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A pair of george iii giltwood armchairs circa 1765, attributed to william gomm

  • GBR
  • 2013-12-04
About the object
Each cartouche-shaped upholstered backrest within a pierced foliate acanthus and rocaille-carved frame, the acanthus-scrolled handholds on S-scrolled carved armrest supports above a serpentine-fronted drop-in seat within a conforming pierced foliate-scrolled acanthus and rocaille-carved apron, raised on acanthus-carved cabriole legs terminating in acanthus-scrolled feet
The form and detail of the present chairs is closely related to a drawing which is included in a group of three surviving manuscript books in the Collection of The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Delaware, the first volume containing manuscript designs for furniture, rooms, and ornamental designs, some of which are signed by Willliam Gomm and dated July, August, and November 18, 1761.  Further evidence of his ownership of the books is evidenced by an example of multiplication possibly addressed to his fifteen year old son William with the measurements of his room at Clerkenwell Close with the request as to 'how many feet of carpeting would cover it'.  The design, which is annotated A, is pasted into the book with four other drawings in the rococo style, B being for a pier mirror, C for a girandoles, D  for another pier mirror, and E  a pier table, naturalistically carved in the form of a tree; a table based on this design, and subsequently shown to have had a Gomm family provenance was sold at Sotheby's sale of the contents of Groombridge Place, the estate of Walton Mountain, September, 15-16, 1992, lot 49. William Gomm (c. 1698-1780) was the son of a yeoman farmer in Chinnor, and was apprenticed in 1713 to Hugh Maskall of London, a member of the Leathersellers' Company, joining this on the completion of his apprenticeship and subsequently being made free of the Upholders' Company in 1770.  First established at Peterborough Court, Smithfield, in 1725, he then moved to Newcastle House, Clerkenwell Court, building a double range of workshops over the surviving medieval nun's hall.  By 1756 he had taken his eldest son Richard (born c. 1729) into the business, the partnership continuing until bankruptcy occurred in 1776, although it was noted at that time that Richard 'filed by faults not his own'.  It is interesting to note that at some time in the 1730s William became associated with the German cabinet-maker Abraham Roentgen; Roentgen family memoirs mention him 'working with a number of  skilled furniture makers in London including one named as 'gern', at Newcastle House, presumably Gomm (Beard and Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, 1660-1840, 1986, pp. 349-350).
Gomm's known commissions include supplying various items of furniture to Richard Hoare of Barn Elms, J. Buller of Morval, Cornwall, the Banking premises of Glyn, Halifax and Co., of Birchin Lane, London and Richard Weddell of Pall Mall, London, the father of William Weddell of Newby Hall, Yorkshire; the majority of these pieces appear to be of a 'domestic' nature, either of walnut or mahogany.  The most extensive commission carried out by the partnership appears to be that carried out for the 5th Lord Leigh at Stoneleigh Park in 1763, and included '183 assorted chairs, together with tables, dressing tables, clothes presses, close stools, a chest on chest, shaving table, commode dressing table, Pembroke table and a sideboard' (Beard and Gilbert, op. cit. )  Many of these survived at Stoneleigh until dispersed in the 1980s, all of them being again of a 'domestic' nature.  Apart from the present chairs, the most ambitious pieces of furniture, which have been attributed to Gomm, are the aforementioned table from Groombridge Place, and an elaborately carved altar table, the apron centred by a cherub's head made for the chapel at Stoneleigh.
The present chairs are part of a suite of at least seven chairs designed in the full rococo taste of the late 1750s and 1760s, chairs of a similar form being illustrated in contemporary pattern books such as Thomas Chippendale's The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, published in three editions between 1754 and 1763, and The Universal System of Household Furniture, published in 1762 by William Ince and John Mayhew, where they are described as French Chairs. Gomm's manuscript design and that of the present chairs is particularly notable for its lightness, the pierced elements of the carving providing a serious challenge to the chair-maker to provide sufficient strength to the frame overall. This is certainly not indicated either in the published designs of Chippendale or Ince and Mayhew, although a manuscript design by Matthias Lock which is closely related to a surviving chair which appears in various portraits by the painter Richard Cosway, also has these features.
Kenure Park, Rush, Co. Dublin, was originally built in 1703 for the Dukes of Ormonde, subsequently becoming the property of Sir Henry Echlin, the 3rd Bt. After he lost the estate through bankruptcy, it was purchased by the daughter of the 2nd Baronet and her husband Francis Palmer.  It then descended in the Palmer family until 1964 when Colonel R. H. Fenwick-Palmer sold the contents, the house and estate being sold to the Irish Land Commissioners.  Unfortunately the house, which had fallen into severe decay, was demolished in 1978, the only part now remaining being the imposing portico by Papworth erected in the 1840s.  The few surviving photographs of the interiors of the house indicate that a number of rooms still retained their fine rococo plasterwork probably by Robert West of Dublin and carved woodwork which remained after an extensive fire in 1827 only to be subsequently destroyed in 1978.
It is not known when the present chairs left the house, only three chairs from the suite being sold at the auction of the contents of the house in 1964, at which time an unusual ormolu-mounted lacquered commode by Pierre Langlois, and also a superb George II parcel-gilt padouk cabinet-on-stand attributed to Thomas Chippendale were also sold.
One pair of armchairs of this suite sold recently with Christie’s New York, Important English Furniture, 27 October 2006, lot 100 ($408,000), one other ungilded pair were sold at Sotheby's New York, Important English Furniture, 16 Oct 2008, lot 223 ($242,500), possibly the pair sold with Parke-Bennet Galleries, New York, 9 November 1956, lot 301.

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* Note that the price doesn’t correlate with today’s value, but only relates to the actual end price at the time of the purchase.