PROPERTY FROM A NEW YORK COLLECTION
Adrian Hope resided at 4 Carlton Gardens, London from 1837-1846 following his marriage in 1836 to Comtesse Matilda Rapp, daughter of Napoleon's former aide-de-camp. Prior to moving into the recently built John Nash-designed house he commissioned the German-Italian architect Alexander Roos, a pupil of Karl Friedrich Schinkel in Berlin, to fit out the interiors, and a series of architectural drawings and elevations for the property attributed to Roos survive, including a sketch of an armchair identical to the present lot (Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, Fig. 1).
It is not clear whether Roos, whose father Karl was an important émigré cabinetmaker in Rome supplying furniture to Napoleon and Pauline Borghese during the French occupation, actually designed the chair and other furniture depicted in the drawings, or was simply recording objects already in Adrian Hope's possession. Certainly the distinctive armrest supports of carved and ebonized owls specifically evoke the interiors of his father's house in Duchess Street. Similar owls appear in the jambs of the chimneypiece visible in Plates VII and XVI of Household Furniture and described as a 'Chimney-piece in black marble, belonging to the Aurora Room, and decorated with emblems of night in gilt bronze' (Figs. 2, 3). As well as having nocturnal connotations, the owl is associated with the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena and hence was an appropriate iconographical symbol to complement the collection of classical sculpture and antiquities housed in Duchess Street.
Although the present chairs may have been specifically commissioned by Adrian Hope in c.1837, the rigorous simplicity of the armrests, sabre legs and scrolled back are more typical of the French Consulat and early Empire styles, elements of which had been completely absorbed into English Regency design by the first decade of the 19th century, and would have appeared dated by the late 1830s. Although the chairs do not appear in any of the surviving visual records of Duchess Street or the family's country seat the Deepdene in Surrey, it is not inconceivable that these armchairs may have originally formed part of Thomas Hope's important furniture collection assembled some thirty years earlier. The striking contrast between the gilt and bronzed surfaces is consistent with the aesthetic of the Aurora Room chimneypiece and numerous surviving furnishings from Duchess Street, including the Aurora Room console table (V & A) and the iconic armchairs and settee from the Egyptian Room (Buscot Park, Oxfordshire; both examples ill. Watkin and Hewat-Jaboor, cat.68, 76-77). The ebonized owls also recall the use of animal forms in bronze on several pieces including the lions on the Egyptian room settee and greyhounds from the lost pair of daybeds recorded in plate XXVIII of Household Furniture.
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