A Pair of George II Mahogany Library Armchairs Attributed to William and John Gordon
A Pair of George II Mahogany Library Armchairs Attributed to William and John Gordon

A Pair of George II Mahogany Library Armchairs Attributed to William and John Gordon

c. 1755 England

Offered by Frank Partridge

£350,000 gbp
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Each with shaped padded back, arms and seat, covered in red silk damask, with outswept dolphinscale
carved arms headed by half-flower heads, on a scrolling, scale carved frame centered by
flowerheads, on cabriole legs headed by bellflowers ending in acanthus-clasped pad feet.
The Attribution to John Gordon:
This picturesque chair pattern is attributed to the Westminster cabinet-maker John
Gordon of Swallow Street, who may have been related to the early 18th Century
Edinburgh cabinet-makers of the same name. In the late 1740s Gordon adopted a
chair, supported by Apollo's sacred griffin, for his shop-sign, when trading as
LANDALL & GORDON, Joyners, Cabinet, & Chair-Makers at ye Griffin & Chair in Little
Argyle Street by Swallow Street. It seems likely that he was also in partnership with William
Gordon, who responded to Thomas Chippendale's 1753 advertisement for subscribers
to A New Book of Designs of Household Furniture in the GOTHIC, CHINESE and MODERN
TASTE.The chairs' Gothic air would have suited the Scottish Castle of Blair, Atholl,
Perthshire for which James Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl (d. 1764) commissioned a
suite of the same pattern which remains at Blair (see A. Coleridge, Chippendale Furniture,
London, 1968, fig. 87 and The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds,
1986, p. 356). Listed in 1756 as '8 Mahogany Chairs, Carv'd frames in fish scales, with a
French foot & carv'd leaf upon the toe', the total cost of around £31 included a charge of
£2.5.0. for 'making an addition to your Grace's [the Duchess's] needlework'. In 1749, the Duke
had married Jean Drummond, who had worked the canvas upholstery in rich floral
bouquets springing from Ceres's cornucopiae. 
The same 'Atholl' pattern was chosen for this suite, comprising some twenty four
armchairs and two settees, recorded in the possession of John, Lord Montagu of
Beaulieu (d.1929) in the corridors of Ditton Park, Berkshire. Peter Brown, formerly at
Fairfax House, York has carried out a detailed comparison between the Atholl and
Ditton chairs now at Fairfax House and considers them to be the 'same hand, same
templates, same everything' - including the secondary timbers. 
This spectacular suite was presumably therefore part of the furnishings introduced to
the earlier house at Ditton by George Brudenell, 4th Earl of Cardigan (d.1790), who
was created 3rd Duke of Montagu in 1766. The first categoric reference to the suite
lies in a series of late Regency watercolors of Ditton, now privately owned, of which
only some have been published. In these sumptuous interiors, furniture by George
Bullock is clearly discernible alongside earlier furniture - including the settee from the
Ditton suite, then covered in green silk damask. It must also have been among the
quantity of furniture reported as being saved from a fire at the house in 1812. 
Frustratingly, the inventories of Ditton traced to date are brief and inconclusive.
However A Probate Inventory of Ditton Park, completed on the death of 5th Duke of
Buccleuch in 1884, lists the settee from this suite: 'Library - A carved frame double end sofa
with back cushions & 2 loose bolsters in silk damask'. It also records various chairs scattered
throughout the principal rooms, and if the inventory includes some of this suite, they
were re-upholstered in an inconsistent manner. Interestingly, imbricated 'dolphin'
scale furniture was also supplied to the 4th Earl Cardigan at an earlier date by
Benjamin Goodison in 1741 - 'a carved and gilt dolphin frame to match another' (T. Murdoch
et al., Boughton House, The English Versailles, London, 1992, p.135, note 27). 
By the early 20th century the suite was in the possession of Messrs. Mallett of Bath. Part of the suite, comprising two settees and eight armchairs, was acquired by Vernay
and was subsequently sold by Walter in the landmark sale in 1960. A pair were then
again sold at Christie's, London, 8 July 1999, lot 25 (£243,500). Other armchairs
from the suite are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and in the Noel Terry
Collection at Fairfax House, York.This pair of armchairs - like all of the recently sold armchairs from this suite - displays
differences in the treatment and scale of the carving and construction between each
other. This would reasonably suggest that several journeymen were working
simultaneously in Gordon's workshops on this extensive suite - and that inevitably
differences in the chairs by different makers are visible.
Provenance:
Part of a larger set comprising twenty-four chairs and two settees supplied to George,
4th Earl of Cardigan (d. 1790) for Ditton Park, Buckinghamshire. Thence by descent
at Ditton to 1st Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (d. 1905), second son of Walter, 5th Duke
of Buccleuch. With Mallett, Bath in the early 20th century. With Arthur S. Vernay,
Inc., New York (two settees and eight armchairs). Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.; Parke-Bernet
Galleries, New York, 6-7 May 1960, lots 520-525 (two settees and eight
armchairs). With Stair and Co., New York (four armchairs and a settee).  Two of which
are these, the other pair sold at Christies 8th July 1999 for £243,500. Another pair
was sold in the Simon Sainsbury sale 18th June 2008 Lot 60 for £337,000.
Ditton Park: 
Ditton Park was a 17th century house inherited by Ralph, Lord Montagu, later 1st
Duke of Montagu, in 1688. This suite was most probably ordered by his son-in-law,
George Brudenell, 4th Earl of Cardigan, who assumed the title 1st Duke of Montagu
in 1749, having inherited the estates of his father-in-law. His only son died of
consumption in 1770. As a result, much of Montagu's collection, along with some of
the great masterpieces his son acquired during his short life, passed to his second
daughter, Lady Elizabeth Brudenell, wife of Henry, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch. The
Montagu art collection, from the mid eighteenth century, was said to have been one
of the finest in the country. The house and contents reverted to their sons Henry
James, 4th Duke of Buccleuch, and later Walter, 5th Duke (d.1884), who passed it to
his younger son Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. The estate was finally given up in 1917
and sold to the Admiralty for £20,000.
Literature:
H. Cescinsky, English Furniture of the Eighteenth Century, n.d., circa 1910, vol. II, fig. 392,
(one chair from the set). R. W. Symonds, 'British Antique Dealers' Association
Exhibition', The Connoisseur, April 1929, p. 216, No. II. D. Nickerson, English Furniture of
the Eighteenth Century, London, 1963, p. 59, fig. 62 (a settee from the suite).  Victoria and
Albert Museum, English Chairs, 3rd Edition, London, 1970, fig. 74 (one of a pair). 
Country Life, 17 June 1976 (a pair of chairs advertised by Mallett and Sons Ltd.,
London). P. Brown, ed., The Noel Terry Collection of Furniture & Clocks, London, 1987, p.
59, no. 59 (one of a pair). L. Synge, Mallett's Great English Furniture, London, 1991, p.
117, fig. 131 (a pair).
Dimensions
Height 93.00 cm (36.61 inches)
Width 72.50 cm (28.54 inches)
Depth 75.00 cm (29.53 inches)
Frank Partridge

Frank Partridge
5 Frederic Mews
London
SW1X 8EQ
England

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