A Pair of Robert Adam Gilt Mirrors Attributed to John Linnell from Freston Lodge

Height: 70" 178cm
Width: 41½" 105.5cm
Origination: English
Circa: 1774

The oval mirror plates bordered by beeds, flutes and a gadrooned edge and further embellished with scrolling foliage to the lower part of the mirror and an entablature with crossed palm boughs below a classical urn to the upper part of the mirror. Scrolling down the sides of the mirror is further foliage and bell flowers.

Freston Lodge, Ipswich

These elegant oval-medallioned mirrors were designed by the Berkeley Square cabinet-maker John Linnell (d.1793) in the ‘antique’ fashion that he had learnt from George III’s Rome-trained court architect Robert Adam (d.1796).

A number of closely related designs in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings support this dating and the attribution to John Linnell. Drawings for pier-glasses from Linnell’s workshop dated 1773 and 1774 provide us with each of the principal motifs used. These include the urn, the crossed palms, the trailing bell flowers and the fluted frame. There can be little doubt that these mirrors came from his workshop.

Their vase-capped crest introduced Adam’s Etruscan ‘columbarium’ or vase-chamber fashion; but their light and airy frames are conceived in a more truly ‘Roman’ manner than the earlier mirrors that the Linnell firm had carved to Adam’s design in the mid-1760s for Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, ( see Hayward and Kirkham, ibid, fig. 282).

The flowing form of the decoration allows the mirrors to retain an element of the rococo and create a somewhat gentler form than a purely neo-classical mirror might have. Indeed, they epitomise the contemporary fashion for light-relief ‘Roman’ decoration that was executed in the manner of French papier-mâché wall-paper to resemble trompe l’oiel plaster-work. Linnell played close attention to Parisian taste and engraved ornament, and these frames help establish the fact that a number of his surviving designs were intended to be manufactured in this French manner, rather than being carved in wood. The practice had long been established by London frame-making workshops, such as that established in Barnard Street by Joseph Dufour, who was already famous by the 1740s for his ‘paper ornament like stucco’. Such ‘raised stucco’ , which also became known as ‘Pasteboard Stuccoe’ or ‘carton pierre’ was noted as having the advantage over real stucco in that it could be ‘taken down and removed….without any loss’.

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