The Lulworth Castle Dragon Chairs

The Lulworth Castle Dragon Chairs
Height: 36" 92cm
Width: 23" 58.5cm
Depth: 23" 58.5cm
Origination: English
Circa: 1755–59

These wonderful chairs with their quirky ‘Chinese’ ornament – notably the intertwined dragons on the top rail – shows an inventiveness paralleled in the work of few other makers.  While the overall design reveals an awareness of Chinoiserie patterns published by Thomas Chippendale, Ince & Mayhew, and Robert Manwaring, it is not directly indebted to any of these but is a wholly idiosyncratic idiom.

Provenance

This pair of chairs were almost certainly supplied to Edward Weld (1705–1761) for Lulworth Castle, his ancestral home in Dorset.

Soon after he came of age in 1726 Weld began to refurbish the Jacobean house, a gradual process that continued for over thirty years. Most of the work was entrusted to the local family firm of architect-builders, joiners and upholders, the Bastards of Blandford Forum.[1]  Up to the mid-1740s Weld concentrated on the main reception rooms and the Chapel, but in the 1750s he moved on to the bedrooms: the principal bedroom on the first floor was hung with crimson silk damask in 1755–56.

The present ‘Chinese’ chairs were almost certainly ordered for these family bedrooms, and several sets were supplied with minor variations. The type shown here differ only slightly from another pair of chairs that were sold by a descendant of Edward Weld in 1991.[2]  These small differences may be due simply to individual carvers’ interpretations of a single design. A more distinct variant, of which four were also sold in 1991, has flowers and foliage carved on the seat rails instead of Chinese fretwork.[3]  Yet another pattern was produced with a more elaborate carved and fretwork chair-back.[4]

The chairs can be attributed with near-certainty to the Bastard workshop, which during this period was managed by John (c. 1688–1770) and William (c. 1689–1766), two of the six sons of the firm’s founder Thomas Bastard (d. 1720).[5]   Consistent with manufacture in a country town is the choice of timbers – walnut for the show-wood (when mahogany would have been usual in London) and ash for the seat rails (which in London-made furniture were almost always beech).

 

 

[1] Jean Manco and Francis Kelly, ‘Lulworth Castle from 1700’, Architectural History, Vol. 34 (1991), 145–70 (pp. 146–53); Polly Legg, ‘The Bastards of Blandford: an inventory of their losses in the fire of 1731’, Furniture History, Vol. 30 (1994), 15–42 (p. 21 & n. 24).

 

[2] Christie’s London, 5 December 1991, lot 234. Another example matching one of the present models (the top rail with upturned ends) was sold from the collection of Christopher Gibbs, Clifton Hampden house sale, Christie’s, 25–26 September 2000, lot 204 (missing fretwork in the seat rails).

 

[3] Christie’s London, 5 December 1991, lots 232–233 (two pairs). See also Ralph Edwards, Dictionary of English Furniture, 2nd edn (1954), Vol. I, p. 286, fig. 190 (this chair then at Lulworth Castle).

[4] Edwards, op. cit., p. 286, fig. 189 (also at Lulworth Castle).

 

[5] Howard Colvin, Dictionary of British Architects 1660–1840, 2nd edn (1978), pp. 96–98, with family tree showing three generations of the Bastard family.

£48,000.00
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