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Otley residents visit Harewood House to honour Thomas Chippendale.

Chippendale 300

The statue of Thomas Chippendale in Otley by Graham Ibeson

Over 500 residents from the market town of Otley in West Yorkshire visited Harewood House on 5 June, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Master Carpenter, Thomas Chippendale’s baptism. Residents were invited from Chippendale’s birthplace to visit the House and Estate for free, as part of a celebration of the wider exhibition currently running across the Estate.

Happy Baptism Day Mr Chippendale – Celebrating the Tercentenary of the Baptism of Thomas Chippendale on 5 June in Otley and at Harewood.

In this third Blog from Ann Sumner, Historic Collections Adviser, we hear about Otley Day at Harewood House and the Chippendale Society Annual Dinner on 5th June.

Over the last few weeks, driving through the Yorkshire town of Otley on the River Wharfe, the Chippendale 300 bunting and banners strewn across the streets have proclaimed the tercentenary of Thomas Chippendale, one of the market town’s most famous sons. The celebrations really started on 5th June 2018, which marked the tercentenary of the cabinetmaker’s baptism at All Saints Parish Church 300 years ago. I set off early to Otley en route to Harewood, that morning in glorious summer sunshine and found an atmosphere of real excitement on market day.

I headed for All Saints Church, which is little changed since the 18th century, to see the new exhibition The Life of Thomas Chippendale, which runs throughout the month of June. There I found informative storyboards and visitors to the town, eagerly embracing the new Visit Otley Chippendale Trail walking map. And I met enthusiastic Otley resident Meg Morton, who was busy putting up posters for the Baptism Concert that evening, Musick for a Summer Evening with soprano Joanne Dexter and the Chippendale Singers. We considered together the current font with the announcement about his baptism, but sadly admitted that this was not the original font used for his actual baptism!

Chippendale 300

Otley resident Meg Morten enjoying the exhibition The life of Thomas Chippendale with Ann Sumner at All Saints Church on 5 June

Thomas Chippendale was the son of John Chippendale, a carpenter and joiner in Otley and Mary Drake the daughter of a local stonemason, who married in July 1715. It is thought that Thomas was born in a cottage where the Skipton Building Society is now on Boroughgate. In actuality, we know frustratingly little about his early childhood. I moved on to The Old Grammar School, where it is probable that the young Thomas received an early education. Outside is the statue of Chippendale by Graham Ibeson, the Barnsley sculptor. The building, originally Prince Henry’s Grammar School, is now the Stew and Oyster pub and upstairs there is a special splendid display of photographs of some of Chippendale’s most famous pieces of sculpture including Harewood’s famous wine cooler from the Dining Room suite. The pub hosted a light-hearted birthday party for Chippendale with a quiz and period folk music on the previous Saturday and guests dressed in 18th century costume.

Conservation in action

The in-house Conservation team at Harewood working on the Chippendale Wall borders during the Conservation in Action demonstration on Otley Day held at Harewood 5 June 2018

After chatting to some fascinated visitors, who had come especially to pay homage to the great man, I drove on to Harewood, just 7 miles from Chippendale’s home town, along with many other Otley residents. To mark the Baptism Day at Harewood House, where the Chippendale firm secured their largest commission, free entry was offered to the people of his home town. And they came in their droves to see the exhibition Thomas Chippendale: Designer, Maker, Decorator, Decorator. Visitors looked at the exhibition which explores the remarkable achievements of Chippendale at Harewood including the innovative mirrored display of the superb the Diana and Minerva commode. They particularly enjoyed the Conservation in Action demonstration by our in-house conservation team who were working on sections of wall borders which were used to cover the edges of both paper and cloth wall coverings by the Chippendale firm where they met dado rails, architraves and door cases. These borders were extremely expensive. At Harewood each room had a different elaborate border which cost 20 – 25 shillings for 4 feet (1.2 m) which was the equivalent for one week’s wages for a cabinetmaker at the time.

During the afternoon, I was fortunate enough to lead a tour of the exhibitions for Otley residents who were enormously enthusiastic about Thomas and his workshop’s activity furnishing the rooms here at Harewood and the range of skills they observed in the superb furniture on display. There was a real sense of pride amongst those on my tour, during which we considered how early tourists and visitors from the preacher John Wesley to the pastel portrait painter John Russell had reacted to the lavish new interiors. At the end I asked some residents what they thought of the interiors and furniture by Chippendale today, 300 years after his birth? Originally some tourists loved the interiors while others were not so enamoured and that was just the same today!

Here is some of the feedback:
‘I loved all the glitz and glamour – all the gold’

‘We are here to support the old man from Otley’

‘I really admired the craftsmanship but overall it’s a bit fussy and over the top for me!’

‘I think it is more for looking at than reclining on’ (reference to the State Bed)

There was just time to dash home to change and then it was off to Otley again – passing All Saints Church where people were arriving for the concert, we were heading on for the Otley Golf Club where the Annual Chippendale Dinner was being held.

Chippendale 300

Beckie Burton, Harewood House, with Ann Sumner

Always a lovely venue, that evening the weather was beautiful and the views were stunning, so guests enjoyed drinks on the terrace outside and admired the Baptism Cake, chatting to Adam Bowett the Chairman and Peggy Pullen, the in-coming Membership Secretary of the Chippendale Society. We awaited the arrival of our speaker, the Chippendale scholar Antony Coleridge, renowned since writing his book Chippendale Furniture: The Works of Thomas Chippendale and his Contemporaries in the Rococo Style. We enjoyed a good meal before his after dinner speech.

Anthony reminded us that his great great uncle was Samuel Taylor Coleridge who also had the same kind of love affair with Yorkshire that Anthony himself enjoyed, as he praised the great Chippendale commissions at Nostell Priory and Harewood House. After a fascinating survey of his experiences of Chippendale throughout his career he was thanked by Lord St Oswald, President of the Chippendale Society, who praised his passion for his subject and the eloquent way in which pieces of furniture were described, reminding us that Thomas Chippendale’s name was associated with exquisite furniture and perfection and that all of us, gathered together on such a beautiful evening in Otley for a very special occasion, were passionate about Chippendale’s achievements.

While coffee was served, I was fortunate enough to catch up with James Lomax, Honorary Curator of the Chippendale Society and co-curator of the brilliant exhibition in Leeds Thomas Chippendale 1718 – 1779: A Celebration of British Craftsmanship and Design. We chatted about the Society and achievements of the Chippendale 300 programme this year so far, over a piece of the Baptism cake, which was baked in Otley by the Patisserie Viennoise.

Chippendale 300

Ann Sumner enjoys an after-dinner conversation with James Lomax at the Chippendale Society Annual Dinner at Otley Golf Club

Ann: James, you have recently researched the history of The Chippendale Society which was founded in 1965 and I wonder have these annual dinners been held on his Baptism Day since the 1960s and has this for you been one of the most memorable occasions?

James: You could almost say that the Chippendale Society began life as a dining club! In 1963 a well-known Otley figure, Thomas Pickles, announced in the local paper that he was organising a dinner on 5th June to commemorate Chippendale’s birthday and invited anyone interested to apply for tickets. It was so successful, not least with the numerous people in the area named ‘Chippendale’, that it was repeated the following year. When the Society was formed in 1965 the dinner became an annual event and one of the main events on the calendar. We’ve always had a well-known personality to speak as our guest of honour and we were particularly keen to ask Anthony Coleridge this tercentenary year as he is without doubt the most distinguished scholar on everything to do with Chippendale whose magnificent study first appeared in 1968.

Ann: The Society aims to promote the appreciation and study of the work of Thomas Chippendale and the tercentenary year has been a busy one for you all. Tell us how the Society have specifically promoted the achievements of Thomas Chippendale senior and about some of the highlights for the Chippendale Society thus far in 2018.

James: The Society was well aware that the tercentenary was approaching and lobbied hard for a major exhibition! Fortunately Leeds Museums and Galleries were also keen to promote one of the area’s local heroes so we began a fruitful partnership which has resulted in the present exhibition. To date it has attracted nearly 40,000 visitors and has been a great success.

At the same time the Society took the lead in initiating a wider project intending to promote Chippendale. Thus the Chippendale300 project was born – a partnership of 14 different historic houses and organisations who all have their own programmes focussing on the great man. A Steering Group set up an excellent website which included a message of welcome from Prince Charles. Our events, exhibitions, lectures, workshops and publications are promoted on it and news stories. The programme continues to grow every day!

Ann: Today has been a great day in Otley, culminating in the dinner here. Tell us something about what we know about Chippendale’s family in Otley three hundred years ago, who were they and what do we know of his early life here?

James: We don’t know an awful lot about Chippendale’s life in Otley before he left for York and London, although a certain amount can be surmised. His family had been joiners, carpenters, builders and surveyors in Wharfedale for several generations and this was his essential background. He had no immediate siblings until his father married again and produced a new family who continued to live and work in Otley in this line of business until the 1960s. I did once see a white van inscribed with the words ‘Chippendale – Builders, Joiners, Shopfitters’.

Ann: We are here in Otley tonight and I’ve really enjoyed my day in the town and at Harewood. What would you recommend a Chippendale enthusiast see in Otley.

James: Your first port of call should be Graham Ibbeson’s statue of Chippendale in Manor Square beside the Old Manor once Prince Henry’s Grammar School where Chippendale might have gone to school. Then to the Parish Church where he was baptised, with some good early Georgian vernacular furnishings which were the sort of thing Chippendale’s family might have supplied. Then there is the site of his father’s premises in Boroughgate marked with a blue plaque where Chippendale might have been born, and in Bondgate there are the Chippendale Tea Rooms in the house owned by Chippendale’s uncle, a schoolmaster. And one can wander round the narrow streets of the old part of the town to soak up the atmosphere of an early Georgian market town which gave birth to a genius.

Ann: Today at Harewood we have opened our doors to Otley residents and I had the privilege to take a group on a tour of the exhibition Designer, Maker, Decorator this afternoon. Everyone seemed very proud of the Chippendale heritage and I wonder do you think this awareness has increased in the town over the last few months? Driving through I’ve noticed all the bunting!

James: It’s really very exciting to see how the people of Otley have pulled out all the stops to mark the tercentenary of one of its famous sons. It is great to hear of the birthday party thrown on Saturday, the sell-out concert and especially how many of them came to Harewood today and enjoyed your exhibitions. Throughout June there’s an ongoing festival, Celebrating Chippendale, in Otley with a host of different events and there is a concert going on even as we speak.

Ann: The Chippendale Society has done so much to raise awareness of Thomas Chippendale and his son Thomas over the past 50 years and particularly this year. What more can we look forward to in the second half of the tercentenary year?

James: The exhibition at Leeds Museum which ends on 9th June was a ‘warm up’ for the different events taking place over the rest of the summer around the country. At Harewood there’s a new display of one of Chippendale’s greatest masterpieces, the Diana and Minerva Commode and a long lost mirror from the White Drawing Room; at Nostell, Paxton and Burton Constable there are exhibitions exploring his work at these houses; an exhibition at Paxton House opened today and there are lecture series and study days at Dumfries House, Weston Park and Firle Place. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the V&A Museum have arranged new displays and the former are publishing (for the first time) all Chippendale’s brilliant drawings for the first edition of his great book, The Director. We are so pleased to hear that funding has been secured for the symposium comparing the Harewood and Paxton commissions on 29 September at Paxton which will be fascinating.

Ann: Thank you James so much for your time tonight which I really appreciate. It’s been a wonderful day with so much enthusiasm for Thomas Chippendale’s work 300 years after his birth.

With special thanks to Christie’s for their sponsorship of the Chippendale 300 blog series.

Listen to Professor Ann Sumner’s “Decorating Harewood: Experiencing Chippendale’s largest commission”

The State Bedroom at Harewood House including many Chippendale pieces.

To mark the Baptism Day of Thomas Chippendale on 5th June 2018, we are publishing a recording of the paper delivered by Ann Sumner at the 42nd Annual Symposium of the Furniture History Society which was held on Saturday 14th April 2018 in Leeds in conjunction with the Chippendale Society. The commission to furnish Harewood House, Yorkshire from 1769 to 1797 by Thomas Chippendale senior and Thomas Chippendale junior and their workforce was the largest, most lavish and significant by the firm. Ann has been researching the early reception of the interiors by contemporaries, studying the letters and diaries of those who stayed with the family, as well as the artists, antiquaries, travel writers, social reformers and surprisingly numerous clergy who came as interested tourists.

In Professor Sumner’s presentation, she outlines the key significance of the commission and highlights some of the significant comments visitors made from the Rev John Wesley, founder of Methodism to the talented pastel portrait painter John Russell. We hope you enjoy these recording. Look out for Ann’s next post which will cover the Baptism Day here at Harewood and in Otley and include an interview with James Lomax of the Chippendale Society.

With special thanks to Christie’s for their sponsorship of the Chippendale 300 blog series.

An Interview with Dr Adam Bowett,  11th May 2018

Ann Sumner and Adam Bowett in discussion about the Circular Dressing Room at the 42nd Annual Symposium of the Furniture History Society at Leeds Art Gallery on 14 April 2018. Photo: Rebecca Burton

In her second blog of this special Chippendale 300 series sponsored by Christie’s, Professor Ann Sumner shares her experience of the 42nd Annual Symposium of the Furniture History Society which was held on Saturday 14th April 2018 and interviews Dr Adam Bowett, Chairman of the Chippendale Society about the now lost Circular Dressing Room at Harewood House.

On 14th April in Leeds, at the City Art Gallery, over 130 Chippendale enthusiasts gathered to celebrate the life and work of Yorkshire’s famous cabinet maker, 300 years after his birth in nearby Otley. In the presence of Society Chairman Sir Nicholas Goodison and his wife Judith, herself an expert on Chippendale Junior, we were warmly welcomed by the Furniture History Society Chairman Christopher Rowell (National Trust Curator of Furniture) who encouraged everyone to visit the outstanding Leeds exhibition Thomas Chippendale: A Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design. Christopher praised the new catalogue by Adam Bowett and James Lomax, which has just been published as the most important contribution to Chippendale studies since Christopher Gilbert’s great work. The day was skilfully chaired by Lisa White, Editor of The Furniture History Society Journal with a distinguished group of furniture historians gathered from all over the country in attendance. The first paper Honouring a Local Hero: the Chippendale Society 1965 – 2018 was read for us by David Bower, as sadly James Lomax, co- curator of the exhibition, was unwell. This was followed by the first of three papers during the day focusing on the Harewood collections – an excellent study of the original furniture for the Circular Drawing Room at Harewood.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Dr Adam Bowett, Chairman of the Chippendale Society and co-curator of the exhibition, later that day at the symposium, to ask him a few further questions about the Furniture for the Circular Dressing Room at Harewood.


 

Ann: The Circular Dressing Room was swept away in the 1840s and is now a room that we do not often mention at Harewood. Tell us about this fascinating circular space which was originally a dressing room – did its function change at all before the Victorians decided to dispense with it?

Adam: The Circular room was always something of a problem for Harewood’s architects because it was sandwiched between the main suites of State Rooms on the north and south fronts but didn’t easily link with either. Between 1758 and 1771 it was variously planned as a Gentleman’s Dressing Room, a small Dining Room, a Chapel and even a Billiards Room before ending up as a Ladies Dressing Room. It had one large window looking onto an interior court, facing east to make the best of the morning light.

Ann: Could you explain how you entered the room?

Adam: In its final form, the room acted as a dressing room to the State Bedchamber, accessible from the back of the bed alcove through two small closets. It was scarcely convenient.

Pier table made for the Circular Dressing Room at Harewood House, 1771 – 2. This now belongs to the Chippendale Society and is currently on loan to the Thomas Chippendale: A Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design at Leeds Museum, having been especially conserved for the display. Photo courtesy of The Chippendale Society.

Ann: You have made an in depth study of the Pier Table made for the Circular Dressing Room of 1772 which is usually on display at Temple Newsam and is now on loan from the Chippendale Society to the current exhibition. Is it true that the table was found covered in black paint having been used as a work bench following the Victorian’s removal of it?

Adam: The table was sold from Harewood in 1976 and bought by the Chippendale Society the same year. It had been found in an outbuilding where it had apparently been used as a workbench, but the curved shape indicated that it had come from the Circular Dressing Room, where it had been recorded in inventories from 1795 onwards. The frame was covered in black paint and the marquetry of the top was badly damaged. But when the paint was removed Chippendale’s original white, blue and pink paint was found intact underneath. The marquetry top was sent away to be restored and re-varnished.

Digital photoshop recreation of the top surface of the pier table illustrating the original colour scheme following analysis of the organic dyes. Photo: Adam Bowett.

Ann: Tell us a little about your research on the table and the room more widely and specifically on the identification of the organic dyes. How did you approach this?

Adam: When we were considering using the table in the 2018 exhibition, we knew it needed a little bit of remedial work, so we decided at the same time to use the opportunity to investigate the marquetry more thoroughly. We were aware that Heinrich Piening, a scientist with the Bavarian Museum Service, had developed techniques for analysing the organic dyes used in 18th century marquetry, so we invited him to Leeds to survey the table. From his analysis we were able to reconstruct a plan of the original colour scheme, and then to reproduce that using Photoshop. The result was pretty startling, but it fitted with the colour schemes for the room devised by Robert Adam, which survive in the Soane Museum.

Ann: What other furniture was originally in the room?

Adam: The main furnishings of the room comprised the table with a three-part mirror above, a chimney glass opposite, six chairs with blue upholstery and painted frames, and an Axminster carpet. The table and the chairs survive but the carpet and the mirrors have gone.

Ann Did any of the early visitors or guidebooks cover the room and make any mention of it?

Adam: The so-called ‘Circular Room’ was remarked upon by all the early visitors to Harewood. It may not have had much practical use but it clearly impressed visitors; indeed, in its small way (it was only 20 feet in diameter), it was a neo-Classical masterpiece, and exemplified the extraordinarily close working relationship that existed between Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale.

Ann: Thank you so much Adam for sparing time to talk to me today. You have written up your paper in full for the Furniture History Society special Chippendale 300 Journal due out in the autumn, so we will look forward to reading more about this room there.

One last question – it is always said that the Harewood commission has been thoroughly researched. Do you think there is more still to be discovered about individual pieces in the collection?

Adam: Research is never finished, and this year’s work with Harewood on various tercentenary projects has shown us that there is always more to discover.


 

Straight after Adam’s excellent paper it was time for me to deliver mine, introducing the Harewood commission more broadly and focusing on the early tourists and visitors and what they thought of the luxurious interiors created for Edwin Lascelles by Thomas Chippendale. I explained how popular Harewood was with country house tourists at the end of the 18th Century and quoted from family guests such as the Duchess of Northumberland, as well as referencing the thoughts of the Rev John Wesley, founder of Methodism who visited in 1779 and the pastel painter John Russell who came in 1802, and considered how guidebooks had encouraged visiting. My paper was entitled Decorating Harwood: experiencing the Chippendale firm’s largest commission. Future blog posts will feature my presentation in full together with an introduction to my research.

My contribution was followed by a paper delivered by Thomas Lange – A Chippendale Discovery at Harewood: the Mystery of the White Drawing Room, which focused on the loan of a newly discovered mirror originally from the White Drawing Room at Harewood, to the current Harewood exhibition. Other papers in the afternoon were delivered by Chippendale scholars and connoisseurs and included a fascinating consideration of the Paxton and Wedderburn Chippendale commissions in Scotland by David Jones and Kerry Bristol’s excellent paper which considered Sir Roland Winn and his wife Sabine’s Chippendale commission to furnish 11, St James’ Square, their London townhouse, drawing on sale catalogues of 1766 and 1785, followed by an illuminating discussion of the French influence on Chippendale’s designs by Sarah Medlam. We then heard about Chippendale’s influence in America, particularly in Philadelphia in a paper presented by Brock Jobe, of Winterthur Museum Delaware. The day concluded with an illuminating account, delivered by Megan Aldrich examining the many myths which have grown up around Chippendale, especially during early scholarship from 1875 – 1923 when errors were repeated about his life, including the fact that he was for many years thought to have come from Worcestershire! All the papers shed new and interesting light on Chippendale and his influence and encouraged debate and discussion.

The day ended with drinks at Leeds Museum and the chance for delegates to mingle and discuss the thought-provoking day before seeing the exhibition, to which Harewood House Trust has generously lent, one last time. It was a stimulating day for all who attended and a fitting celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Chippendale. 

Professor Ann Sumner, Historic Collections Advisor

In her next blog on 5 June, Ann celebrates Thomas Chippendale’s Baptism Day, 300 years on by introducing her research on the early reception of the Chippendale interiors at Harewood from her paper given on 14 April at the symposium. She will also be reporting on all the activities surrounding the celebrations that day to mark 300 years since the baptism of the cabinetmaker in Otley, in a further post in June.

The exhibition Thomas Chippendale 1718 – 1779: A Celebration of Craftsmanship & Design is at Leeds City Museum until 9 June; Thomas Chippendale: Designer, Maker, Decorator is at Harewood House until 2 September 2018.

With special thanks to Christie’s for their sponsorship of the Chippendale 300 blog series.

Professor Ann Sumner on the Chippendale Diana and Minerva Commode

In her first blog as part of the Chippendale 300 series sponsored by Christie’s, Harewood’s Historic Collections Adviser Professor Ann Sumner shares her research on one of the most spectacular pieces of Thomas Chippendale furniture in the Harewood collection.

The Diana and Minerva Commode, 1773, usually on display in the State Bedroom, is currently displayed in the Ante Room as part of the exhibition Designer, Maker, Decorator.

The Diana and Minerva Commode is one of the most famous pieces of Thomas Chippendale furniture in the world. It is the finest of a distinguished group of marquetry furniture that was supplied to Edwin Lascelles in the 1770s for the interior of his new house at Harewood. A commode is the term used to describe an elaborate chest of drawers popularised in France, which in turn, became much desired in England too. This commode was designed as a tripartite breakfront dressing commode and is generally considered to be Chippendale’s finest Neo-Classical masterpiece, with its superb craftsmanship and the elegant lines of its distinctive rectilinear design, along with splayed sides and decorative motifs of swags of husks, repeated garlands of flowering acanthus leaves and radiating fans. The main feature is the central concave recess with superbly executed ‘trompe l’oeil’ marquetry, enabling a lady to sit in front of it and use the central compartmented drawer.

Detail showing the acanthus leaves design.

 

A status symbol

The Diana and Minerva commode was supplied for the State Dressing Room (now the Spanish Library) in November 1773 and the Harewood bill described it in much more detail than any other item for the room – ‘A very large rich Commode with exceeding fine Antique Ornaments curiously inlaid with various fine woods . . .  with Diana and Minerva and their Emblems Curiously inlaid & Engraved’. This would indicate that although it was not the most expensive item in the room, it was highly regarded by the maker who so carefully described it. Chippendale only detailed truly exceptional furniture in such terms and the use of ivory in particular was reserved for only his firm’s most sumptuous marquetry work. The cost of the commode was £86 and a protective leather cover was also supplied for a further £1 to prevent fading.

An extract from the original bill in which Chippendale describes the Diana and Minerva commode, 1773.

The piece takes its name from the two Roman goddesses represented in dark roundels facing each other on either side of a feminine concave central section. The first is Diana, the goddess of hunting, with her emblem of the crescent moon, bow and hunting dog, and the second is Minerva, the goddess of learning and the arts – often seen as a patron of the arts – with her helmet, spear and shield representing her interest in war. Both are appropriate for the patron Edwin Lascelles, with his patronage of the arts and enthusiasm for country pursuits. The roundels are surrounded by laurel wreaths.

Details of the two roundels containing the Roman goddesses, Diana, the goddess of hunting and Minerva, the goddess of learning and the arts.

The State Dressing Room in which this commode was situated is described as being ‘Thirty feet by twenty-four; the furniture green and gold’ with a ‘chimney-piece of white marble’ in the History of Leeds guidebook of 1797. This elegant commode would originally have been displayed to best advantage situated under a superb mirror on the pier between the two windows in this luxurious room, adjacent to the State Bedroom. The ‘very large pier Glass’ sited above the commode cost Edwin Lascelles £290. Today in the current exhibition, the mirrored display helps give an idea of how the commode would have looked with a mirror above it. The Chippendale firm further supplied two large ‘richly Carved’ sofas costing together £64, with green serge protective covers at £5 10s. There were also twelve ‘Carved Cabriole’ armchairs which matched those in the bedchamber ‘gilt in burnished Gold, Covered’, costing a further £120, with their covers at £6.6s. The walls were richly hung with green damask as in the State Bedroom, finished with an ‘Antique Border gilt in Burnished Gold’ and there was a ‘very Elegant Chimney glass’. Green was a popular colour in the 1770s and in this case, the damask had been purchased by Edwin directly, demonstrating how engaged he was in the decorating of his new home. This commode was conceived as a piece of ‘parade’ furniture, used as a symbol of status and wealth and was ‘paraded’ formally against the walls to both impress, reflect and harmonise with Robert Adam’s elaborate interior decorative scheme. Commodes quickly assumed the status of the most prestigious type of ornamental cabinet furniture. Although commissioned for the State Dressing Room, the commode is usually displayed in the State Bedroom against the green damask walls, following restoration of the room in 1999 – 2000.

Detail of the inside of the coved door.

 

Craftsmanship

The main carcass of the commode was made of mahogany (the most common cabinet wood used in the 18th century and favoured by Chippendale more than any other tropical wood), oak and pine. The thin veneer ground is golden satinwood from the West Indies, which would have been carefully hand-cut and inlaid with dyed exotic tropical hardwoods such as rosewood and tulipwood. The sheen of the satinwood, applied with the grain going in various directions, gives the piece a jewel-like quality, catching the light at differing angles. The pictorial roundels representing the goddesses are inlaid with expensive ebony and ivory. Some of the inlaid woods were stained a variety of colours, whilst others were finely engraved with details such as leaf veins or scorched on the edges by being dipped in hot sand to give a 3-D quality. Engraving is employed with cross-hatching applied to the precious ivory as well, to highlight facial features and areas of flesh for the goddesses. The coved door is also a unique feature in Chippendale’s work and achieved by steaming strips of mahogany to shape them, using a technique similar to barrel making. The concave sides accommodated the hanging of curtains since the commode was placed on the pier, between the windows where it was originally sited.

Detail of the central, finely executed coved door with trompe d’oeil marquetry.

The top of the commode illustrating the beautiful marquetry and the extended open compartmentalised drawer.

The exquisite marquetry top would have been reflected in the mirror above, highlighting the detailed craftsmanship. The inlay colour scheme was predominantly pink and green, but despite the protective covers, the commode has faded and originally the marquetry would have been much brighter. Overall, the high technical finish is outstanding, as is the rich ormolu decoration. It is not known if this decorative brasswork was actually made in the Chippendale workshop as possibly the casting and chasing may have been sub-contracted, although there was a forge in the premises at St Martin’s Lane which suggests that he may have employed a brazier himself. It is key to note, as has been pointed out recently by James Lomax, that the use of ormolu is restricted to the stiff leaf scrolled brackets in the entablature. Although the Diana and Minerva commode was a piece of ‘parade’ furniture, it has functional elements such as the top dressing drawer which still contains neatly fitted, lidded and boxed compartments with the original glass cosmetic bottles and comb trays, and would originally also have had a fitted mirror.

The level of craftsmanship throughout the State Dressing Room was superb, but the Diana and Minerva commode was the outstanding piece, with its eloquent marquetry designs, intricate ivory inlay and drawers that still whisper shut, demonstrating the technical brilliance of the workshop where it was produced. The classical theme of the commode reflected the image of Edwin’s home, where the ancient Roman ideal of cultivated leisure on a country estate would be enjoyed by all. In total, the cost of furnishing the State Dressing Room to this luxurious standard was over £1,000 and within this context, the Diana and Minerva commode seems particularly reasonably priced at £86. It is often compared with the Renishaw commode, originally designed by Chippendale for the Dining Room at Melbourne House in Piccadilly for Lord Melbourne, which was however never intended to be a dressing commode. There it was seen by Thomas Mouat on a tour with Chippendale’s financial partner, Thomas Haig. Mouat recalls that the commode cost £140, making it far more expensive than the Harewood Diana and Minerva commode. Of course, the price might have been exaggerated by Haig or it might have been more expensive because of the larger amount of ormolu decoration. It also differs from the Harewood commode in that holly is used as the principal veneer, which has faded. The Renishaw commode was acquired at auction in 1802 by Sir Sitwell Sitwell of Renishaw in Derbyshire, where it remains today, hence the name ‘Renishaw commode’.

As with other rooms in the house, the décor of the State Dressing Room was transformed quite quickly with the arrival of family portraits. The History of Leeds guidebook in 1797 describes the State Dressing Room, some 25 years after it was completed, as already having the famous portraits of Edwin Lascelles’ step-daughters hanging in it – ‘The pictures of the Countess of Harrington and Lady Worsley, by Sir Joshua Reynolds’ (p 102). Despite the fame and admiration for this commode today, it is not singled out in this guidebook or by early visitors to the house for particular attention or praise. The commode is part of a group of celebrated marquetry pieces at Harewood, all dating to the 1770s, including the marquetry satinwood fall-front secretaire, inset with oval medallions enclosing a classical urn and reclining figure, which can be viewed in the State Bedroom today and a magnificent semi-circular table made originally for the Yellow Drawing Room, which has emblematic heads inlaid with ebony and ivory also.

Sir Charles Barry’s alterations to the interior of Harewood produced a house well suited to the complex structure of aristocratic Victorian society and improved domestic organisation. The State Dressing Room became a breakfast room with the addition of bookshelves and was situated next to the Countess’ Sitting Room, overlooking the new parterre. With this change of function, the beautiful Diana and Minerva commode moved to the Countess’s Sitting Room, the original State Bedroom, where it remained for many years, even when this room was Princess Mary’s Sitting Room and it was used by her, as her son the 7th Earl of Harewood remembered. It has found a permanent home in the State Bedroom since the restoration of this room in 2000. For the exhibition ‘Designer, Maker, Decorator’, the commode is for the first time displayed using mirrors to show aspects of the commode to full advantage, just as the original pier mirror would have done in the State Dressing Room, enabling visitors to see the details of the design, quality of the materials used and outstanding craftsmanship in detail.

Rebecca Burton, Collections Assistant, giving visitors a rare opportunity to see the central compartmentalised drawer opened for them to view in the exhibition. See the Diana and Minerva Commode in the ‘Thomas Chippendale: Designer, Maker, Decorator’ exhibition at Harewood House until 2nd September, 2018.

With thanks to James Lomax for discussions about the Diana and Minerva commode. For a full comparison between the Diana and Minerva commode and the Renishaw commode see James Lomax The Panshanger Cabinets in Context, 21 July 2017, on the Firle website under House, Family and Collection articles.

Professor Ann Sumner, Historic Collections Adviser, April 2018

Look out for Ann’s next blog in May when she shares her interview with Dr Adam Bowett, Chairman of the Chippendale Society and more on her paper about what early visitors thought of the Chippendale interiors at Harewood when they first saw them in the late 18th century.

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