Sotheby’s to Offer a Group of Objects Celebrating Nelson’s Legend

Lot 116, The Victory Jack – an exceptionally large fragment (920mm x 860mm) of the union flag, believed to have flown from HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, circa 1805. (Sotheby’s)

Of Royal and Noble Descent, London, 17th of January 2018.

An evocative and impressive relic of Nelson and Trafalgar. Nelson’s ships sailed into battle at Trafalgar flying the national flag rather than just their squadron colours, as a result of an order issued by Nelson in the days before the battle: “When in the presence of an Enemy, all the Ships under my command are to bear white Colours [i.e. St George’s Ensign], and a Union Jack is to be suspended from the fore top-gallant stay” (10 October 1805). HMS Victory consequently flew two Union flags and a St George’s Ensign, which were returned to England with the ship and the body of Nelson.

These battle ensigns, unique patriotic mementoes of Nelson’s final and greatest victory, were later woven into the solemn and dignified series of ceremonials that marked his state funeral in January 1806. The body lay in state at the Painted Hall at Greenwich for four days before processing upriver in a funeral barge with a flotilla of naval escorts, disembarking at Whitehall Stairs and resting overnight in the Admiralty. The following day, 9 January, a vast procession followed Nelson’s remains to St Paul’s Cathedral, the site of the funeral. Incorporated into the funeral cortege was a group of 48 seamen and Marines from HMS Victory, who bore with them the ship’s three battle ensigns and were, according to one eyewitness, “repeatedly and almost continually cheered as they passed along”. At the conclusion of the funeral service, with the coffin placed at the heart of the cathedral beneath Wren’s great dome, the sailors were supposed to fold the flags and place them reverently on the coffin. The conclusion of the service, in fact, played out rather differently, as described by the Naval Chronicle (1806): “the Comptroller, Treasurer and Steward of his Lordship’s household then broke their staves, and gave the pieces to Garter, who threw then into the grave, in which all the flags of the Victory, furled up by the sailors were deposited – These brave fellows, however, desirous of retaining some memorials of their great and favourite commander, had torn off a considerable part of the largest flag, of which most of them obtained a portion.” According to one acute observer: “That was Nelson: the rest was so much the Herald’s office.” (See The Nelson Companion, ed. White (1995), pp8-14)

Most of the surviving fragments of the Victory’s flags are much smaller than the current piece. Small fragments of white and blue bunting, no more than 12cm in length, have appeared at auction (e.g. Bonhams, 28 September 2004, lot 117; Sotheby’s, 17 December 2009, lot 9) and other similar fragments are found at the National Maritime Museum and other institutional collections. Only two complete Union jacks that were used as battle ensigns at Trafalgar survive: one from HMS Minotaur (National Maritime Museum), the other from HMS Spartiate (sold at auction by Charles Miller Ltd., 21 October 2009, lot 53, £384,000).

Also on offer is a nice little pair of portraits, on ivory, of Lord Nelson and a rather unsteady and weary-looking Duke of Wellington.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXVII

I mentioned in Chest Invection and Picture This LIVI how, due to changes in tastes, the elevated chests from chests-on-stands and chests-on-chests often found themselves standing on the floor on newly acquired bun- or bracket feet – and conversely, how some formerly upper chests again, reattained their earlier status.

The walnut chest-on-chest in figure 1 is such a piece of furniture, though it doesn’t quite work.

Fig. 1. A not too happy marriage. (Woolley & Wallis)

The upper chest’s veneers are markedly different (and lighter) than those of the lower chest, though the stylistically later (circa 1745 pattern) handles go some way to visually amalgamate the two chests.

With its proper cornice, the upper chest was always going to be identified as just that. Having such a pronounced cornice, the original en suite lower chest would have been somewhat wider than the present incumbent in order to carry a commensurately substantial waist moulding.

Lot 102, the chest-on-chest comes up for auction at Woolley & Wallis on the 10th of January.

Jack Plane

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New Book | American Furniture 1650 to the Present

Oscar Fitzgerald, American Furniture, 1650 to the Present (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017), 630 pages, ISBN: 978 144227 0381, $130 / £85.

Drawing on the latest scholarship, this comprehensive, lavishly illustrated survey tells the story of the evolution of American furniture from the 17th century to the present. Not viewed in isolation, furniture is placed in its broader cultural, historic, and aesthetic context. The focus is not only on the urban masterpieces of 18th-century William and Mary, Queen Anne, Chippendale, and Federal styles but also on the work of numerous rural cabinetmakers. Special chapters explore Windsor chairs, Shaker, and Pennsylvania German furniture which do not follow the mainstream style progression. Picturesque and anti-classical explain Victorian furniture including Rococo, Renaissance, and Eastlake. Mission and Arts and Crafts furniture introduce the 20th century. Another chapter identifies the eclectic revivals such as Early American that dominated the mass market throughout much of the 20th century. After World War II American designers created many of the Mid-Century Modern icons that are much sought after by collectors today. The rise of studio furniture and furniture as art which include some of the most creative and imaginative furniture produced in the 20th and 21st centuries caps the review of four centuries of American furniture. A final chapter advises on how to evaluate the authenticity of both traditional and modern furniture and how to preserve it for posterity. With over 800 photos including 24 pages of color, this fully illustrated text is the authoritative reference work.

Oscar P. Fitzgerald is a nationally known historian, author, lecturer, and consultant on American furniture from colonial times to the present. He retired as the director of the Navy Museum in Washington, DC and curator of Tingey House, to pursue full time his first love which is the history of furniture from antique to modern. As a member of the faculty of the Smithsonian Institution/George Washington University Master’s program in Decorative Arts & Design History, he teaches all the furniture classes. As a decorative arts consultant, he advises on the furniture collections of a number of historic houses including the Frederick Douglass House, the Clara Barton National Historic Site, and the Custis-Lee Mansion. His publication range from a study of The Green Family of Cabinetmakers: An Alexandria Institution (of the Mercy Street TV series fame) to the catalog of the studio furniture at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


1  The Jacobean Period: Joiners and Cabinetmakers in the New World
2  William and Mary: The Years of Transition
3  Queen Anne: The Line of Beauty
4  The Chippendale Style
5  Furniture of the Federal Period
6  American Empire
7  Windsor Chairs
8  Country Furniture: New England
9  Southern Furniture
10  Furniture of Rural Pennsylvania, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Mid-West
11  Shaker Furniture: The Gift to Be Simple
12  Victorian Furniture: Gothic and Rococo Revivals
13  Victorian Furniture: The Renaissance Revival
14  Eastlake, the Aesthetic Movement, and the Colonial Revival
15  American Mission Furniture and the Arts & Crafts Movement: 1900–1915
16  Traditional Revivals for a Conservative Public
17  Modern Furniture, 1920–1941: Is It Here to Stay?
18  America Takes the Lead: Mid-Century Modern, 1950s and 1960s
19  Post-Modern and Avant-Garde Furniture since 1975
20  Studio Furniture and Furniture as Art
21  Connoisseurship of American Furniture

Via Enfilade

Jack Plane

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The Elephants Can Sleep a Little Easier

Earlier this week one of Australia’s pre-eminent auction houses, Leonard Joel, submitted its policy on the cessation of trade in ivory and rhino horn to the European Commission’s public consultation regarding European trade in these materials.

In their 22nd Report, released today, Leonard Joel announced the affect this cessation in ivory trade has made on their business over the past year.

At about this time one year ago ‘the penny dropped’ for me as an auctioneer and I could no longer deny that auctioneers who dealt in ivory were not significantly contributing to maintaining value in this material and consequently, the ongoing slaughter of endangered species.

In 2016, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW released a report titled Under the Hammer that amongst other things, identified the top 10 auction traders in ivory in Australia.

To my shame, Leonard Joel was measured as holding the number one position and that report prompted a profound change in our thinking on this issue. To my disappointment, we remain the only auction house in Australia to act on this report but I remain hopeful that my remaining top 9 cohorts will eventually join us in a more enlightened position.

Our detailed policy on the cessation of trade in both elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn is well documented now and publicly available for all to read, share and adopt. It has now even travelled to a Boston conference and the European Commission as an example of what’s possible.

But what no one could predict until now is the commercial impact such a cessation would have on an auction house that embraced this policy.

Now, one year on, I can report the exact commercial impact on Leonard Joel.

Our weekly Objects & Collectables department handles tens of thousands of decorative arts items every year and was, before this year, the platform for more trade in decorative ivory than any other auction house in Australia. Naturally, I was nervous about the commercial impact our cessation would have, a phase 1 cessation that overnight eliminated the trade at Leonard Joel of all but a handful of pieces that pre-dated 1921.

Here, we share with our collecting community the financial results that compare our final year of uninhibited ivory trade, calendar year 2016 and our first year of cessation in that trade, calendar year 2017.

The results speak for themselves and we hope that they will inspire change in other auction houses and antique dealers alike.

2016 Objects & Collectables Department Total: $2,011,675

2017 Objects & Collectables Department Total: $2,063,791

Yes, that’s correct, our sales have increased by $52,116 or almost 2.6%.

We are proud of our pioneering stance and our hope that, with this information, other auction houses and antique dealers will make it their new year’s resolution to no longer trade in this material, a material that finds its origin in slaughter.

John Albrecht
Managing Director, Leonard Joel

Jack Plane

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Happy New Year

Cheers to everyone who took the time to read my posts over the past year, and a special thank you to those who commented on them.

Wishing all my readers happiness and prosperity in 2018.

Jack Plane

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New Book | The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale Junior

Judith Goodison, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale Junior (Philip Wilson, 2017), 464 pages, ISBN: 9781781300565, £65 / $95.

The Chippendale cabinet-making firm, founded by Thomas Chippendale senior in about 1750 became famous partly through the successful publication of his The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754, re-published 1755 and 1762), and partly through the fine furniture supplied to a number of illustrious clients.

Chippendale senior ran the workshop for just over twenty years. His eldest son Thomas Chippendale junior (1749–1822) continued the business for over forty, the first two decades in partnership with Thomas Haig.

Chippendale senior’s work has been well documented. Chippendale junior’s work has never, until now, been thoroughly researched. The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale Junior repairs the omission. His patrons included members of the Royal Family, aristocrats, landed gentry, and antiquarians. He was adept at satisfying their demands, whether they required lavish gilt or simpler, often mahogany, pieces.

Where family archives and original settings survive, as at Harewood House, Paxton House, and Stourhead, they reveal the variety and quality of Chippendale’s output. Analysis of client’s invoices, even when the furniture can no longer be traced, for the first time provides a colourful view of what customers chose and what prices they paid.

Judith Goodison FSA is a furniture historian and has been researching the work of Thomas Chippendale junior for the last ten years.

Via Enfilade.

Jack Plane

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Chippendale 300

Thomas Chippendale: A Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design, 1718-2018
9 February – 9 June 2018, Leeds City Museum, LS2 8BH, UK

This exhibition celebrates the life and work of Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), Britain’s most famous furniture maker. It will be the most comprehensive exhibition of Thomas Chippendale’s work ever presented and will include furniture, accessories, drawings, documents and other material from collections throughout the United Kingdom. Alongside well-known masterpieces from public collections there will be rarely-seen furniture from private houses and some new discoveries, never before exhibited.

The exhibition explores Thomas Chippendale’s life and work in five major themes: his family origins, training, career and the publication of the ground-breaking Director; his furniture in the Rococo, Gothic, Chinese and neo-Classical styles; the management of his commissions, including relations with clients; his workshops, including manufacturing and decorative techniques; and his legacy from the 18th century to the present day.

Entry to Chippendale 300 is free and is open Tuesdays to Fridays 10.00-1700, Saturdays and Sundays 11.00 to 1700. Mondays closed, except bank holidays.

For further information on location, facilities, parking, and public transport visit the Museum website

Jack Plane

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Season’s Greetings

Whatever your persuasion and situation, I wish you all well during the festive season.

Edward Penny, The Mistletoe or Christmas Gambols, circa 1796, (LWL)

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXVI

This splendid early eighteenth-century walnut breakfront chest-on-stand comprises a number of features that stylistically, span several decades: The chest’s frame-and-panel gables’ origin is in the last quarter of the seventeenth-century; the double bead drawer aperture moulding enjoyed popularity from 1700 to at least 1735; the large cyma recta top moulding and large projecting waist moulding were fashionable from 1715-25; the chest’s escutcheons are of a design in vogue from 1715 to about 1730 (the chest’s vendor concedes the mid-century style bail handles are later) and the stand’s two ring pulls (which, apparently, are original) enjoyed popularity from 1690 to 1755.

The vendor doesn’t mention if any locks are fitted to the drawers or whether the escutcheons (and backplates with keyholes) are purely for show. The status of the piece would lead me to believe locks are/were fitted, in which case, I would tend to think – other than the ring pulls on the small drawers in the stand – the handles would have been early bails, en suite with the chest’s escutcheons (the stand’s escutcheon appears to be a later replacement), as otherwise single rings would coincide with the top two drawers’ locks.

Fig. 1. Early Georgian walnut chest-on-stand, circa 1715-30. (Webberley Antiques)

The chest would have been made for a well-established client who was familiar with, and appreciated, frame-and-panel construction. The frame and panels are neatly moulded which, in conjunction with the classical breakfront and solid oak underpinnings, point to this being a considerable item of furniture.

The fun doesn’t stop there folks; the chest-on-stand incorporates several clever features. There is a small ‘secret’ drawer, partially encased in the outer end of each of the chest’s pair of short drawers. Due to the concave breakfront construction, the outer ends of the drawers are sufficiently thick to accommodate narrow ‘coin-‘ or ‘ring drawers’. I have seen these before (also in a breakfront chest), but they were entirely concealed when the short drawers were closed, whereas these little drawers share a portion of crossbanding (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Secret drawer-within-drawer. (Webberley Antiques)

The other stand-out ingredient is the wooden spring catch used to ‘lock’ each of the stand’s small drawers (fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Spring catch attached to drawer side. (Webberley Antiques)

With this particular chest, the downside to the position of the catches is the need to remove the central drawer to gain access to them (fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Somewhat inconveniently-located spring catch access hole. (Webberley Antiques)

Rare (but canonical) wooden spring ‘pushers’ located part-way along the interior of the central drawers’ sides would have obviated the need to remove the drawer.

Jack Plane

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Picture This CXV

I have mentioned dealer sophistry before, but specious descriptions of antique furniture are sadly becoming ever more prevalent (I will save a discussion on the possible reasons for another time).

The vendor of the Windsor chair in figure 1 described it as originating in Pennsylvania and being made of hickory and maple.

Fig. 1. A mid-eighteenth-century Windsor chair.

The chair is clearly and irrefutably of English design and the timbers employed are ash and elm (figs. 2, 3 & 4).

Fig. 2.

Fig. 3.

Fig. 4.

Jack Plane

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