The Art Of The Hall Chair

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.

Detail of the hall chair at the Chapel at Castle Howard. The decoration, which is likely original, suggests that the chairs were initially intended for the chapel.

The entrance hall at Harewood House. Although not listed in Chippendale’s bill, this magnificent set of eight painted hall chairs, designed to match the grandeur of Adam's Hall, was almost certainly supplied by his firm.

Chippendale hall chair at Harewood House.

With the explosion of wealth associated with the growth of global trade and the industrial revolution a new class of prominent families emerged, eager to cement their positions in society. Hall chairs, displaying the family crest, sent a clear message of a person’s status.

The Top Hall at Nostell Priory. The hall chairs, a set of eight, originally painted white, were designed by Chippendale to match Adam's neat neoclassical hall.

Detail of the back of the Chippendale's hall chair at Nostell Priory. Exquisite detail and superb carving.

A detail of the Chippendale hall chair at Harewood House (below).

Harewood House, the Watercolour Room. A superb Chippendale hall chair, one of a pair, adorned with exquisite carving and outstandingly patinated. This design represents a more restrained version of the chairs sold at Sotheby's, 18 October 2006, Lot 63-64.

Chinese lacquered hall chairs with the Child coat of arms, at Osterley Park, part of a suite of hall furniture made for Sir Francis Child the Younger, a director of the East India Company, in the 1720s.

A magnificent hall bench by William Kent (1685-1748) at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. This type of hall furniture was created by William Kent for the great entrance halls of the newly built Palladian mansions of the 18th century. These were the first furnishings to greet a visitor and, through the use of quality materials, skilled workmanship and exquisite design Kent was able to communicate the grandeur, wealth and taste of his patrons.

A hall settee by William Kent, Chatsworth House.

A pair of hall chairs by William Kent, Chatsworth House.

Detail of a hall chair by William Kent, Chatsworth House.

An exceptional mahogany hall chair, one of a suite supplied to St.Giles House, possibly by the 'St. Martin's Lane Syndicate' - a partnership of William Hallett, William Vile and John Cobb.

Part suit of St.Giles House hall chairs in situ.

An architectural hall armchair, designed by William Kent for Chiswick House, in situ

A fine painted hall stool, one of a set of four, possibly by Chippendale, at Petworth House.

A fine painted hall stool, one of a set of four, possibly by Chippendale, at Petworth House.

An armchair, of Windsor form, one of a suite of hall furniture supplied to supplied to Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (d.1759) for the South Hall of Holkham Hall, Norfolk, in situ.

A very fine 19th century copy of the Holkham hall armchair at Peacock's Finest.

An exceptional pair of George III Adam period mahogany hall chairs, attributed to the celebrated London firm of William Ince and John Mayhew, virtually identical to those supplied to George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton (d. 1836) for Peper Harow, Surrey and also for Broadlands, Hampshire.

Their oval backs, formed as ancient libation paterae, in fact, represent Apollo, one of the most widely revered and influential of all Greek and Roman gods. His mask was often depicted surrounded by such a sunburst, that symbolised his divine connection to the sun.

White-painted chairs of this model at the entrance hall at Broadlands, Hampshire.

Beautifully sophisticated design, grand scale and a connection to the great cabinetmaking firm makes this rare model desirable and sought after among the collectors and decorators alike

Another superb pair of handsomely patinated mahogany hall chairs to a similat pattern, possibly Irish, formerly in the collection of Peacock's Finest.

A very neat and restrained example of very good quality, emblazoned with the unidentified crest of the original owners. Superb original condition and patina. Possibly Irish, circa 1790. Now sold.

Note the delicacy of detail on this superbly presented original armorial device.

Another variation of the original Mayhew and Ince design commissioned by George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton (d. 1836) for Peper Harow, Sussex, around 1775. Now sold.

The oval medallion back is crisply carved, evoking Apollo's sunburst and referring the owner's relation to arts.

One of the best and most unusual George III period hall chairs we have ever seen: of exceptional quality and outstanding design, circa 1800.

The piece's extravagant design, superb quality, choice of timber suggest one the best furniture-makers of the era. Note the vacant medallion centering the ribbon-swagged back, intended for the owner's armorial device.

An exceptional example of late Georgian furniture in the Roman style, undoubtedly influenced by the designs of Charles Heathcote Tatham. Circa 1805.

The piece's superb quality, choice of timber and sophisticated decoration suggest the best furniture-makers of the era, the likes of Marsh & Tatham, Morel & Seddon or Gillows of Lancaster. A set of identical chairs was supplied to John Scott, 1st Earl of Eldon (d. 1838), Lord Chancellor of England.

An rare and unusual fine pair of early Regency mahogany 'Klismos' form hall chairs of exceptional quality, attributed to Gillows of Lancaster and London. Circa 1810.

A closely related pair illustrated in the July 1992 issue of House & Garden magazine, in a feature on the historic Savannah house of Furlow Gatewood and John Rosselli, two prominent American decorators.

The distinctive scrolling wedge-shaped back with central roundel, where the family crest was meant to be painted.

An elegant pair of late Georgian hall chairs in superb untouched original condition. Sold.

A superb pair of late Regency - George IV period hall chairs in well figured mahogany, circa 1825. Generously proportioned and smartly decorated, these chairs boast the finely carved crestings and restrained yet elegant design.

The crisp carving, fine choice of timber and elegant design combined with desirable patina make these chairs equally appealing to both collectors and decorators.

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