THE SOURCE OF THE DESIGN: CHIPPENDALE'S DIRECTOR
These beautifully-carved ribbon-back parlour chairs have serpentined frames and ribbon-fretted splats in the George II 'picturesque' fashion introduced in the 1740s and popularised as the 'Modern' style in Thomas Chippendale's The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1754. The triumphal-arched backs are wrapped by Roman acanthus issuing from reeded and scalloped cartouches, while the splats display flowered and lozenged compartments that are threaded by conjoined and voluted 'S' scrolls.
It was Susanna Noel (d. 1758), the 4th Earl's Countess, who featured amongst the few titled subscribers to Chippendale's Director, which was advertised in 1753 as 'A New Book of Designs of Household Furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and Modern Taste'. One of Chippendale's 'Gothick' patterns featured a chair-back that incorporated a trefoiled and hollow-sided lozenge compartment (pl. XXI) that may have provided the source for the splat design of this set of chairs.
The chairs, with their Roman acanthus, reeded enrichments and their serpentined legs terminating in Ionic volutes, also relate to one of the Earl of Shaftesbury's mahogany fire-screens, that displays a 'Savonnerie' fashioned tapestry of a parrot, woven in London in the mid-1750s (Y. Hackenbrock, English Furniture: The Irwin Untermyer Collection, London, 1958, figs. 339-341.) This same tapestry pattern of a fruit-eating parrot framed in a scalloped and foliated cartouche, also appears in a mahogany fire-screen that Chippendale supplied in 1758 for Dumfries House, Scotland (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, pls. 328-329, 331).
SEAT FURNITURE AT ST GILES'S AND THE QUESTION OF ATTRIBUTION
The 4th Earl commissioned an unusually large number of sets of seat furniture for St. Giles's house. The dearth of recorded payments for specific items at St. Giles's has led to much conjecture surrounding the attribution of these grand suites. In the mid-19th century, a memorandum drawn up by the 7th Earl (d. 1885) mentions that the richly carved St. Giles's suite was 'very valuable and fine, being by Chippendale'. However, there is no firm evidence that Chippendale supplied furniture to St. Giles's, yet many pieces at the house lead one to speculate that his involvement should not be entirely ruled out. A pair of armchairs from the St. Giles's suite, sold by The Earl of Shaftesbury, in these Rooms, 8 July 1999, lot 30 (£573,500), was attributed to William Vile, who in 1748 referred to William Hallett Senior as his 'master'. The St. Giles's suite relates to many pieces supplied by Vile and Cobb to King George III and Queen Charlotte for the Royal residences, including Kensington Palace, St. James's Palace and the Queen's House, now Buckingham Palace. The 1740s decoration carried out by the 4th Earl's Countess, Susannah Noel involved William Hallett Senior: four payments to Hallett are recorded in the St Giles's Household Account Book for the years 1732-1757. The first and largest is for February 2 1745 'Paid as pr Bill to Mr Hallet for carved chairs £167' followed by three smaller payments. A set of seventeen mahogany dining-chairs, 'The St. Giles's Dining-Chairs' dating from the 1740s and attributed to William Hallett Senior, was possibly designed to harmonise with Henry Flitcroft's (d. 1767) 'Roman' interior decoration of the 1740s. The set was supplied to the 4th Earl (d. 1771) and most recently sold anonymously, in these Rooms, 8 July 1999, lot 40 (£1,211,500). Hallett is also likely to have made a pair of armchairs, supplied to the 4th Earl and sold by the late Samuel Messer, in these Rooms, 5 December 1991, lot 63.
Similar lozenged compartments of the chair-backs also appear on another set of six Shaftesbury parlour or library armchairs, sold by the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury (d. 1961), in these Rooms, 22 October 1953, (lot 97) and subsequently illustrated in The Connoisseur, December 1954.
ST. GILES'S HOUSE
'St Giles's House, Dorset, the ancient home of the Ashley-Cooper family, is a perfect example of an English mansion. The estate of Wimborne St. Giles has never changed hands by purchase since the Conquest. It passed by marriage to the Ashley family in the reign of Henry VI from the Norman families of Malmain and Plecy. The mansion of St. Giles was built by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, in 1650 ... At first the house - built of red brick with stone facings - was far smaller, for the north and south wings are later additions and these have also been added to on more than one occasion. The external walls were in the late 18th Century treated with stucco.
There were three outstanding members of the Ashley-Cooper family, each of whom achieved distinction in a different field. Anthony, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (d. 1683), to whom the country owes the Habeas Corpus Act, was a member of the Cabal Ministry and Lord Chancellor in the reign of Charles II. The 3rd Earl (d. 1713), grandson of the 1st Earl, was the author of numerous philosophical works. The 7th Earl (d. 1885) was the philanthropist. The fountain surmounted by the winged figure of Eros, erected in his memory, is known to millions, for it stands in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, London'.
Extracts from R. W. Symonds, St. Giles's House, Dorset, 1956.
A SET OF TWELVE GEORGE II MAHOGANY DINING-CHAIRS
THE PROPERTY OF
THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
38 in. (96.5 cm.) high; 23¾ in. (60.5 cm.) wide; 18¾ in. (47.5 cm.) depth of seat (12)
'St. Giles's House', The Antique Collector, August, 1962, p. 146
(shown in situ in the State Dining-Room)
Almost certainly supplied to Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 4th Earl of Shaftesbury (d. 1771) for St. Giles's House, Dorset and by descent.