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Chairs of Giles Grendey

Eighteenth century chair designs are rarely as beautiful as this model. Some are fancifully exotic and others are austerely minimalist, but this particular design in our opinion represents a perfect balance of the sculptural purity of form, delicacy of construction and rare comfort in actual use. Several sets of seat furniture, sharing distinctive constructional and stylistic features, form a group, most likely made at the same workshop, possibly that of Giles Grendey, one of London's most celebrated cabinetmakers of the first half of the 18th century. This group includes, besides the pair of chairs in our collection, dining sets supplied to some Britain's finest houses such as Rousham House and Lyme Park, as well as several examples with uncertain provenance, sold at different auctions over the years or illustrated in literature.

1. One of a set of twelve walnut dining chairs, bearing the Clerkenwell cabinetmaker Giles Grendey's trade labels, circa 1740–45. Formerly with Christopher Gibbs. Illustrated in C.Gilbert, The Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840, Leeds 1996, p.242, fig.435.

While this form of front legs is typical of Giles Grendey's earlier walnut chairs, the back legs, also of cabriole shape but only hipped at the back, correspond to ones on our chairs and also on those sold Christie's, London, 21 April 1994, lot 256 (below).

2. One of a set of 10 George II period chairs, sold Christie's, London, 21 April 1994, lot 256.

Strikingly similar in construction to the Christopher Gibbs's chairs (above), this chair has ornamental seat rails but rather more simple and unembellished front legs, same as on our chairs. This simple form also appears on a serving table, bearing a trade label of Giles Grendey, see Bonhams London, 19 October 2016, lot 188. The back splat ends in a bold scroll, a feature common on most other chairs from the group, including the Lyme Park and Rousham House chairs.

3. A pair of open armchairs originally supplied to Peter Legh XIII (d. 1792) of Lyme Park, Cheshire, circa 1735–40. Sold Christie's, London, 22 May 2014, lot 1092. The fret-decorated seat-rails and backs with scrolled splats are identical to the example above, while the back legs are different, having pronounced hips on both sides. The front legs, being somewhat more slender with rather bold pad feet, are decorated with Grendey's signature knee carving.

4. Nine of these chairs (sold Christie's, New York, 20 May 2014, lot 127) were supplied to General James Dormer-Cottrell (d.1741) for Rousham House, Oxfordshire, around 1740. These chairs feature a slightly more refined outline of the back with a more slender scroll of the splat, a slightly different, bolder pattern of the seat-rail fretwork decoration. The back legs are closer in profile to [1], while the treatment of the front legs is quite different. Having subtle carved decoration to the ears and the edges just below the knees, they terminate in hairy paw feet – another feature typical of Grendey's workshop. While it is unclear when these nine chairs left Rousham, at least three from the original set remain in the Great Parlor (originally the Library) and a white painted and parcel-gilt stool en-suite is in the Painted Parlor (R. Guilding, "Rousham," World of Interiors, December 2011, pp. 232-239).

5. Another set of nine chairs from this group, sold Christie's, London, 6 July 2000, lot 57, displays an even bolder Vitruvian scroll carving to seat rails. These chairs are almost identical to the Rousham House model [4], although hey have drop-ip seats and slightly different treatment of their paw feet.

7. Another chair of this model, apparently identical our examples but with decorated seat-rails, appears on a circa 1913 photograph taken in the library at Shardeloes, then the seat of the Tyrwhitt-Drake family. Interestingly, there is also a chair made to a design by John Linnell far in the background.

8. This fabulous pair of chairs in our collection certainly belongs to this group of furniture, possibly made by Giles Grendey. Made around 1745–50, or some 5–10 years later than earlier, more elaborate examples, these chairs represent the ultimate development of the model, with no embellishments to distract from the purity of its form. In this most restrained variation this design looks particularly timeless in our opinion.

9. The profile is particularly well drawn too, in fact, these chairs do not seem to have bad angles at all, such uniquely flowing this design is.

10. A further related set of chairs, with backs identical to the present examples and plain square-cut legs, most likely from the same workshop, given their stylistic and constructional similarities, was sold from the collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, Christie's London, 21 March 2015, lot 1156.

11. One of a set of chairs supplied to Ditchley Park around 1740–43, traditionally associated with this group of chairs. Although not dissimilar in appearance to Rousham chairs [4], it evidently has plenty of differences in both style and construction. The seat rails are virtually identical to Lyme chairs [3], and the back legs are similarly hipped on both sides. The boldly scrolled at the bottom splat is very similar to the Rousham chairs too, but it is veneered together with the crest rail and stiles, thus looking as if it were made of a solid block – a feature not seen on any other chairs from this group. Moreover, the back is also scrolled at the top and the crest rail apparently is not as deeply curved as those on other chairs. While similar ball-and-claw feet are used on Christopher Gibbs's chairs [1], the pattern of the knee carving with a central cabochon is quite unique. It is tempting to conclude that Ditchley chairs likely originate from the same workshop with other examples, but they might just as well be a product of the same stylistic influences.

It must be mentioned that the attribution of various sets from this group varied during last three decades, with potential authorship ascribed to William Bradshaw (1700–1775) and William Hallett (1707–1781), as well as Giles Grendey (1693–1780). The same shape of back legs as on [1] and [2], and the pierced and scrolled back splats similar to [4] and [5] can also be seen on chairs at Woburn Abbey and Alnwick Castle (circa 1737–40), generally associated with the oeuvre of William Hallett. Being all part of the art and design community that formed around the St. Martin's Lane Academy, they shared similar aesthetic vocabulary, influenced by the leading architects and designers of the time, such as William Kent and Henry Flitcroft, and sometimes worked together on important commissions, such as Rousham. They might as well have used the same journeymen to outsource certain operations, which was not uncommon back in the days and which might account for certain similarities in their output. While there is only one set of chairs that is labelled by Giles Grendey in this group, we believe that this research and the discovery of a set not previously considered in the attribution [2] links all these examples more firmly together and hence to the labelled set, not only on stylistic grounds but also based on similarities in construction.

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