Included in Denhams’ (20% buyer’s premium) sale in Horsham on October 6 was a pair of green and white painted open armchairs catalogued as 19th or 20th French and estimated at just £100-150.
Guaranteeing a nice payday for both the vendor and the auctioneer, they were spotted online as something rather better and bid to £50,000. Although the auction house was keeping quiet, the buyer is thought to be trade.
This neoclassical design is a signature model made in the Chippendale workshop in the 1770s when ‘French’ painted furniture was at its fashionable apogee. There are a number of variations on the theme (the carving could be altered to suit a patron’s taste) but note in particular the rear cabriole legs terminating in scroll feet. Many similar chairs (they were typically made as part of larger sets rather than in pairs) have since been gilded but these appear to have much of their original polychrome finish.
The cost of painted furniture could be prohibitive. Invoiced in 1774, the drawing room suite at Burton Constable Hall included ‘12 neat Cabreole Armd Chairs Japand blue and white and part Gilt, Stuffd and Coverd with fine Blue mixt damask and brass naild’ at a cost of £50 8s.
The famously fractured relationship between Chippendale and the actor and theatre manager David Garrick (1717-79) began with a dispute over the cost of a suite of green and white-painted seating furniture made between 1768-78 for his home at Hampton in Middlesex. In 1778 Mrs Garrick accused Chippendale of overcharging for the green and white furniture because the cost of painting was twice the price of the original pieces.
A similar pair of chairs with refreshed painted decoration was sold by Christie’s as part of the Chippendale tercentenary sale in July 2018 for £55,000.