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A Pair of George II Mahogany Library Armchairs, circa 1740
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A Pair of George II Mahogany Library Armchairs, circa 1740

Details & Cataloguing

Inspired by Chatsworth: A Selling Exhibition

New York

A Pair of George II Mahogany Library Armchairs, circa 1740
Asking Price: $950,000

covered in contemporary and later gros and petit point needlework
H. 38 1/2 in., W. 32 in., D. 32 in.; 97.8 cm., 81.3 cm., 81.3 cm.
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Provenance

H. J. Joel, Childwick Bury, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, Christie’s, sale on the premises, 15 May 1978, lot 76;

New York, Christie’s, 9 October 1993, lot 249;

The Collection of Theodore & Ruth Baum, Sotheby's New York, 22 October 2004, lot 474; 

Where acquired by the present owner.

Literature

P. Macquoid, The Age of Mahogany, 1908, London, p. 122, fig. 103, from the collection of Messrs. Isaacs;

H.H. Mulliner, The Decorative Arts in England during the late XVII and XVIII Centuries, London, 1923, fig. 12, from the Collection of Colonel H. H. Mulliner;

O. Brackett, The Encyclopaedia of English Furniture, London 1927, pl. 55, from the Collection of James Thursby Pelham;

R.W. Symonds, 'The Quality of Mahogany Furniture’, The Connoisseur, December 1927, p. 231, no. XIV;

R.W. Symonds, English Furniture from Charles II to George II, London, 1929, p. 191, fig. 148, and p. 209, fig. 168, from the Collection of Percival Griffiths;

R.W. Symonds, ‘Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Chairs’, Apollo, June 1930, p. 366, fig. XI;

M. Harris & Sons Ltd., The English Chair, London 1937, p. 107, pl. XXXVII;

Y. Hackenbroch, English Furniture, The Irwin Untermyer Collection, New York 1958, pls. 100-03, figs 127-30;

R.W. Symonds, ‘Suites of Chairs and Sofas in the 18th Century’, The Antique Collector, June 1958, pp. 99-202, fig. I;

E. Joy, The Country Life Book of Chairs, London, 1968, pls 29, 30, from Browsholme Hall, Lancashire, Temple Williams, and Mrs. John Hay Whitney;

E. Lennox-Boyd, (ed.), Masterpieces of English Furniture, The Gerstenfeld Collection, London 1998, p. 56, pl. 40, p. 215, cat no. 47, formerly in the Collection of Leslie Mackie, Northern Ireland, and David McAlpine, London.

Catalogue Note

One of the greatest English contributions to 18th-century furniture design is the library armchair, a model whose comfort, functionality and elegance have never been improved upon. Conceived in the full grandeur of the George II style of the 1740s, their profile and full sculptural quality, executed in mahogany with a rich dark patination, clearly illustrate the capabilities of the English chair-maker working in this 'new' timber obtained from the Spanish dominions in the West Indies, whose strength and fine grain allowed designers to create forms and details that had previously been difficult to achieve with indigenous woods such as walnut. This is clearly shown in the present chairs with their deep, crisp and exceptionally refined carving.
This highly important pair originally formed part of a probable suite of twelve for which, at the moment, no satisfactory provenance has been discovered. The first illustration of a chair from the suite was in Percy Macquoid’s The Age of Mahogany published in 1908 at which time it was possessed by Messrs. Isaacs, a noted London firm of antique dealers and precursor of Moss Harris and Sons Ltd.  However, in 1958 R.W. Symonds recollected: 'The superb baroque chair was once one of a dozen armchairs. They were bought just after the First World War, if my memory serves me correctly, at an auction sale by M. Harris & Sons, the long established antique dealers who, finding it impossible to sell the chairs as a suite, therefore sold them in ones and twos to individual collectors. The consequence is that these twelve outstanding chairs are now in eight or more different homes, some in England and some in America.' Because of this it has proved difficult to trace the pairs of chairs and single chairs which formed the original suite, a situation complicated by the use of various silks and needlework to cover them. One chair is known to have been at Browsholme Hall, Lancashire, the seat of the Parker family, in the 19th century. It remained there until the 1960s, subsequently entering the collection of Mrs John Hay Whitney before being sold by Sotheby’s, New York in 1998. The Browsholme provenance is not particularly valuable, as the original house dates from the sixteenth century, with later additions designed by the architect Jeffry Wyatt in the early 19th century for Thomas Lister. Certainly none of the past or present interiors leads one to believe that they were commissioned for the house.
The present chairs were formerly in the collection of H.J. Joel, a member of a prominent South African family whose wealth was derived in the early 20th century from gold and diamond mines. Mr Joel was advised by the celebrated furniture historian R.W. Symonds, and the chairs were probably acquired from the London trade after the Second World War for his estate Childwick Bury, St Albans. Other chairs from the suite have previously been part of several of the most legendary English furniture collections of the past 100 years, some also formed under the aegis of Symonds, including those of Percival Griffiths, H.H. Mulliner and James Thursby Pelham.
The lack of pre-20th century provenance means that ascribing the suite to a particular maker can only be achieved on stylistic grounds. Certainly there were a number of major firms working in London at this time who were capable of producing furniture of this calibre. Amongst these were Benjamin Goodison, at the ‘Golden Spread Eagle’, Long Acre, London (c. 1700-1767), William Bradshaw (fl. 1728-1775), William Vile (c. 1700/05-1767), William Hallett (b.c. 1707-1781), and Giles Grendey (b. 1693-1780). Of these both Goodison and Grendey may be considered in more detail.
The former succeeded his master James Moore in Royal Service, his first account being a lantern supplied to Hampton Court Palace. Other recorded commissions include the Duchess of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace and Earl Spencer, Althorp. Perhaps the most interesting commissions, however, are those for the Viscounts Folkestone at Longford Castle and the Earl of Leicester at Holkham, both of which include chairs with similar lion head terminals to those on the present lot. The Longford suite, which is in parcel-gilt mahogany, includes armchairs, stools and day-beds. The armchairs are a littler higher in the leg than the present chairs, have less boldly carved frames with foliate knees and, although the arm supports have a similar profile, the lions' heads slope downwards and have heavier beards and are not of the same character (Edwards, vol. I, p. 265, fig. 23). Similarly, an armchair at Holkham is of a different ‘family’ to the present lions. The nearest parallel to be found is probably in the known work of Giles Grendey. Grendey was described in 1740 at the time of his wife’s death as ‘a great Dealer in the Cabinet Way’, and in 1755 at the time of his daughter’s marriage to the Royal cabinet maker John Cobb he was called ‘an eminent Timber Merchant’. He is perhaps best known as the supplier of a magnificent suite of red and gold japanned furniture for the Duke of Infantado’s castle at Lazcano in Northern Spain, but his obviously substantial business is unfortunately little documented in English country house archives. However, many of his pieces, although without provenance, bear his trade label and allow attributions to be made on stylistic grounds. One of the most significant of these pieces in respect to the present chairs is an unlabeled clothes-press in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The distinctively formed doors of which can be compared with labeled examples allowing a firm attribution to be made, the finely carved stand with its shaped and carved apron with paw feet having very close affinities to the frames of the present chairs.
Despite their lack of provenance and definite maker, these magnificent chairs remain one of the most significant examples of the English chair-makers skill to survive from the 18th century. Other chairs from the suite presently recorded include a pair in the Untermyer Collection, Metropolitan Museum, New York; single examples in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and a pair in the Gerstenfeld Collection, Washington D.C.

Inspired by Chatsworth: A Selling Exhibition

New York