Our exhibition spotlight today is this outstanding pair of George III carved mahogany and upholstered side chairs, attributed to the Royal cabinet-makers William Vile and John Cobb. The serpentine-shaped upholstered backs and seats are above wonderful carved seat frames and exaggerated cabriole legs terminating in scroll feet. The carving is of exceptional quality and crispness.
The chairs were commissioned by Sir George Lyttelton, 5th Bt. and 1st Baron Lyttelton of Frankley for the Saloon, Hagley Hall, Worcestershire. The chairs are photographed in situ in the Saloon at Hagley Hall, Worcestershire.
William Vile & Job Cobb
These magnificent side chairs were originally part of a larger set and can be attributed to the celebrated partnership of William Vile (1700-1767) and John Cobb (1710-1788). John Cobb worked with William Vile from 1750 until 1765 in Covent Garden, at No.72, the corner house of St. Martin’s Lane and Long Acre. Vile and Cobb held the Royal Warrant from 1761 to 1764, and their work can be seen in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace. In addition to their royal clients, the pair also received commissions from the 1st Earl of Leicester at Holkham Hall, the 4th Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, and the 4th Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey. John Cobb particularly favoured the elegant French taste and this influence can be clearly seen in his work. The attribution of these chairs is based upon close similarities to a suite that Vile & Cobb supplied to John Damer for Came House, Dorset. The accounts of Came House from the years 1756-1762 feature the following entry on 13 July 1761:
For 10 good mahogy. Back stool chairs with carv’d feet, stuft and covered with damask and finished compleat with Burnish Nails £23
The account continues to list a ‘French armchair’ and a ‘good mahogy. sopha’ both of which are illustrated along with a matching writing-table in Arthur Oswald, ‘Came House, Dorset – II’, Country Life, 27 February 1954, p. 573, figs. 7-9. The frames of this group of seat furniture and the writing table display a similarly conceived apron with the channeled decoration and the elegant cabriole leg with acanthus to the knee and scrolled foot.
This attribution can be further supported on the basis of a mahogany cupboard attributed to William Vile that displays a very similarly carved apron and is illustrated in R. Edwards, ‘Attributions to William Vile’, Country Life, 7 October 1954, fig. 4.
Hagley Hall, Worcestershire
Hagley Hall is the family home of the Lyttelton family. George, 1st Lord Lyttelton (1709-1773) served as secretary to Frederick, Prince of Wales and later as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lyttelton was a great patron to poets, including Alexander Pope and Henry Fielding—the latter dedicated his novel Tom Jones to George.
Lyttelton replaced the existing building on the grounds of the estate with the present magnificent neo-Palladian mansion between 1754 and 1760. He commissioned Sanderson Miller (1716-1780) and John Sanderson (d. 1774) to construct the house, which features corner towers with pyramidal roofs and Venetian windows.
The interior of the house is resplendent with Rococo plasterwork by Francesco Vassali. In addition to his architectural work, John Sanderson also assisted with the interiors. The Lyttelton family collection included furniture by Thomas Chippendale, family portraits by Anthony van Dyck, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Peter Lely.
This pair of chairs, en suite with the exceptional pair of carved mahogany tables, would have been supplied to furnish the Salon and appear in an early Country Life interior photograph of 1915. The room features a Rococo ceiling of cherubs in clouds with garlands and trophies decorating the walls. The tables, one also shown in the Country Life photograph, were sold Christie’s London, 14 June 2001, lot 50 (£465,750).