A German Rococo Silvered Armchair, Attributed to Johann August Nahl, Potsdam, circa 1744-46
- oak, gilt
- 111cm. hide, 72cm. wide, 62cm. deep; 3ft. 7¾in., 2ft. 4¼in., 2ft. ¼in.
European Private Collection.
Heinrich Kreisel, Die Kunst des deutschen Möbels, Spätbarock und Rokoko, vol. II, Munich, 1970, ill. 785.
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A group of armchairs formerly at Stadtschloss, and now at Sanssouci, provides us with a parallel to the present lot. During the five years of his tenure as ‘Directeur des ornements’ for the King, Nahl seems to have conceived at least two relevant models of armchairs, both silvered and sharing the same overall playful outline, bold carving, organic lines to the arms and legs, and the same rococo ornamental language, but with variations to carving, namely to the legs, and with different solutions applied to the crest rail.
The present lot is distinguished by a gadrooned rococo pediment, the Sanssouci model (fig. 3) by a narrower form and more floral motifs; the strikingly carved S-shaped arm-end on both perfectly embodies the ‘continuing curve’ of Rococo, defying its own function as support.
A design for a room by Nahl dated 1745 and therefore from his Potsdam years, now in the Cooper-Hewitt collections (fig. 3), not only exemplifies the style then employed, it also provides an interesting comparable between the uprights of the chimney-piece and the legs of the present armchair. Nahl conceived his rococo interiors as whole, and this impressive armchair would certainly fit cohesively in the royal palace, mirroring the motifs used in the walls, ceilings and upholstery, all certainly in a silvered tone, as seen for instance in the royal bedroom.
Two further examples of the current armchair model are known: the first, with a stated provenance from the Stadtschloss, Potsdam, published in Kreisel’s seminal Kunst des deutschen Möbels (1970, ill. 785), while the second illustrated in Schmidt (1923, p. 139, fig. 5) was in the Schlossmuseum, Berlin, in what had been the former Royal Palace, devastated by bombing during the Second World War and later demolished. A third model of chairs by Nahl from the Stadtschloss, now at Sanssouci, has a similar feel, although with a different solutions to the arms.
An outstanding example of the inventiveness and clear individuality of Frederician Rococo, this armchair is not only a prelude of the sculptural tone that Nahl’s career would take once he left Prussia, it also embodies the audaciousness of the patron that named and strongly encouraged this distinctive style.
ROCOCO TASTE AT THE PRUSSIAN COURT
The decorative characteristics of the first years of King Frederick’s reign are in sharp contrast to the markedly austere Prussian aesthetics of the early 18th century. Disliking Berlin and the impositions of court etiquette, Frederick had chosen to reshape the crown estate in Potsdam that had been in the Hohenzollern’s possession since the 15th century in the Rococo taste. Sanssouci, the first and most idiosyncratic of these residences, was built by architect Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff (1699-1753) between 1745-47 as a private residence for the Sovereign, who strictly supervised the design of both the exterior and the main rooms. Its corps de logis is composed of an enfilade of just ten rooms, decorated in the Rococo style by Johann August Nahl, the Hoppenhaupt and Spindler brothers, and Johann Melchior Kambly.
Frederician Rococo, the new style that resulted from these experiences, displays remarkable unity, with panelling, ceilings, and furniture all conceived in relation to each other, the carving found on chairs and settees in direct relationship with the stuccoes. Court designers were certainly inspired by Venetian rococo, echoed in the bold carving of the scrolled arms on seat furniture.
Together with Sanssouci and Schloss Charlottenbourg in Berlin, the Stadtschloss in Potsdam remained the best example of Prussian rococo until the Second World War, when it was destroyed.
JOHANN AUGUST NAHL
One of the most influent personalities of 18th century German art, Johann August Nahl (1710-1781) was an ornemeniste, sculptor and stucco worker, the son of Johann Samuel Nahl, court sculptor to Frederick I of Prussia. After an extensive tour of Europe, he settled in Strasbourg, to be summoned in 1741 to work in Berlin for Frederick II, who appointed him ‘Directeur des ornements’. His first project there was the New Wing at Schloss Charlottenbourg, where, in decorating the King’s first apartment, including the Silver Anteroom, he developed a highly personal and distinctive style.
Nahl’s next project was the renovation of the Royal apartments in both the east and west wings at the Stadtschloss in Potsdam, for which he also provided gracefully fluid designs. On the first floor of the palace he designed the western suite, intended for Royal guests. His masterwork, however, was arguably in the organic decoration of the Winter Apartments, comprising of six rooms, including the concert room and the sumptuous bedroom (fig. 2).
His final project for Frederick II was the concert room at Sanssouci, although here the designs were carried out by the Hoppenhaupts, Nahl having fled to Strasbourg in 1746 because of the burdensome conditions imposed on him by the King. In his later years, Nahl travelled extensively from court to court, although much of his work is concentrated in Berne and Kassel.