This magnificent pair of chairs, with its accompanying sofa, lot 5, formed part of the famous suite of seat-furniture comprising eight armchairs and four sofas, was supplied to Sir Lawrence Dundas (1712-1281), for the Great Room, 19 Arlington Street by Thomas Chippendale, and invoiced on 9 July 1765 as:
To 8 large Arm Chairs exceeding
Richly Carv'd in the Antick manner
and Gilt in oil Gold Stuff'd and
cover'd with your own Damask - and
strong Castors on the feet 160 __
8 leather cases to Ditto lin'd with
Flannel 8 8_
8 Crimson Check cases to Ditto 6 __
4 large Sofas Exceeding Rich to
match the Chairs 216 __
4 leather cases to Ditto lin'd with
Flannel 12 12_
4 Cheque Cases to Ditto 7 4_
Chippendale's bill for Arlington Street records two very grand suites of carved and gilt seat-furniture: a set of three sofas and ten armchairs for the Gallery; and four sofas accompanied by eight armchairs ordered for the Great Room, described by Lady Shelburne on a visit in 1768 as 'the apartment for company'. The exceptional quality of this second suite is emphasized by its cost - each chair (excluding the luxurious crimson silk damask which Sir Lawrence supplied) was invoiced at £20, which is exactly double the price Chippendale charged for the frames of the most expensive chairs (in the State Bed and Dressing Rooms) at Harewood House in 1773.
The armchair pattern chosen for the 'Saloone' is an elegant rendition of the French-fashioned 'easy-chair', whose serpentined lines followed the picturesque Anglo-French style of the mid-18th century, as promoted by William Hogarth in his 'Analysis of Beauty', 1753. This style was adopted by Thomas Chippendale for the armchair illustrated on his trade sign, when he established his St. Martin's Lane 'Cabinet and Upholstery Warehouse' in 1754. One of his 'French Easy Chairs' with cartouche back also served to illustrate the trade-card he issued in conjunction with his Scottish partner James Rannie (d. 1766), while others featured in his celebrated furnishing pattern-books, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1754-1762.
THE DECORATION OF 19 ARLINGTON STREET
In 1763, shortly after King George III granted his Baronetcy, Sir Lawrence consulted Robert Adam, architect to the King's Board of Works, for advice on the aggrandisement of his St. James's mansion overlooking Green Park. Adam, following the establishment of his family's Grosvenor Square practice in 1758, was responsible for transforming English architecture and interiors in the second half of the 18th century.
The suite was planned to line the walls of the great room-of-entertainment on the piano nobile of 19 Arlington Street, and was upholstered en suite with its wall-hangings and curtains in a Genoa damask, which may have been ordered by Sir Lawrence's son, Thomas Dundas (d. 1820) during his Grand Tour in the early 1760s.
Adam's invoice, submitted on the 18th July 1764 for the 'Design of Sophas and chairs for ye Saloone' and a watercolour sofa pattern, inscribed 'Sopha for Sir Lawrence Dundas' are preserved at Sir John Soane's Museum, London.
At the time that Adam designed this suite, he consolidated his reputation for having true 'taste for the antique' through the publication of the Ruins of Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro, 1764. So he treated the Dundas chairs and sofa façade as the bas-relief of a Roman sarcophagus, and introduced elements such as the confronted sphinx, derived in part from the Roman temple of Antoninus and Faustina as illustrated in A. Desgodetz's Les Edifices Antiques de Rome, 1682. The composition can also be related to his studies of wall-decorations at the Villa Pamphilj, Rome such as he introduced in his design for a monumental clothes-press for George William, 6th Earl of Coventry (d. 1809), also dated 1764.
ANALYSIS OF THE GILDING
The Dundas suite was originally oil-gilt. This is thought to be because the incredible richness of carving would have been lost in the brightness and contrast of burnished water-gilding. Oil-gilding is more uniform and would have given the carving more presence than if it had been water-gilt, which would have necessitated burnishing. The chairs and sofa were restored by Carvers and Gilders in 1998 and tested by University College London. Several layers of gilding were found on the chairs (lot 4) and the sofa (lot 5). The original scheme was a varnished oil-gilding, on an oil mordant tinted with yellow ochre, then a thick coating of animal size glue over a layer of gesso. The next layer applied was a water-gilding on a greyish-brown clay, thought to date from the first half of the 19th century. After this, a water-gilding on a brown clay was applied and then a water-gilding on a bright-red clay, both thought to date from the 1960s and 1970s. The top layer was a bronze paint. These later layers were removed and traces of the original oil-gilding and gesso preserved. Fortunately, a significant amount of the original gesso, gilding preparation and oil-gilding has remained: neither this pair of chairs nor the sofa has ever been stripped entirely.
Relatively minor repairs were also carried out: these included repairs to all feet of the sofa; replacing in limewood two carved sphinx heads; replacing in limewood one patera on the left scroll of the sofa; and the palmette on the sofa was reworked. A new gilding layer was applied: first, the original exposed surface was sealed with a shellac and this was then water-gilt which was then distressed using earth pigments, a little rabbit-skin and and then toned down using a spirit-based toning.
SIR LAWRENCE DUNDAS
Scion of the Dundases of Fingask, an ancient Perthshire family dispossessed of their lands in the 17th Century, Sir Lawrence Dundas's meteoric rise to power and fortune was uneclipsed in the 18th Century. Thankfully, his legacy of unerring connoisseurship and patronage remains to this day.
Following in his father's footsteps, Lawrence joined the family drapery business in Edinburgh in the 1730s. Swift to seize the opportunities laid open by the '45 rebellion, his pivotal role as 'Commissary of Forage' and supplier to 'The Royal Train of Artillery' proved supremely rewarding. It was his appointment as Commissary-General of the Army in Flanders during the Seven Years' War, however, that transformed his fortunes and earned him the accolade 'Nabob of the North'. As the account books for his trip to Germany in 1759 testify, with sums totalling close to £2 million, Dundas was the outstanding merchant contractor of the 18th Century.
Dundas's financial success was mirrored by his political ambition. Elected MP for Linlithgow Burghs in 1747, his political star was unfortunately short-lived, and he was forced to stand down amidst allegations of corruption the following year. Determined, therefore, to control his political destiny, he embarked on a large-scale programme of land purchase - from Kerse in 1749, to Cleveland, Marske, Loftus and Aske, with its convenient pocket borough in 1762, as well as Moor Park in 1763. His main activities, however, were at first directed towards building up political interests North of the Border - in Stirlingshire, Clackmannan, Fife and Orkney - under the direction of his political advisor, James Masterton.
In this, as in all things, Dundas flourished; in this, as in all things, he inspired bitter jealousy, which found its voice in the libelous 'Varro', declaring in the Morning Post that Dundas 'has already filled the House of Commons with five of his name (ie pocket boroughs) and three or four more who owe their seats to his wealth or influence. He has made a great show of his wealth, having purchased five or six capital estates in England, Scotland and Ireland and matched his children into some of the greatest families - such sudden fortunes gained out of the public purse, are among the heaviest weight of war'. His detractor's words, however, fell on deaf ears; for in 1762 he was raised to the Baronetcy and, under Lord Shelburne's sponsorship, was elected MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, whom he served from 1762-68, before his move to Edinburgh from 1768-81.
Political power and architectural patronage have always been inextricably linked, and it was inevitable that Dundas's mind should now turn to the latter. Elected a member of the Society of Dilettanti in 1750, Dundas was perfectly complemented in all things aesthetic by his 'dear life' Margaret Bruce of Kennet (1715-1802), whom he had married in 1738. That Sir Lawrence depended heavily on his wife's taste is profoundly clear from their correspondence. Thus, in discussing Aske, which they had acquired furnished from Lord Holderness, he wrote: 'some of the furniture is old and should be changed.. but everything of this sort I leave to your taste which is the best I have ever met with', while elsewhere he laments the 'difference one finds in coming from Moor Park where you have everything in such order'. The Dundases' remarkable architectural and artistic patronage was very much the product of their union.
The 1760s witnessed an uprecedented burst of building activity by the Dundases. Unusually, however, save for Dundas House in Edinburgh, for which Sir William Chambers supplied the designs in 1771, all of the Dundas houses were modifications and improvements of earlier existing houses. As might be expected, it was to John Carr of York that they turned for 'new additions to the house' at Aske in 1763, the new Dining Room being 'the best for that purpose that I ever saw' by 1766, as well as for the quadrant wings at Kerse in 1766. However, whilst it was Capability Brown who was contracted to lay out the Park at Aske, it was to Robert Adam that the Dundases looked to 'ornament the Garden, farm and park' at Moor Park in 1766. The latter, a princely mansion designed by Giacomo Leoni in 1720 for Benjamin Styles, had been acquired in what was, arguably, the 'annus mirabilis' of Sir Lawrence's political and architectural ambitions. For 1763 saw not only the end of the Seven Years' War, with its ensuing optimism and prosperity, but also the acquisition of Moor Park and a new London house, 19 Arlington Street.
19 ARLINGTON STREET
As Horace Walpole noted, 'From my earliest recollection, Arlington Street has been the Ministerial street', and it was to serve this political end that Sir Lawrence engaged Robert Adam to draw up plans for improvements to his new London mansion. Built for Lord Carteret between 1732-8, and set back from the road behind a pedimented porter's lodge, Adam's first proposal 'for adding a Great Room towards Green park', with a handsome park facade, was soon abandoned in favour of a simplified modification, the only exterior alterations being the tripartite thermal windows to the principal rooms overlooking the Park. Characteristic of all the Dundas houses, it was upon the interiors, the furnishings and pictures, that Sir Lawrence and Lady Dundas lavished their attention, and it is for this that they are rightfully recognised as among the greatest connoisseurs of the 18th Century.
Perhaps nowhere reveals this more clearly than the interiors of Arlington Street. Unlike at Moor Park, Adam enjoyed a free hand, supplying designs for everything from 'Termes for the salon' as well as the 'vase candlesticks' that stood upon them, to painting in of all the parts of the carpet at large for Mr. Moor' of Moorfields, quite apart from the 'design of Sofa chairs for the Salon £5'. As Lady Shelburne noted in 1768, 'I had vast pleasure in seeing a house which I had so much admired, and improved as much as possible. The apartment for company is up one pair of stairs, the Great Room is now hung with red damask, and with a few large and capital pictures, with very noble glasses between the piers, and Gilt chairs'. This 'red damask' was 'your (Sir Lawrence's) crimson Genoa damask', hung by France in 1764, while the 'very noble glasses' were ordered from the Manufacture Royale des Glaces in Paris in 1763. It was this long drawn out experience that no doubt prompted Sir Lawrence to become a director of the British Plate Glass Manufactory!
Although the 'few large and capital pictures' cannot be precisely identified, Sir Lawrence Dundas possessed one of the most discerning eyes of his generation. His taste was sufficiently broad for him to acquire not only first class Dutch pictures, including the remarkable holding of works by Teniers acquired through his agent Greenwood from the Marquis de Gravelle, as well as several Cuyps and that masterpiece by van de Capelle - in Greenwood's own words, 'ye Capelle is one of ye most capital pieces that is known of him' - but also Poussin's 'Crucifixion', and Murillo's enigmatic 'self-portrait'. He was by no means frightened to commission living artists as well, and the Boudoir at Arlington Street was hung with 'three large views of Moor Park', for which Richard Wilson was paid 80 guineas, as well as that quintessential portrait of an English connoisseur - Zoffany's portrait of Sir Lawrence and his Grandson in the Pillar Room at Arlington Street, for which he was paid £105 on 26 June 1770. The calibre of Dundas's 'cabinet' was quickly recognised by his contemporaries, Lady Mary Coke remarking that his picture collection was 'very fine' as early as 1769.
The furnishings of Dundas' houses was of equal calibre. Indeed, Sir Lawrence remains arguably the most important patron of later 18th Century cabinet-makers, and has the distinction, perhaps uniquely, of employing virtually all of the greatest exponents of this art during George III's reign. As his account books so remarkably testify, Dundas employed no less than Samuel Norman, Fell and Turton, Chippendale and Rannie, Vile and Cobb, France and Bradburn, Mayhew and Ince, James Lawson and Pierre Langlois in the 1760s alone.
Those things which could not be found in England, moreover, were sent for from abroad. Thus the rock crystal and ormolu 'lustres' for the Gallery at Moor Park were smuggled from Paris in the diplomatic train of the Prussian Ambassador in 1767, while the Neilson tapestries were shipped from the Gobelins manufactory in June 1769. With these latter purchases, Dundas can clearly be placed in the vanguard of Francophile taste.
Similarly, the acquisitions of the 'chimneypiece of statuary and yellow of Siena marble' in Florence from the sculptor Francis Harwood, through the intervention of his son Thomas, which was dispatched to Aske in 1767, as well as the remarkable lapis lazuli chimneypiece reputedly from the Borghese Palace, which stood in the Tapestry Room at Moor Park, the 'Carlo Maratti' recommended to him by Greenwood, the Zoffoli bronzes and the mythological canvases by Cipriani which dominated the Hall at Arlington Street, could equally place him at the forefront of Italophiles.
A brilliant businessman, a shrewd political animal, a true dilettante and an enlightened patron of the liberal arts and architecture, Sir Lawrence Dundas was an uomo universale. With his 'dear life' Margaret, he has the unique distinction of not only patronising virtually all of the greatest cabinet-makers of King George III's reign, but also the most celebrated architects. It is a formidable legacy.
A PAIR OF GEORGE III GILTWOOD ARMCHAIRS
Each with padded back, arms and seat covered in blue floral cut-velvet silk damask, the shaped rectangular back framed with foliage-bound reeding, headed at the angles by paterae, the scrolled serpentine toprail centred by a pierced anthemia, the padded arms with scrolled foliate supports, the terminals with flowerheads, the padded serpentine-fronted seat above a deep seat-rail edged with a husk border carved with a shell issuing scrolling foliage ending in winged sphinxes, the sides with interlaced scrolls and sphinxes, the back with scrolls, on cabriole legs headed by anthemions suspending ribbon-tied wreaths, on hairy paw feet headed by a beaded girdle enclosing anti-friction castors, both chairs with incised constructional numerals, one chair numbered on the back of the front-rail 'III' and with chalk inscription 'M.H. 28/11', the other numbered 'VI', the seat-rails raised for upholstery tacking, with large screw-holes in the centre of each seat-rail and at the top of each leg for constructional tightening, the frames and side seat-rails in beechwood, the side seat-rail facings, front seat-rails and legs in limewood, with beech cross-struts, originally oil-gilt, now water-gilt over a thin lacquer with traces of original oil-gilding
An Inventory of the Furniture &c. of Sir Laurence Dundas Bart., at His House in Arlington Street the 12 May 1768
No. 17 Front Room, One pair of Stairs
8 Gilt Chairs covered with Do. [Damask]
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
Robert Adam, 18th Century, armchair, Furniture & Lighting, chair, giltwood, England, Georgian
London, Lansdowne House, Loan Exhibition of English Decorative Art, 1929.
EUROPEAN FURNITURE & WORKS OF ART
42 in. (107 cm.) high; the seats 27 in. (68.5 cm.) wide; 29¾ in. (75.5 cm.) wide, overall; 29½ in. (75 cm.) deep
LITERATURE FOR THE SUITE:
P. Macquoid, The Age of Mahogany, History of English Furniture, London/New York, 1906, pp. 217-8, figs. 197 & 198.
F. Lenygon, Furniture in England from 1660-1760, London, 1914, pp. 20-1, fig. 6.
A. T. Bolton, 'London Houses/19 Arlington St. S.W.1.A Residence of the Marquess of Zetland', Country Life, 17 September 1921, pp. 350-55.
A. T. Bolton, 'Some Early Adam Furniture at No. 19, Arlington St', Country Life, 24 September 1921, pp. 385-8.
R. Edwards, and P. Macquoid, The Dictionary of English Furniture, Vol. I, London, 1924-7, p. 249.
M. Harris & Sons, The English Chair, London, 1937, p. 134, pl. LXIV
R. Edwards and M. Jourdain, Georgian Cabinet-makers, London, rev.ed. 1944, p. 61, p. 163, pl. 83.
O. Brackett, English Furniture Illustrated, London, rev.ed. 1950, p. 207, pl. CLXXIX, p. 289.
R. Edwards, The History of the English Chair, London, 1951, p. 14, pl. 81.
A. Heal, London Furniture Makers, 1953, p. 94.
M. Jourdain and F. Rose, English Furniture: The Georgian Period 1750-1830, London, 1953, p. 86, pl. 50.
R. Edwards and P. Macquoid, The Dictionary of English Furniture, Vol. I, London, rev.ed. 1954, pp. 287, 289, fig. 200.
C. Hussey, English Country Houses Mid-Georgian 1760-1800, London, 1956, p. 144.
P. Ward-Jackson, English Furniture Designs of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1958, pp. 56-7, pl. 202.
E. Harris, 'Robert Adam and the Gobelins', Apollo, April 1962, Vol LXXVI, pp. 100-6.
E. Harris, The Furniture of Robert Adam, London, 1963, p. 91,
G. Bernard Hughes, 'Costly Elegance of Gilded Chairs', Country Life, 28 November 1963, pp. 1398-9.
J. Gloag, The Englishman's Chair, London, 1964, pl. 48.
H. Phillips, Mid-Georgian London, London, 1964, pp. 71, 287.
H. Hayward, et al., World Furniture, London, 1965, p. 138, fig. 508.
M. Musgrave, Adam & Hepplewhite & Other Neo-classical Furniture, London, 1966, pp. 43-4, 65, 123-4, 184, 192, 197, pl. 16, 57, 81.
A. Coleridge, 'Sir Lawrence Dundas & Chippendale', Apollo, Vol.
LXXXVI September 1967, pp. 190-203.
E. Harris, 'The Moor Park Tapestries', Apollo, Vol LXXXVI September 1967, pp. 180-9.
J. Harris, 'The Dundas Empire', Apollo, Vol LXXXVI September 1967, pp. 170-9.
D. Sutton, (Editorial) 'The Nabob of the North', Apollo, Vol LXXXVI September 1967, p. 168.
A. Coleridge, Chippendale Furniture, The Work of Thomas Chippendale and his Contemporaries in the Rococo Taste, London, 1968, pp. 121-3, 130-1, 142-5, 147-8, 169-71, 209, 212, pl. 367.
R. Edwards, Georgian Furniture, London, rev.ed. 1969, pl. 90.
M. Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam Period Furniture, London, 1972, pp. 2-3.
F. Watson, et al., 'Purity of Form: The neoclassical reaction' in the History of Furniture, London, 1976, p. 159.
R. Edwards, The Shorter Dictionary of English Furniture, London, rev. ed. 1977, p. 456, pl. 46.
G. Beard, The Work of Robert Adam, Edinburgh, 1978, pp. 25, 66, pl.55.
G. Jackson-Stops, (ed.) The Treasure Houses of Britain: Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting, Yale, 1985, pp. 332-3.
G. Beard & C. Gilbert (eds.), The Dictionary of English Furniture-Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p. 166.
J. Fowler and J. Cornforth, English Decoration in the 18th Century, London/Melbourne, rev. ed. 1986, pp. 45, 187, fig. 173.
G. Beard, 'Robert Adam's 'artificiers', Antiques, June 1987, pp. 1292-1303, fig. p. 1295.
G. Beard and J. Goodison, English Furniture 1500-1840, London, 1987, pp. 118, 136.
J. Bryant, 'Back as Adam intended', Country Life, 3 November 1988, pp. 192-5.
N. Harris, Chippendale, New Jersey, 1989, pp. 84-5, 95-7, 102-3.
C. Simon Sykes, Private Palaces: Life in the Great London Houses, London, 1989, p. 200.
D. King, The Complete Works of Robert and James Adam, Oxford,1991, pp. 307-8, pl. 431.
S. Pryke, 'Revolution in Taste', Country Life, 16 April 1992, pp. 102-5, figs. 3 & 4.
D. Linley, Classical Furniture, London, 1993, p. 111.
C. Wilk, ed., Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day, London, 1996, p. 118-9.
G. Beard, Upholsterers and Interior Furnishing in England 1530-1840, New Haven and London, 1997, p. 234, fig. 280.
C. Gilbert, 'Chippendale and Adam Triumphant', Christie's International Magazine, July-August 1997, pp. 22-24.
J. Sellars (ed.), The Art of Thomas Chippendale: Master Furniture Maker, Leeds, 2000, p. 52, fig. 38.
E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam: His Interiors, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 14.
The suite of eight armchairs and four sofas was supplied in 1765 by Thomas Chippendale to Sir Lawrence Dundas, Bt., for the Great Room, 19 Arlington Street, London.
In 1934 three sofas and four armchairs were retained by the family and moved from 19 Arlington Street to Aske in Yorkshire. Of these, a pair of armchairs and a pair of sofas was sold, Christie's, London, 3 July 1997, lots 100-101, the other pair of chairs and one sofa are at Duff House, Banff.
The remaining sofa (lot 5 in this sale) and four armchairs (a pair, lot 4 in this sale) were sold by the Marquess of Zetland in these Rooms, 26 April 1934, lot 73 (360 guineas).
The Victoria and Albert Museum purchased one armchair in 1937.
Ronald Tree, Esq., subsequently acquired the sofa and three armchairs probably for Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire and sold them at Sotheby's London, 6 June 1947, lot 154.
They were bought by Mrs Derek Fitzgerald, Heathfield Park, Sussex and were again sold at Sotheby's London, 5 July 1963, lot 171.
Acquired by the present owner in the 1980s.