded in his father's memoirs that during that period, 'not much is known of its operations'. But does state,'Of his skill and ingenuity in carving, the violin which he made for himself, and which is now in my possession, is a curious specimen and a sufficient proof'.

    David Cross refers to George learning to 'wield gouges and chisels and to carve chair legs and picture frames', under his father's supervision, moving on to supervising the men in the workshop. The Reverend John mentions that George's first idea of becoming a painter was from 'copying the cuts in a magazine, borrowed from a workman of his father's'.

    George was also sent to work in Church Street, Lancaster with the cabinet-maker David Wright. David Wright is listed in G. Beard & C.Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, p.1004 as at Church Street, Lancaster, joiner and cabinet-maker (1747-66). He acquired some deal from Robert Gillow in 1747 and again 1753-54, paying for them with his own labour, which was an accepted form of barter amongst tradesmen in Lancaster at the time. A mahogany desk signed under a drawer, Lancaster August 19th 1751 David Wright Fecit is in loan to the Judges' Lodgings Museum from the Victoria & Albert Museum and can be seen illustrated in Susan Stuart's book, plate 14.

    In 1755 George was released from his apprenticeship with Wright and found a new master in the Kendal-based portraitist Christopher Steele, who was keen to take George as he was skilled at carving frames.

    The close relationship between George the painter and the firm of Gillows in the last four decades of the 18th Century, when both were considered, at least in Lancashire, as the best practitioners of their respective trades adds another perspective to the history of this chair. The relationship between the two was symbiotic: both worked for the same aristocratic and gentle Lancashire families, and thus were part of the same networks of patronage upon which advancement in the 18th Century relied. In 1761, Romney painted Richard Gillow's mother-in-law, Mrs Haresnape, and later in that decade painted the likeness of William Bradshaw, one of London's leading upholsterers and weavers and foremost amongst Gillows' most important patrons (ibid.,I,p. 26). Bradshaw had employed Robert Gillow 1745-46 to renovate Halton Hall, near Lancaster and also purchased furniture from him. Mary Hunter Rawlinson, the matriarch of a prominent Cumbrian Quaker family commissioned one of Gillows' most ornate bookcases in the 1770s, and also sat for Romney during the same period: Susan Stuart suggests that her picture is mounted in a Gillows frame (ibid.,I, p.366). George Romney's grand-daughter Mary, sister to the John Romney who succeeded to the family estates in 1832, married a John Job Rawlinson of Graythwaite (1798–1864) in February 1831.

    Gillows made another picture frame for Romney's portrait of Dr.Daniel Wilson of Lancaster, painted in 1767 during Romney's visit back to the North, showing that the relationship continued even after he established himself in London.
    Despite the fact that this direct professional connection between George Romney and Gillows of Lancaster ceased on the death of the former in 1802, the relationship between the two families endured. The link between the families of Romney and Gillow was at a further remove than it had been in the eighteenth century, and somewhat diluted, but there was still enough of an established connection to render the firm of Gillows the natural choice of cabinet-maker for the Romney family in the 1830's as shown by the recent sale of Gillows furniture from Whitestock at Bonhams Chester, which dates from the second quarter of the 19th century.

    The Whitestock Hall Library Chair and the Strickland Connection

    A possible link to Gillows is further enhanced by the important early documented suite of furniture made by Robert and Richard Gillow for Charles Strickland of Sizergh Castle in 1761, comprising of eight arm chairs and a matching sofa, (see S.Stuart, ibid, volume I, plates 80 & 81). There are strong similarities to the distinctive pattern of the arm supports, the Sizergh suite having added 'astragals'. The Sizergh suite apparently still has its original castors, the foot standing on top and without cups, as in the Whitestock chair.
    Numerous carved shells are recorded on Lancashire longcase clocks illustrated in S.Stuart, ibid, volume I, plates 475-479, of particular note a Joshua Horrocks clock, which has similar cross-hatching behind the shell as used on the shell of the chair offered here.

    Interestingly the probate listing of 1894 for Elizabeth Romney by Wilson & Co, also lists a 'mahogany sofa, hair seat' just above the armchair thought to be the Whitestock Hall Library Chair and perhaps indicating that the sofa and chair were part of a suite. Susan Stuart explains that the Sizergh suite was Gillows making use of the known design books and using features of their own, again reflected in the Whitestock chair. John Romney would have had access to these pattern books too, but more importantly would quite possibly have seen the suite at Sizergh. This was not only due to the proximity of Sizergh Castle, but secondly as his son George the painter worked for the Stricklands in 1760, before leaving for London in 1762, painting portraits of Margaret Strickland (nee Messenger) and her husband Walter, Charles Stricklands' elder brother who died in 1761. From Walter Strickland, it is recorded that Romney 'received much kind attention' and was invited to copy many of the family portraits to develop his talents. Romney carried out further Strickland commissions a few years later, including the Jesuit priest and Charles' other elder brother, Reverend William Strickland, still in the Sizergh collection.
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