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The Newhailes Armchairs: A Pair of George II Mahogany Armchairs with Aubusson Tapestry
England, circa 1750

The Newhailes armchairs are an exceptional and highly important pair of George II mahogany armchairs with their original Aubusson tapestry seat covers. Each chair with a rectangular back and seat upholstered in tapestry featuring cartouches of flowers and scroll-work depicting game birds against a crimson background, the arms with outswept harnd rests and moulded, sloping supports with flower-head terminals and beading, standing on outstanding pierced amd fretted square-section legs carved with floral garlands, with Chinoiserie fretwork stretchers, each leg terminating in guttae feet.

The tapestry seat cover by, and each signed by, Pierre Mage.


Newhailes
After Janet St. Clair’s death in 1766, the contents of her home at no. 60 Greek Street, Soho, London were sold at auction. The set of four chairs was described as ‘4 French elbow chairs with tapestry seats & cases’ and were purchased by her nephew Sir David Dalrymple for his residence at Newhailes, near Edinburgh.

Sir David Dalrymple was the younger son off the 1st Viscount of Stair, President of the Court of Session. His older brother John, later 1st Earl of Stair became the Joint Secretary of State and authorized the massacre of the Clan Macdonald at Glencoe in 1692. Because of this treacherous event, the Dalrymple’s armorial, bearing the Nine of Diamonds, became known as ‘the Curse of Scotland.’

Newhailes, now owned by the National Trust of Scotland, is an incredible survival of the Scottish Enlightenment. Sir David Dalrymple, 1st Bt of Hailes, the Auditor of the Exchequer, acquired the property in 1707, which was known at the time as Whitehill. In 1686, the 2nd Lord Bellenden of Broughton had commissioned the building of a Palladian villa, noted by Howard Colvin to be the first real instance of Palladian architecture in Great Britain. Dalrymple retained several of the original elements of Whitehill, including the twisting spiral staircase with wrought-iron balustrade by William Aitken and the wainscoting in the Chinese Room. Offering sweeping vistas over the Firth of Forth, the influence of the proximity to the sea can be seen throughout the house in its decorative Rococo elements.

Sir David Dalrymple began work on the house just prior to his death in 1721. The designer for these interiors is not known, though John Cornforth suggests that James Gibbs may be responsible. Dalrymple could well have visited Gibbs during his frequent visits to London, to get advice from the designer known for his Classical taste.

After Sir David died, his son James took over the renovations of Newhailes and its expansion. He commissioned Thomas Clayton to execute fine plasterwork throughout the new entrance hall, which features a plethora of swags, flowers, birds, trophies, and lions’ manes styled as if rustling in the breeze from the Forth.

Dr Samuel Johnson referred the library ‘the most learned room in Europe.’ Sir James continued his father’s work in the library with a magnificent new marble, possibly supplied by Sir Henry Cheere as three others in the house are known to have been supplied by him. These are the only chimneypieces by Cheere in Scotland. Clayton’s plasterwork can also be seen in this room in the framing around Sir John Medina’s double portrait of Sir James as a boy with his father. Sir James’s son, David, wrote The Annals of Scotland in 1743 on the writing table in this room. He was described in Douglas’s Peerage as ‘that honour to his country and to human nature.’ He amassed a book collection of over 7,000 volumes that was widely admired among his peers, including David Hume who asked for a copy of The Life of Oliver Cromwell, which he could not find in the Advocates Library in Edinburgh. The present chairs are shown in situ in the Country Life photographs of the library.


The Chair Frames
The magnificent mahogany frames of these chairs embody Thomas Chippendale’s ‘Modern’ fashion as described in his publication The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754). The fusion of Chinese and Gothic elements along with Roman ornament are particular to this moment in Georgian design and are executed exquisitely on these frames. The chairs’ use of square openwork legs and the stretchers with fretwork recall the ‘French Chair’ shown in the Director, while the ‘guttae’ feet can be seen on his ‘Gothick’ and ‘Chinese’ chair designs.

Although the maker of the chairs is unknown, they are certainly the work of a leading cabinet-maker, and likely candidates include William Vile or William Bradshaw and George Smith Bradshaw. Bradshaw was a cabinetmaker with a tapestry workshop at 59 Greek Street. He was predominantly an upholsterer but is also known to have supplied furniture in the 1730s and 1740s, having supplied a suite of twelve armchairs and two sofas with tapestry covers to the 2nd Earl Stanhope for the Carved Room at Chevening House, Kent in 1736-37.

Given the later date of our chairs, circa 1755, it is more likely that the chairs themselves were made by one of the leading cabinet-makers of the day and close by St. Martin’s Lane, including William Vile and Thomas Chippendale himself. They may well have been subsequently upholstered in the Bradshaw workshops.

Vile was almost certainly commissioned to create the superlative set of mahogany seat furniture for the drawing room of the 4th Earl of Shaftesbury at St. Giles’s House in Dorset. The entwined floral garlands and guttae feet alomg with the carved floral terminals on the downswept arms are similar in both the St Giles’s chairs and the Newhailes set. The exceptional carving on both suites is clearly the work of a master cabinetmaker, and Vile is the most plausible.

The coincidence here is that Janet St. Clair resided next door to Bradshaw’s workshop at 60 Greek Street. However, the dates do not quite match up: Janet moved here after husband’s death in 1762.


The Tapestries
The chairs are covered in their outstanding crimson-coloured Aubusson tapestries, each signed by their creators. The backs feature birds, one with a peacock and one with a crane, designed in the manner of Jean Baptist Oudry, and are framed within elaborate cartouches with floral swags and acanthus leaves. The seats feature animals, one with a leaping deer and dog, each within cartouches with Pan-like masks tied with ribbon-scrolls and wrapped by Roman acanthus. The base of each back is signed ‘M. R. D. Mage,’ which likely refers to Pierre Mage, who worked at the Aubusson manufactory from 1697-1747. Mage had a workshop in the Rue de la Hachette in Paris and came from a family of tapestry weavers, including a François Mage being recorded in 1585.

It is quite possible that General St. Clair brought the tapestries back from Paris himself. He was a British military envoy in Vienna and Turin in 1748 and returned home via Lyons and Paris. Coutts Bank arranged for him to have credit in both of these cities in the autumn of that year. As Pierre Mage stopped working in 1747, the seat covers could not have been made later than this year, it is possible that St. Clair purchased them and brought them back to be made into chairs at a later date, to say that the chair frames themselves were commissioned to carry the tapestries.

The other possibilities is that Janet St. Clair purchased the tapestries from her neighbours in Greek St., the Bradshaw workshops, who were known to carry Aubusson tapestries in stock, and in fact used them to as templates to create their own designs.

Jean Baptiste Oudry was a French artist renowned for his depictions of animals. Between 1729 and 1734 he published a total of 276 drawings that illustrated tales from the 17t century work by Jean de la Fontaine, Fables Choisies Mises en Vers. One such image shows ‘Le Paon se Plaignant à Junon’ (Fable XXXIX) with two richly coloured peacocks, one with its plumes magnificently splayed, similar to the one depicted on the Newhailes chairs.

Height 101.00cm (39.76 inches)
Width 75.00cm (29.53 inches)
Depth 76.00cm (29.92 inches)


Signed/Inscribed/Dated

P. Maje

Provenance

Provenance
Originally from a set of four chairs almost certainly commissioned by General the Hon. James St. Clair (1688-1762) or his wife Janet (d. 1766), youngest daughter of Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, who moved to a house at 60 Greek Street, London, after her husband's death. Following Janet Sinclair's death, the contents of the house in Greek Street were sold by auction, the four chairs being purchased by her nephew David Dalrymple, 1st Lord Hailes (1726-92) for Newhailes House, Midlothian, Scotland, and thence by descent at Newhailes until sold by Sir David Dalrymple (d. 1932).

With Frank Partridge & Sons, London, 1928.
The Collection of Percy R. Pyne, Esq., New York.
The Collection of Mrs. Robert G. Elbert, Long Island and South Carolina.
With Frank Partridge, Inc., New York
Sold Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, The Collection of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., 6-7 May 1960; the four chairs sold as two lots, the present pair sold as lot 517.
The four chairs reunited with Partridge Fine Arts, London, circa 1980s.
The present pair in the collection of Ira and Nancy Koger until sold, Sotheby's, New York, 24 October 1998, lot 1357.

Literature

H. Ceskinsky, The Gentle Art of Faking Furniture, London, 1931, pl. 242, the 'Peacock' chair
L. Weaver, 'Newhailes, Midlothian,' Country Life, September 8, 1917, pp. 228-232
P. Duncan, 'Newhailes, East Lothian,' Country Life, January 29 and February 5, 1987
J. Cornforth, 'Newhailes, East Lothian,' Country Life, November 21 and 28, 1996
I. Gow, Scottish Houses and Gardens, London, 1997, p. 107
John Cornforth, 'How French Style Touched The Georgian Drawing Room,' Country Life, January 6, 2000, pp, 52-55, fig. 9, the 'Crane' chair
J. Cornforth, 'Newhailes, Midlothian,' Country Life, August 22, 2002, p. 65-66

Exhibitions

'Loan Exhibition of French and English Art Treasures of the Eighteenth Century,' New York, 1942, no. 471

Reference - M07.60