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This mirror, a remarkable discovery, is identical in many carved elements and in construction to a pair of mirrors sold from Harewood House in 1987. That pair, now in a private collection, differs in not having sphinx platforms.

It was evident that our mirror had lost its ribbon tied roundel, and we were fortunate enough to be able to use photographic evidence and the experience of Carvers & Gilders Ltd. of London to reinstate it. The mercury silvered mirror plate is a replacement.

Chippendale always adjusted his designs for each client and other circular mirrors by the master are so far not known to exist.
A platform of identical size and design has been found in the store rooms at Harewood House. Identical sphinx carvings can be found surmounted on later pier mirrors in the Cinnamon Drawing Room formerly the White Drawing room where the mirror had originally been installed. This evidence links the mirror unequivocally to the other pair of circular mirrors and to Chippendale's work at Harewood House.
Thomas Chippendale was first recorded working for Edwin Lascelles of Harewood House as early as 1768, and after Chippendale’s death the commission continued with his son, also Thomas, until the early 1800s. This remarkable commission therefore spanned more than thirty years, furnishing Harewood and other Lascelles family homes, including that in London.

Many of the Harewood papers relating to Chippendale’s work have been preserved, making it possible to identify some of the pieces by the master at Harewood. There are some gaps, however, and records of Chippendale’s early work at Harewood and the other houses have been lost.

Harewood House underwent extensive refurbishment in the 19th century under Charles Barry, and many Chippendale features and fittings including the sphinx mirrors were removed, dismantled and stored in the attic of the house. Entire walls were removed and the layout of rooms was changed drastically. The furniture was moved around the house over the years, making it almost impossible to ascertain which piece originally belonged where.

Christopher Gilbert, whilst researching Chippendale for his seminal work on the master cabinet-maker, visited Harewood in the late 1970s and photographed the storage boxes containing Chippendale fragments. It was not until the late 1980s that the boxes were emptied and recorded systematically, and some mirrors were re-assembled where possible by Carvers & Gilders Ltd.

THE DISCOVERY OF A CHIPPENDALE GEM
by Christine Palmer, Carver & Gilders Ltd.

Having been separated from an elaborate 18th century decorative scheme for centuries, and during that time subjected to extreme conditions and treatments, the mirror, though disguised, was instantly recognisable when presented to Carvers & Gilders Ltd. as relating to Chippendale’s work at Harewood House.

Carvers & Gilders Ltd. have had a long association of over thirty years with Harewood House, after restoring the State Bed and mirrors there. Our work also involved the discovery of long-lost pairs of mirrors that had been displayed in the house. The extensive neoclassical green gold and regular gold scheme to which this mirror belonged was dismantled prior to major alterations in the 19th century. From the fragments available to us in the late 1980s, we were able to reconstruct a pair of circular mirrors surrounded by intricate carving. The carving and water gilding had survived remarkably well. Sadly the pair no longer had a context in the house, and were sold to help raise money for the restoration of pieces that were to be reunited with the collection.

From our experience at Harewood and information gathered from the discovered mirror we knew how it should look. With reference to our comprehensive notes and photographs from our earlier work we were able to reinstate the original design intention. Like the other pieces which were part of this scheme, the mirror is carved in lime wood, and the fine and detailed carving thinly gessoed and water gilded. During treatment we found small traces of the original gilding in the deeper recesses. It was identical to the gilding on the pair of mirrors that we had previously restored. There were enough gilding traces to establish the original scheme for the sphinx bases.

The original 18th century gilding scheme in this suite was quite definite. The foliage and some of the flower centres were gilded with a green gold leaf to contrast with the warmer regular gold leaf on the flowers and stalks. The flat sections in the frame and base elements are green gold. The original matt and burnish scheme, with the burnished areas treated with dragon’s blood, was evident on the pair and was identified on the discovered mirror. The interplay between the different gold colours and the matt and burnished elements creates a subtle and yet lively effect.

The carving required extensive cleaning to remove stain and wax before reinstating the gesso and gilding. This was achieved without further abrasion to the fine edges. Carving losses were all replaced with reference to the previously restored mirrors, so none was speculative. From a carver’s point of view, the original carving is the same as the pair, and probably from the same hand. The circular frame has exactly the same profile and depth of carving, which strongly suggests the three mirrors are from the same template.

Literature: Christopher Gilbert, ‘Chippendale’s Harewood Commission’, Furniture History, 1973, vol. 9, pp. 27-31.

Exhibitions:

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  • Provenance

    Edwin Lascelles, Harewood House, Yorkshire, or another Lascelles home, perhaps London, England;
    Collection of Chalmers Benedict Wood, US Foreign Service Officer and Ambassador, Wellington, New Zealand (1972-1974).


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