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Osterley Park's 'Japanned Chairs with the Family Arms' - circa 1715-20

Category

Furniture

Date

circa 1715 - 1720

Materials

Lacquer, softwood, gilding, paint, oak, walnut

Measurements

106 x 50 x 57 cm

Place of origin

Guangzhou

Order this image

Collection

Osterley Park and House, London (Accredited Museum)

NT 771891.1.1

Summary

An armorial hall chair, the back and seat of lacquer, Chinese Export, probably Guangzhou (Canton), circa 1715-20. The walnut-veneered oak base, English, late 18th/early 19th century. One of a set of ten. Six [NT 771891.1.1 -.1.6] owned by the National Trust; four [NT 773356.1-.4] owned by the Earldom of Jersey Trust. The ten chairs part of a larger, and very rare, group of sixteen pieces of armorial Chinese Export lacquer furniture at Osterley comprising ten chairs, a screen [NT 771891.2], a casket [NT 771891.3], three coffers on stands [NT 771891.4.1 and .5.1 and .5.2] and a side table [NT 773362, also the property of the Earldom of Jersey Trust]. All bearing the coat of arms granted to Sir Francis Child (1642-1713) in 1700, 'gules, a chevron engrailed ermine between three eagles close each gorged with a ducal coronet or', before a foliate mantling, and topped by the crest of Child, 'on a Rock proper an eagle rising argent holding in the beak an adder proper', on a torse. Of softwood, the back and seat joined together with dovetails. The underside of the seat covered in a plain matt red lacquer on top of a substrate. Each chair with a chiselled Roman numeral; this chair marked 'X'. The back rectangular, with re-entrant top corners, and with a thumb-moulded edge picked out in gilt. The seat tapering from front to back, and with the same thumb-moulded edge picked out in gilt. The arms to both painted in a palette of red, silver and gold. Both back and seat with a border of repeated splayed elongated leaves forming a chevron, between the leaves a delicate stalk or sprig of stylised foliage, all within gold lines. The seat raised on a later base of oak rails veneered in walnut. The rear legs outswept and heavily chamfered. The front legs with integral upper scrolls forming ‘ears’. An edge-moulded rectangular board fixed (with screws) over the joint between the back and seat boards, to strengthen it.

Full description

Lacquered furniture like this was exclusively the preserve of early 18th century England’s richest men, the millionaires who amassed spectacular fortunes from trade, speculation and investment in emerging markets. Made in Guangzhou (Canton) in China, specifically for export, this furniture was only available via the East India Company, the chartered British concern with a monopoly on trade with China. English families commissioned a range of objects bearing their arms [1] – porcelain, textiles and different types of furniture – but remarkably, Osterley is the only place where such a large and diverse group has survived together, in the house of the family for which it was made. That sixteen pieces of armorial furniture have remained together, protected in law as heirlooms, is a measure of their rarity and value, and of the esteem in which they were held.[2] Lacquer is a decorative technique which was perfected by Japanese and Chinese artists, involving the building up of layers – on a timber or other substrate – of the sap of the Rhus vernicflua tree. The lustrous surface which results was the perfect background for decoration in gilt and colours. By 1720, furniture like this was being made in Guangzhou and was largely the preserve of the private trade in which East India Company captains, investors and directors were authorised to engage, alongside carrying out the official trade of the Company. Captains, crew members and overseers called ‘supercargoes’ were allowed to reserve a portion of the ships’ tonnage for their own goods, or goods which they had been commissioned to buy, and even lined their cabins with the commodities they were bringing home.[3] Space on ship was limited, and so lacquer was often brought back to England as flat boards transported stacked in cases, only assembled into three-dimensional furniture when it arrived in England. Families who commissioned goods from China bearing a coat of arms had first to send a tracing of that coat to China. This was not the only means by which the influence of English buyers was brought to bear on its final appearance, particularly where furniture was concerned. As early as 1702, when the London Company of ‘Joyners’ petitioned for the importation of Asian lacquer - because it threatened their own livelihoods – to cease, their complaint was not that Chinese furniture was being brought into England, but that Chinese furniture made after English models was being brought into England. Thus, they wrote, ‘several merchants…have procured to be made in London…and sent over to the East Indies, Patterns and Models of all sorts of Cabinet Goods.’[4] This exchange produced furniture which is a complex bicultural amalgam. The furniture follows English fashions and forms but was made with Chinese joinery and decorated with Chinese lacquer. To complicate this picture still further, the timber used to make furniture in Guangzhou was often imported into China from other parts of Asia by East India Company ships.[5] Imported as flat-packed boards, the bases of these chairs are generally thought to have been made in England. A set bearing the arms of Sir Gregory Page (d. 1720) of East Greenwich, Kent are raised on angular cabriole legs with unusual flying braces, which are japanned, i.e. decorated in Europe in imitation of lacquer.[6] A set thought to have been made for Sir William Heathcote, 1st Baronet (1693-1751), share the same bases.[7] Another set in the Victoria & Albert Museum, the original owners of which are unidentifiable because the arms painted on the chairs are later, is raised on the same simple angular cabrioles.[8] It is probable that the Osterley set originally had this type of base. A set at Houghton had distinctly English gilt-gesso bases.[9] This picture – of Chinese seats and backs with English bases – which is generally accepted as being standard for this type of chair, is complicated by a set sold at Sotheby’s in December 2011. Having lost all of their lacquer decoration their underlying timber is visible, and it appears that the back, seat and base of the illustrated chair are all made from exactly the same timber, which implies that the chairs were made of a piece at the same time and in the same location. The bases of the Osterley chairs are made from walnut-veneered oak, clearly dating from later in the eighteenth – or even the early nineteenth – century. Another interesting feature of the Osterley chairs is that each seat is marked to its underside (near, and sometimes obscured by, the front seat rail) with a Roman numeral. When exactly these chairs were commissioned, and by which member of the Child family, it is difficult to say precisely. Francis Child I (d. 1713) and his three sons were all heavily involved in the East India Company. Francis I served as a Director and sst on various committees. His eldest son, Robert Child (d. 1721), followed suit and was elected Chairman in 1715, the same year he was knighted by George I. Francis Child II (1684-1740) and Samuel Child (1693-1752) both also served as Directors, and Samuel held a large number of EIC stocks, and co-owned the EIC chartered ship the Northampton.[10] It is tempting to argue that Robert Child commissioned this armorial furniture to commemorate the dual honours of his knighthood and his Chairmanship of the East India Company. This corresponds with the date of similar chairs. Those made for Sir Gregory Page (d. 1720), for instance, must have been made between 1714 (when he was granted arms) and 1720 (when he died). It is possible, of course, that the surviving furniture at Osterley is the product of several commissions, as the pieces are of varying quality, and their decoration is clearly not the product of the same hand. The chests and chairs – with decoration confined to the arms and a simple border of leafy chevrons and sprigs – are more restrained, for instance, than the screen and the casket, which are highly decorated with landscape scenes and figures. We do not know when this furniture arrived in England, or for which Child property it was made, but it was first recorded at Osterley in the inventory taken there in 1782 and has been there – treasured as heirlooms – ever since.[11] Megan Wheeler, October 2019 [1] See, for instance, the will of Martha Page (d. 1729), the widow of Sir Gregory Page (d. 1720), which records a ‘square Japan table / with the coat of arms’ as well as ‘1 paire small [mugges] with armes’ (see National Archives, PROB 11/628/300). Two sets of Chinese armorial chairs (not mentioned in Martha Page’s will) also survive bearing the family’s arms. The first set, very similar to the lacquered chairs at Osterley, dates from c. 1714-20 (see A. Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture 1715-40 (2009), pp. 154-5 and Fig. 4:16. The second set, of rosewood inlaid with mother-of-pearl are in the Soane Museum (see H. Dorey, ‘A Catalogue of Furniture in Sir John Soane’s Museum’ in Furniture History XLIV (2008), 47-50. Many examples of armorial porcelain are known. Examples of armorial furniture are rarer, but other examples of (mainly) chairs and screens are known (either in documentation or because they survive) for Tower of Huntsmoor Park, Walpole of Houghton, Chandos of Cannons, the Dukes of Hamilton at Petworth, Eccleston of Peabody Street, Howard/Hobart of Marble Hill House. Other examples are known but with over-painted arms, so it is not clear for whom they were originally commissioned. [2] A seventeenth piece, also bearing the arms of Child, and probably a pair to the single small chest now in the Gallery at Osterley (NT) was sold Sotheby’s, 3 July 1997, Lot 16. This makes it possible that the set was once larger. [3] Kyoungjin Bae, Joints of Utility, Crafts of Knowledge: The Material Culture of the Sino-British Furniture Trae during the Long Eighteenth Century (PhD Thesis, Columbia University, 2016), pp. 48-9, 53-6. [4] ibid., pp.23-4. [5] ibid., pp.26-46. [6] Bowett, Early Georgian Furniture, pp. 154-5 and Fig. 4:16 [7] Illustrated G. Beard & N. Goodison, English Furniture 1500 – 1840 (1987), p. 60, Fig. 3. [8] Victoria & Albert Museum, Number W.16-1962. [9] A pair of these sold Christie’s, 8 December 1994, Lot 110. [10] Y. Sharma & P. Davies, ‘A jaghire without a crime’: The East India Company and the Indian Ocean material world at Osterley, 1700-1800’ in East India Company at Home, 1757-1857, eds. M. Finn & K. Smith (2018), 91. [11] M. Tomlin, ‘The 1782 Inventory of Osterley Park’ in Furniture History, Volume XXII (1986), pp. 123-4.

Provenance

Child Family Heirlooms. Listed in the Inventory taken at Osterley in 1782 as 'Eight Japanned Chairs with the family Arms' in the Vestibule Basement Story; the other pair in Mrs. Bunce's Room. Listed in the 1871 inventory as '10 Japd high back Hall chairs w coat of arms' in the 'Staircase and Vestibule'. Thence by descent; until given by George Francis Child-Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey (1910-1998) in 1993.

Marks and inscriptions

Underside of seat near front seat rail: X

References

National Archives, PROB 11/628/300 Bowett 2009, Early Georgian Furniture 1715 - 1740 (2009), pp.154-5 and Fig. 4:16 Dorey, H (2008): 'A Catalogue of Furniture in Sir John Soane's Museum' in Furniture History XLIV (2008), 47-50 Bae, K (2016), Joints of Utility, Crafts of Knowledge: The Material Culture of the Sino-British Furniture Trade during the Long Eighteenth Century (PhD Thesis, Columbia University, 2016), pp. 23-4, 26-46, 48-9, 53-6 Beard and Goodison (1987), English Furniture 1500-1840 (1987), p. 60 and Fig. 3 Sharma, Y & Davies, P. (2018), 'A jaghire without a crime': The East India Company and the Indian Ocean material world at Osterley, 1700=1800', in East India Company at Home, 1757-1857, eds. M. Finn & K. Smith (2018), 91 Tomlin, 1986: Maurice Tomlin. “The 1782 inventory of Osterley Park.” Furniture History 22 (1986): pp.107-134., 123-4

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