Details & Cataloguing

The Neil & Gina Smith Collection


A pair of George III carved fruitwood library armchairs, circa 1760, in the manner of Thomas Chippendale
each cartouche shaped back, arms and seat upholstered in a gros and petit point needlework, with rocaille and foliate scroll carved frames with outscrolling arms over a shaped, rocaille-clasp centred front rail on carved cabriole legs with scrolled trifurcated feet, originally gilded
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Part of a suite of twelve armchairs reputedly supplied to Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey (1725-1774) for Walcot, Shropshire;
With Charles of London, New York;
Mrs George L. Mesker of Palm Beach, Florida, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, 27-29 October 1943, lot 767;
Baron and Baroness Carl von Seidlitz, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, 3 May 1947, lot 110;
Property of a New York Estate, Christie's New York, 13 April 2000, lot 93, where purchased by Neil & Gina Smith.


One chair from the suite illustrated in A. Coleridge, Chippendale Furniture, London, 1968, no. 185.

Catalogue Note

This magnificent pair of chairs is closely related to plate XVIII in the first edition of Thomas Chippendale's The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director published in 1754 (see fig. 1). Described as French Chairs, Chippendale notes that this and the following three plates are 'Eight Designs of French Chairs which may be executed to Advantage...A skilful Workman may also lessen the Carving, without any Prejudice to the Design.  Both the Backs and the Seats must be covered with Tapestry, or other sort of Needlework'. The richly curvilinear form of the present chairs clearly illustrates the designer's familiarity with the fashionable French rococo style which has been boldly interpreted by the chair-maker and carver.

The chairs are possibly part of a set of six chairs (part of a larger suite of twelve chairs) with Messrs. Dawson Inc., according to the catalogue entry of the Mrs. George L. Mesker sale of 1943.  It is clear from subsequent auction records that this suite was sold in pairs, the frames having been stripped of their original gilding and then stained and polished.  They were covered in contemporary, possibly French, needlework with pastoral and figural designs.  A pair of these chairs was sold by auction in New York at the Anderson Art Galleries in 1936 by Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, at which time it was claimed that they were originally commissioned by the Rt. Hon. Lord Clive for his house Walcot in Shropshire.  Although considerable research has been undertaken in the Clive archives to verify this provenance, at the present time this still remains conjectural. 

Ten out of twelve chairs from this suite have been identified, their provenance being documented in sales after 1936:

1.  Two of six chairs reputedly with Messrs. Dawson, Inc.
With Symons Inc., New York (illustrated in J. Aronson, The Book of Furniture and Decoration: Period and Modern, New York, 1936, pl. opposite p. 112)
Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, sold Anderson Art Galleries, New York, January 31-February 1, 1936, lot 405
A New York Private Collector, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, February 19-21, 1942, lot 489
Anon. sale, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, February 1-2, 1952, lot 344

2. The current pair, with Charles of London, New York
Mrs. George L. Mesker, 'La Fontana', Palm Beach, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, October 27-29, 1943, lot 767.
Baron and Baroness Carl von Seidlitz, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, May 3, 1947, lot 110.
Sold, Christie's, New York, April 13, 2000, lot 93

3. Another pair with Charles of London, New York
Mrs. George L. Mesker, 'La Fontana', Palm Beach, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, October 27-29, 1943, lot 766

4. A pair with Symons, Inc., New York
Robert J. Dunham, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York May 9-10, 1947, lot 370
From Frank Partridge Inc., New York
Walter P. Chrysler Jr., sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York May 6-7, 1960, lot 372 (illustrated in A. Coleridge, Chippendale Furniture, London, 1968, no. 185.)

5. A pair with Edward I. Farmer, New York
The collection of Mrs. Elmer T. Cunningham, Monterey, California, sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York March 14, 1959, lot 114

Although the design of the present chairs is obviously based on those in Chippendale's Director, there is no original documentation to enable one to attribute them to a particular maker. Another suite of giltwood seat  furniture definitely known to have been commissioned by Robert Clive for his London house at 45 Berkeley Square in the 1760s has, however, been securely attributed to the London cabinetmaker Charles Arbuckle of St Alban's Street, Pall Mall. (see: Oliver Fairclough, '"In the Richest and Most Elegant Manner": A Suite of Furniture for Clive of India', Journal of the Furniture History Society, vol. XXXVI, 2000.)  The suite included three sofas, four elbow chairs, and 'twelve back stool chairs'. Part of the suite is now in the Blue Drawing Room at Powis Castle, and a pair of arm chairs and a set of six side chairs were in the Steinberg Collection (Sold Sotheby's, New York, May 36 2000, lot 268). Little is known of Charles Arbuckle's career other than his employment by the 3rd Duke of Marlborough in the 1750s and in the 1760s, and by Robert Clive in the 1760s. As with the other two suites, the Arbuckle chairs have the same profile and follow Thomas Chippendale's designs for French Chairs. They differ in having flatter paneled crest rails with pronounced rising scrolled corners, the legs terminating in scrolled feet.

Robert Clive better known as 'Clive of India', made his fortune as a brilliant military tactician protecting the interests of the East India Company in India over three periods: 1744-53, 1755-60, and 1765-67 and upon his return to Britain between these periods he furthered his political ambitions by purchasing large properties (see fig. 2). He married Margaret Maskelyne (1753-1817) in 1753 in Madras and returned to England with a fortune of £40,000 (made from his investment in diamonds), and paid off his family debts including the mortgage on the family seat, Styche Hall.  He returned to India after a failed foray into politics and his victory at Plassey established British control in Bengal.  Upon his return to England, in 1760 he had amassed a fortune of £300,000 and was made Baron Clive of Plassey. By 1761 he was elected MP for Shrewsbury and by 1762 was made Knight of the Bath.  His houses and properties were vast including an Irish estate, renamed Plassey.  He bought Lord Montfort's 7500 acre estate in Shropshire for £70,000 in 1761 and the house at Walcot and its estate of 6000 acres for £92,000 in 1763.  He and his wife Margaret rented a very fashionable town house at 45 Berkeley Square, London from Lord Ancram, eventually purchasing it from him for £10,500.  After a brief return to India (1765-67), his wealth increased to £400,000 and he continued to purchase estates including Oakley Park and Okehampton from Lord Powis.  He demolished the old Palladian house of Claremont and commissioned Capability Brown and Henry Holland to build a new neoclassical house on the former site.  At the time of his death, his estate was worth over £500,000, leaving his family well-established, his eldest son eventually becoming governor of Madras and Earl of Powis.

A similar suite of chairs of almost identical design was sold, Sotheby's New York, April 7 2004, lots 204 and 205 and were probably commissioned by Charles Moore (1711-1764), Ist Earl of Charleville probably for a large house in the vicinity of Tullamore Harbour, co. Offaly, Ireland and then moved to Redwood House, later know as Brookfield.  The chairs eventually were situated at Charleville Forest, inherited by Rex Beaumont, Esq., of Belvedere House and sold at Christie's, London, November 23 1967, lot 105.  At the time of this sale, the backrests were embroidered with conjoined Cs beneath an earl's coronet indicating the Earl of Charleville.  They are also illustrated in situ at Charleville Forest in a Country Life article of September 27, 1962.  The Charleville chairs differ slightly from the present suite in that they have a more pronounced acanthus leaf scroll centering the serpentine seat rail; however it is possible that both suites originated from the same workshop.

The Neil & Gina Smith Collection