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Carved armchair, XF166, English, unknown maker, c.1730-40, mahogany and cane, ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London.
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Carved armchair, English, unknown maker, c.1730-40, mahogany and cane

Height: 101cm
Width: 67.5cm
Depth: 58cm

Museum number: XF166

Curatorial note

This is the so called ‘Chippendale Chair’ about which there has been much speculation but little certainty. It belonged to Soane but there is no record of its acquisition and it is not shown in any views of the house from his day. It may perhaps have been acquired especially for the basement Monk’s Parlour to serve Soane’s imaginary alter ego, the solitary hermit Padre Giovanni. It is described in the 1837 Fixtures and Fittings inventory as ‘1 Richly Carved Chair with cane seat.’ A photograph of c.1911 shows the chair with an upholstered cushion.1 The attribution to Chippendale seems to have appeared first in F. Litchfield’s History of Furniture in which he states: 'The original bill of Thomas Chippendale for the price of this chair was formerly amongst the records in the Museum but has unfortunately been lost.’ The origin of this statement is not known and no reference to the bill or its loss has ever been found at the Museum. R.W. Symonds considered that ‘the seat rail with its rounded corners ... points to a date somewhere between 1715 and 1730’, which rules out Chippendale himself as the maker. Peter Thornton (Curator 1984-1995) wondered whether it might be by William Hallett.2

It has been suggested that such chairs might have been associated with the Masters of Livery Companies or with Freemasons’ Lodges. It might be compared to the design for a ceremonial chair with Masonic symbols by Matthias Lock, about 1740, in the Victoria & Albert Museum.3

Simon Jervis has pointed out that the back of the chair could be read as a double-headed eagle with an escutcheon and that this might point to a link with continental Europe, even though the chair is evidently of English construction.4 This might lead to a maker such as Giles Grendey, who had an international clientele.

Symonds noted that this chair is the only known authentic early eighteenth-century example of this design. There are many similar chairs of later date, seeming reproductions of this one, in the United States and some in England.5 However, there are no records at the Museum of the chair being copied during the nineteenth century.

1 SM Archive, Spiers Album.
2 Peter Thornton, unpublished paper on Furntiure in the Soane Museum, 1985, p. 2.
3 V&A 2848.146. See C. Graham, Ceremonial and Commemorative Chairs in Great Britain, London, 1994, p.12.
4 In conversation 2008.
5 There is one in the Museum of London (MOL5951); another is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York and there are numerous examples in American private collections. A set of armchairs, chairs, and a settee in the Pendleton Collection in the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island, is known to have been carved in the early twentieth century see C.P. Monkhouse et al., American Furniture in Pendleton House, Providence, Rhode Island, 1986, pp.24-25 (see also W. Nutting, Furniture Treasury, New York, 1954, nos 2157, 2158 and 1658). Another example of a similar chair is at Kykuit, the Rockefeller House in the Hudson Valley. Another was sold at Brightwells, Leominster, Herefordshire on 6 August 2008, Lot 839. All of them seem to be later than the Soane example.


Literature

F. Litchfield, History of Furniture, 7th edition, London, 1922, pp. 308-310 (illus. p. 309)
R.W. Symonds, ‘Furniture in the Soane Museum’, Country Life, January 27 1950, pp. 220-223, Figures 1-4
J.Gloag, The Englishman’s Chair, London,1964, pp.94 and 98, pl. 39


If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk