A SET OF FOURTEEN GEORGE III MAHOGANY DINING-CHAIRS
THE GOLDSBOROUGH CHAIRS
By Christopher Gilbert
There is ample evidence that Thomas Chippendale was highly regarded as a chairmaker. He traded at the 'Sign of the Chair' in St. Martin's Lane and portrayed one on the business card which he and his first partner James Rannie issued in about 1754 (a solitary example survives). Chippendale's chair designs in the Director were more frequently copied than any others. His premises contained a separate chair workshop for, as Sheraton explained: 'Chair-making is a branch generally confined to itself; as those who professedly work at it, seldom engage to make cabinet furniture. The two branches seem evidently to require different talents in workmen, in order to become proficients'.
Sheraton also observed that 'it is very remarkable the difference of some chairs of precisely the same pattern, when executed by different chair makers owing chiefly in the want of taste concerning the beauty of an outline'. Chippendale seems to have overcome this problem of consistency by producing 'pattern' chairs rather that drawings to guide workmen and for customers to choose from. The sale of stock following Rannie's death in 1766 included 'a Variety ... of fine Pattern chairs'.
When, owing to changing fashions, Chippendale adopted the Neo-Classical style championed by Robert Adam and other leading architects he evolved a repertoire of basic chair types suitable for drawing-rooms, dining-rooms, libraries and halls. The designs were available in either utility, standard or deluxe versions, depending on the taste and purse of patrons; all reflected the firm's distinctive house style.
The five recorded sets of Chippendale's early Neo-Classical mahogany dining chairs commissioned for Harewood House, Newby Hall, Goldsborough Hall, Brocket (sold from the Private Residence of Henry Francis du Pont at Winterthur, Christie's New York, 14 October 1994, lot 125) and probably Lansdowne House, London between 1769 and c. 1774 admirably illustrate his approach. All have frames of rectangular design, leather-covered seats, fan splats, blocked paterae with leaf caps on the shoulders and square tapered front legs faced with hollow panels and spade feet. Differences are expressed in the degree of elaboration in the carved enrichment. The earliest relevant reference in Chippendale's surviving bills occurs in his Landsdowne House account under 20 Jan 1769 'To 14 Mahogany Chairs with Antique backs and term feet very richly Carvd with hollow seats stuffd and coverd with Red Morocco leather & double Brass naild £51 9s.' So they cost three and a half guineas each. This collection was dispersed in 1806 but half a dozen of these chairs may well have come into the possession of Moss Harris & Sons who, in the 1930s, illustrated six (unprovenanced) examples identical to the set from Goldsborough.
Daniel, the younger brother of Edwin Lascelles of Harewood House, Chippendale's most extravagant patron, purchased Goldsborough Hall, about ten miles distant from Harewood in 1760 and employed John Carr to modernise the interior. Sadly, no invoices or accounts relating to the furnishing of Goldsborough have been traced, but crucial evidence of Chippendale's involvement is to be found at Harewood where the Steward Samuel Popelwell kept a Day Work Book in which he carefully logged exactly how Chippendale's site foreman, William Reid, spent his time. Four entries refer to Reid visiting Goldsborough between 1771 and 1776, and there are also records of trips to Newby Hall. Clearly, whilst based at Harewood the foreman was supervising furnishing schemes at other houses in the neighbourhood. A detailed inventory compiled in 1801 describes how Goldsborough was equipped. The dining-room contained:
3 Crimson Moreen Window Curtains
7 Green Venitian Sun Shades
1 Green Canvas Window Blind
1 Turkey Carpet 7½ by 4½ yards
1 carved & painted 3 light jerondole
1 Mahogany Sideboard Table
1 set of Mahogany Dining tables
1 Mahogany Oval Cistern & Stand
1 Mahogany Pot Cupboard
15 Mahogany Chairs covered with red Morocco Leather
& brass naild & 6 Crimson Serge Cases
2 Chair back Screens
2 Settees covered with red Leather & brass nailed,
2 crimson Covers
1 Piece of Oil Cloth
1 Polished Steel Stove
The sideboard table, the oval wine-cistern, 14 of the dining-chairs and one sofa have been identified. On Daniel's death in 1784 his elder brother inherited everything and Goldsborough remained in the Lascelles family until it was vacated by the 6th Earl of Harewood when he succeeded in 1929; it was initially rented as a school and subsequently sold. Many original furnishings were removed to Harewood House; the present Earl sold one of the Chippendale sofas at Christie's, 20 June 1968 (lot 52) and the 14 dining chairs, also at Christie's, on 1 April 1976 (lot 41). They are amongst Chippendale's most eloquent post-Director designs, and while clearly allied to are more richly styled than the other documented sets which still remain in situ at Newby and Harewood.
Christopher Gilbert is the Chairman of the Furniture History Society, author of the definitive work on Thomas Chippendale and formerly the Director of the Leeds City Art Galleries.
This article was printed in the July 1996 Christie's International Magazine
THE GOLDSBOROUGH CHAIRS
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol I, p. 259, and vol. II, p.91, figs. 147-149
Supplied to Daniel Lascelles, Esq. (d. 1784) for Goldsborough Hall, Yorkshire in the early 1770s
Thence by descent at Goldsborough and Harewood House, Yorkshire, to the 7th Earl of Harewood until their sale in these Rooms, 1st April 1976, lot 41