Width: 32" 81.5cm
A superbly drawn gilt-wood mirror from the mid eighteenth century. The bevelled mirror plate framed by scrolls, foliage, pilasters and conjoined ‘c’ scrolls. The balance betwee the size of the plate to the frame is excellent and the quality of execution extremely fine.
This pier glass may have been carved in the same workshop as a distinctive group of furniture from St Giles’s House, Dorset, notably a pair of pier glasses that each have a similarly idiosyncratic group of sheep in an open cartouche at the bottom. This pair of mirrors, though rather more lavishly carved, also has comparable trailing flowers, C-scrolls and inner vertical sides formed as vestigial pillars with capitals. A picture-frame clearly from the same workshop as the pier mirrors was sold from St Giles’s House in 1980, together with another less closely related picture-frame and a side-table with a larger cluster of sheep in the apron cartouche. The St Giles’s mirror- and picture-frames also feature vivacious pelicans (or imaginary birds) at the upper corners – although these, like the sheep, have no armorial significance for the Earls of Shaftesbury (whose crest and arms chiefly boast bulls). The sheep motif recurs in a pier glass of unknown origin, somewhat similar in composition to the present example though more densely carved.
A similar repertoire of ornament appears on a pier glass formerly at Hall Barn, near Beaconsfield, but this shows a squirrel in the apron cartouche, rather than sheep. Neither the maker nor a distinct designer has been firmly identified for this group of furniture, although there are evident connections with designs published in the late 1750s by Thomas Johnson. The present mirror has elements in common with all three frame designs in the first plate of Johnson’s Collection of Designs (1758), including the console-scrolled sides (in the left design), the inner vestigial pillars, and the playful depiction of animals.
The squirrel motif recurs in a remarkable set of pier glasses at Blair Castle, Perthshire, which were supplied to the Duke of Atholl by the upholsterer George Cole of Golden Square in 1761 and 1763. It has generally been assumed that these mirror-frames could not have been manufactured in Cole’s workshop, and they have been tentatively attributed to Johnson himself, again on the analogy of his Collection of Designs. However, they also relate, and may be indebted, to a design by Matthias Lock, which is of similar profile and likewise displays a full-length human figure in the cresting – a highly unusual and ambitious treatment. This relationship to the publications of two different designers is entirely consistent with production in yet a third London workshop. The reluctance of historians to credit Cole seems to arise chiefly from the fact that little is known of his career or output. However, it must be significant that he was also paid substantial sums for work at Corsham Court, where the State Bedroom houses a pair of oval pier glasses – again with squirrels – that closely correspond to a design by Thomas Johnson. The likelihood is that Cole supplied the Corsham mirrors too. He may of course have subcontracted these and the Blair mirrors to Thomas Johnson, or he may himself have supervised their production in his own workshop, taking inspiration from published designs. If he ran a more ambitious workshop than has so far been realized, he is also a candidate for the maker of the present mirrors.
This mirror-frame houses a single, full-height bevelled glass plate, which may be redeployed from an early eighteenth-century mirror. The re-use of expensive mirror plates was by no means uncommon in the eighteenth century, and some designs indeed appear to have been devised specifically for this purpose. This may account for the fact that certain designs for rococo mirror-frames have strictly rectilinear inner edges, while others have scrolled edges like the outer frame. Examples of both types are often combined by Johnson on the same plate.