The Art Of The Hall Chair

The Art Of The Hall Chair

April 15, 2019

As one might have already noticed, hall chair is one of our favourite types of seat furniture. Unlike other types of chairs, these mostly had only decorative purpose, mainly, adorning a great entrance hall and displaying a family crest. Apparently, we are not alone to pursue the passion for hall chairs. Sotheby's, in their article 'How Hall Chairs Are Making a Comeback', prove that they are still appealing to collectors and decorators alike. Here is our insights into the history of a hall chair.

Like many other fashionable furnishings, English hall chairs originated the Grand Tour, thus following the form of the Italian 'Sgabello' chairs that adorned the entrances of noble palazzi the 16th century. Although this form of chair remained popular throughout the 18th century, all major English designers, such as Wlliam Kent, Thomas Chippendale, Robert Adam, George Hepplewhite, Thomas Sheraton, Robert Gillow and others soon developed their own designs for these chairs, and as the chairs were to serve a decorative rather than practical purpose many of the designs were particularly fanciful and allowed the designer to give free rein to their creative expression.

In 1762, Chippendale suggested using hall chairs in ‘Halls, Passages or Summer-Houses. They may be made either of mahogany, or other wood and painted and have commonly wooden seats’. He adds, that 'if the carving of the chairs ... was thought superfluous, the outlines may be preserved, and they will look very well'.

 

Ince and Mayhew designs for hall chairs, The Universal System of Household Furniture, c. 1759-62, pl. 4. The authors suggest that 'the ornaments, if  thought too expensive, may be painted and have a very good effect'.

'Two hall and lobby chairs', from The Chair-Maker's Guide by Robert Manwaring and others, 1766.

Henry Copeland design for a hall chair, from The Chair-Maker's Guide by Robert Manwaring and others, 1766. In partnership with Mathias Locke during the mid-18th century in London, they created many furniture designs in the Rococo style.

This ver fine George II period hall chair formerly from the Leopold Hirsch Collection, boasts a rather fanciful pierced and interlaced scrollwork back design, and that rare type of front legs, which is more commonly seen on stools of the period (see the Petworth House painted stools featured below).

 

George Hepplewhite designs for hall chairs from his The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, 1788, pl. 14. The chairs, 'which are made all of wood, either carved or painted. The designs with vase backs are new and have been much approved'.

Gillows design for a hall chair, dated 1.3.1786, made by John Dowbiggin and Henry Gibson for Samuel Hibbert, Esq., of Manchester

Further Gillows designs for hall chairs, c. 1788-90.

A Gillows design for a japanned hall chair, c. 1785-90. The form is not dissimilar to the example from Kenwood House, illustrated below.

Initially, hall chairs were designed, in the words of Sheraton in the Cabinet Maker's Dictionary (1803), to be 'placed in halls, for the use of servants or strangers waiting on business'. However, being the first and one of very few items to be seen upon entering a grand country or town house, hall chairs also had to make a clear statement on behalf of the owner, showing their power, wealth, taste and pedigree. The finest examples were immensely decorative, demonstrating sophisticated designs and exquisite craftsmanship, such as some examples illustrated below.

Exquisite detail of a magnificent hall bench at Kenwood House, displaying the crest of the 14th Earl of Shrewsbury and the family symbols of the lion and the two Talbot hounds.

An exceptional early George III mahogany hall bench, formerly a part of a larger suite of hall furniture (a further bench and two chairs are now at Kiplin Hall, Yorkshire, and were re-united for an exhibition at Kenwood in 2008). The superb quality and unparalleled attention to detail makes these finest pieces of hall furniture we have ever seen easily attributable to the best cabinetmakers of the era, the likes of Chippendale or Gillow.

Exquisite lion mask carving detail of a hall bench at Kenwood House (above). Note how crisp and detailed is the carving.

Superb detail of a hall bench at Kenwood House. The coat of arms adorning the suit is that of the 14th Earl of Shrewsbury.

Detail of a hall bench at Kenwood House.

Exquisite detail of a hall bench at Kenwood House.

Exquisite detail of a hall bench at Kenwood House, displaying the Talbots' crest under the Earl's coronet.

Exquisite detail of a hall bench at Kenwood House

A magnificent hall chair (from a set of four, formerly part of a longer set), en-suite with the pair of hall benches (above).

A superb detail of the hall chair at Kenwood House (above). The design of these superb chairs corresponds to a Gillows drawing, dating back to the 1780's.A fine example of a mid-18th century hall chair, the form derived from the 'Sgabello' chairs, popular in Italy 100 years earlier. Courtesy of Earl Spencer.

Apparently, Earl Spencer also has a penchant for hall chairs. Indeed, it is difficult not to love these graceful and stately Wootton Hall Chairs, commissioned by the first Earl Spencer (1734-1783) and made by Ince and Mayhew to a design by John Vardy in 1758. Originally destined for the entrance hall of Spencer House in St James, London. 

The backs of the chairs are engraved with foliage, rosettes and scrolls while the central panel is hand-painted with the Spencer crest, a griffin surmounted by an Earl’s Coronet which was added sometime after Spencer’s elevation to this rank in 1765.

Castle Howard, the Chapel. George III period hall chair, from a set of four, another example influenced by the design of Ince and Mayhew. Superb carving and detail, lovely gilt accents.