the over-upholstered backs with serpentine crest-rails, the out swept padded arms with incurved moulded supports joined to the side seat rail, the upholstered seat with moulded seat rails of serpentine form centred at the front with foliate clasps, and continuing to cabriole legs with scrolled toes and scrolled foliate clasps at the knees; ensuite to the previous lot, re-gilded, with traces of the original blue japanned decoration
T.G.Litchfield, 3 Bruton St., London, The Valuation and Inventory of the more important furniture, China, Articles of Vertu, Decorations and Pictures at easton neston, February 1889, part on p.23 and part on p.37, as 'A suite of carved and gilt furniture';
H. Avray Tipping, ‘Easton Neston - II, Northamptonshire, The Seat of Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh Bt.', Country Life, November 14th 1908, p.669, part of the suite shown in the Large Drawing Room, possibly with needlework covers;
Messrs Foster, Auctioneers & Valuers, Pall Mall, London, Hon. Sir Thomas Hesketh; The Inventory of the contents of the Mansion Eston Neston House, Towcester also certain China, Furniture and Cabinet Objects at 9 Montagu Square, London, removed by Lady Hesketh from Easton Neston House, August 1910, pp.116, 118 & 120, on the Grand Staircase as 'a pair of mahogany Chippendale settees upholstered in Italian stamped velvet' and 'a pair of mahogany armchairs upholstered en suite', 'two further pairs en suite' and another pair;
Anon. compiler, An inventoryof the mansion and contents, Easton Neston House, Towcester, typed document (family archive) 1923, p.20, item 1, £1,800, listed under the 'Contents of all other remaining rooms and bedrooms';
Archibald Phillips, 16 Conduit Street, London, W1, Inventory and Valuation of the household Furniture, ornamental effects, Pictures and other items at Easton Neston, February 1927, p.31, item 1, £1,250, listed under 'Furniture in Various Reception Rooms';
H. Avray Tipping, 'Easton Neston - II, Northamptonshire, The Seat of Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh, Bt.', Country Life, 27th August 1927, p.298, fig.3, part of the suite shown in The Saloon;
James Lees-Milne, 'Easton Neston, Northamptonshire', English Country Houses Baroque 1685-1715, 1970, p.143, fig. 228
THE HISTORY OF THE SUITE
The property known as Easton Neston had been in the Fermor ownership since the 1530s. The orginal house was originally substantial with two courtyards and a gallery but was subsequently vastly expanded becoming large enough to accommodate three visits by Queen Elizabeth I and her courtly entourage and other visits from James I, Anne of Denmark and the young Prince Charles, later Charles I. This house suffered greatly from the sequestations of the civil war and its aftermath as the Fermor family were Royalists and it was not until the late 17th century that the then owner Sir William Fermor decided to rebuild the house on the hill that crowned his lands.The first buildings to be erected were the two wings: the one closest to the old house forming a new stableblock. The other wing which still survives: a charming brick building with casement windows reflective of the designs of the Office of Works under Wren.
Nicholas Hawksmoor, Sir Christopher Wren`s assistant was subsequently commissioned to design the house, which was to sit between these wings and the mid 1690s saw the evolution of the scheme and what stared out merely as a harmonious building became one of Europe`s grandest and most beautiful Baroque buildings, the main fabric being completed in 1702.
Sir William Fermor was elevated to the peerage as Baron Lempster. He died in 1711 having also created elaborate formal garden around the house. His son who inherited the house completed his father`s work on the house. He was enobled as Earl of Pomfret in 1721. He died in 1753 leaving the estate to his eldest son, the Hon. George Fermor.
When George, 2nd Earl of Pomfret inherited Easton Neston from his father Thomas in 1753, he was in considerable debt necessitating the sale of the pictures and the collection of Arundel Marbles purchased by his grandfather. As Horace Walpole noted to Mann ‘The seat must be stripped’, and although the Arundel Marbles were purchased by his mother and subsequently presented to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, little is known of the subsequent fate of the original furniture; none seems to have been offered alongside the Old Master Paintings which were auctioned in London in 1758. Pomfret’s fortunes were however restored by his marriage in 1764 to Anna Maria Draycott, the sister of a Mr. Delagard, a nabob of Bombay.
The present suite was probably commissioned shortly after this marriage from the London firm of Royal cabinet-makers William Vile and John Cobb (Vile, the senior partner, retired in 1764). Their partnership seems to have started in 1751, at which time there appears to have been a close connection with the cabinet-maker William Hallett. Recorded as the ‘Master’ of William Vile, who was supposedly a journeyman in Hallett’s employ, bank records indicate several large payments were made to him during the life of the partnership possibly indicating that he retained a financial interest in the firm. It is also interesting to note that William Hallett, as noted in her diary, was visited by the 1st Countess of Pomfret in 1752.
Chairs of this form, with their richly curved and molded frames, were described in pattern books such as Chippendale’s Director as ‘French Chairs’, their profile being derived from contemporary French examples designed in the rococo taste. Originally with a blue japanned finish the present chairs are related in design to another suite of seat furniture which was commissioned by the 6th Earl of Coventry, Croome Court, Worcestershire. Although the arms differ in that they are attached to the upper part of the seat frame, not at the side, the frames overall have a very similar profile, the seat-rails and legs being fluidly molded in both instances. The Croome suite, which was in carved mahogany, appears in an account dated 25 June 1761 and included ‘7 Handsome Carv’d Mahogy Arm’d Chairs on Castors Stuff’d and Quilted, & Cover’d with Morrocco Leather, and finish’d Complete, with the best Burnish’d Nailes at £7 each’ continuing on 5 July ‘For 2 Handsome Carv’d Mahogy Sopphoys on Castors Stuff’d and Quilted and Cover’d with red Morrocco Leather, and finish’d Complete with Burnish’d Nailes 36. -. -.’. This pair of sofas, together with six of the chairs, was sold at Sotheby’s in 1948 (See Sotheby’s, op.cit.). A further suite of this design, but in gilt-wood, was also supplied to Lord Coventry in 1768 which included eight ‘French pattern’ arm chairs and two ‘french sofas’ which were covered in ‘your Crimson silk damask’ ( See Beard and Goodison, op.cit.). It is interesting to note that in early photographs the present suite seems to have tapestry covers, although their lack of detail makes it impossible make a judgement as to their origin.
Sothebys, London, Catalogue, 25 June, 1948, lot 137;
Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, pp.923-928;
Geoffrey Beard and Judith Goodison, English Furniture 1500-1840, London, 1987, p.137, figs.4-5
Analysis of the decoration has revealed that the original circa 1760 decoration was a solid blue applied to all surfaces except the backs of the sofas. The foundations of the decoration consisted of a very thin priming/undercoat of lead white oil paint, then a mid-blue oil paint based on Prussian blue and lead white was painted over the top. The blue does not appear to have been varnished.
The original blue was replaced by two lots of off white oil paint. Both these schemes were based on traditional lead white, and were therefore likely to have been applied in the nineteen century.
The off-white schemes were eventually replaced by the present gilding which consists of water gilding over gesso. Prior to the gilding process, the earlier oil paint layers wer largely stripped off, and the original blue now only survives in tiny patches. The present gilding is 20th century.
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