This blog continues in the “Europe & the U.S. in 99 Objects” series. Dr. Gabriella de la Rosa at the National Trust has started this project for the National Trust, originally published here, by delving into the Trust’s collections – nearly 1 million objects held at over 200 historic properties across the United Kingdom – to find objects with interesting, unusual and unexpected connections to Europe. These objects and their stories are being published in the form of a digital diary on the National Trust Collections website.
John Russell (c.1773-1822)
Collection: Knole, Kent (Accredited Museum)
The young and dashing 3rd Duke of Dorset was the penultimate British ambassador at the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette before the French Revolution. He became good friends with the queen, whom he affectionately referred to as ‘Mrs B’ after the royal house of Bourbon.
Ambassadors were seen as personal representatives of the King and as such they were provided with a conspicuously splendid equipage. This typically included silver, a portrait of the sovereign, a state canopy as well as a chair of state with a pair of stools, a footstool and a dais.
Dorset was no exception. His canopy, which was later converted into a four-post bed, was embroidered in high relief with the royal arms. He was provided with full-length portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte in carved and gilded frames. Perhaps most extravagant, his service of silver was exceptionally elaborate, comprising 12 dozen engraved plates.
But what about his chair of state? This cabriole-legged chair, supplied by John Russell, chairmaker to George III, was glaringly old-fashioned, even in the Duke of Dorset’s time. Its plain shape and the overall lack of carving and gilding was reminiscent of earlier and simpler furniture.
It’s interesting to note that while Dorset did not complain about the archaic design of his chair of state, one of his contemporaries, George Hervey, 2nd Earl of Bristol and ambassador to Madrid, did. Bristol requested that he only be given crimson damask to be used in a more elaborate ambassadorial throne he planned to commission from Spanish craftsmen.
A polished walnut chair of state on cabriole legs, stuffed seat, back and arms upholstered in crimson silk damask; the damask and fringe apparently applied over cherry coloured velvet. As Martin Drury explains, it was customary, until about 1830, for British ambassadors ‘to be equipped at the expense of the sovereign with an allowance of plate, a portrait of the sovereign, a state canopy, a chair, two stools, a foot stool and chapel furnishings’ (Drury 1985). This chair of state, stylistically archaic, comes en suite with two stools (NT 129411.1-2). The set may either be the one supplied by John Russell to the George Montagu, 4th Duke of Manchester, British Ambassador to the court of Louis XVI in 1783 or to his successor, John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (Ambassador from 1783-1789). Because the Duke of Manchester’s embassy was so short lived, it is likely that Dorset took over his furniture. Manchester’s chair is recorded to have been supplied by John Russell, joiner and chairmaker, who also supplied the chair of state for Lord Whitworth, appointed Ambassador to Paris in 1802, and also preserved at Knole (NT 129592). ‘On the inner face of the seat rail of the chair are inscribed [in ink] the words: “Fryer July 1783”. Fryer is probably the name of the craftsman in Russell’s workshop who made the chair’ (Drury 1985).
#13 A Punch Party
Thomas Patch (Exeter 1725 – Florence 1782)
Category: Art / Oil paintings
Date: 1760 (signed and dated)
Materials: Oil on canvas
Measurements: (45 x 68 in) 1143 x 1715 mm
Place of origin: Florence
Collection: Dunham Massey, Cheshire (Accredited Museum)
Lads’ nights out on the town are no novelty. This depiction of a group of fashionable aristocrats on the Grand Tour imbibing ‘punch’ is set in Florence in 1760. But it could rightly be a rugby club on a Saturday night, and, in both cases, wives and girlfriends are not invited.
Lord Grey, future Earl of Stamford and heir to Dunham Massey, where this picture now hangs, is depicted in a blue waistcoat. He is adjacent to the innkeeper who holds a rather large punch bowl above the revellers’ heads. Lord Grey wears a cameo on his little finger, presumably acquired from Thomas Robinson, later 2nd Lord Grantham, who plays at peddling precious trinkets to fellow carousers.
The artist of this picture, Thomas Patch, has included a portrait of himself in the form of the bust on the wall at the right, complete with ears of a faun. Patch was in Florence after having been expelled from Rome by the Papacy for acts of homosexuality. Once in Florence, he painted views of the city and found his chief market in producing caricature groups such as the kind seen here.
The paintings hanging in the background depict Bacchus, the God of wine and orgiastic drunkenness, and Silenius, his tutor, famous for the misanthropic view ‘that the best thing for a man is not to be born, and if already born, to die as soon as possible.’
Oil painting on canvas, A Punch Party by Thomas Patch (1725 – 1782), signed and dated, FLORENCE 1760 PATCH PINXIT and inscribed with names of sitters. The fourteen figures are designated by numbers and are identified as follows: 1 Sir Heny Mainwaring Bart; 2 Earl Cowper; 3 Visct Torrington; 4 Revd Jonan Lipyeatt; 5 Lord Grantham; 6 Sir Brook Bridges Bart; 7 Jas Whyte Esqr; 8 Jacob Houblon Esqr; 9 Earl of Moray; 10 Mr Hadfield the landlord; 11 Earl of Stamford; 12 Chas. S. Boothby Esqr; 13 Sir John Rushout Bart, and Sir Chas Bunbury, Bart.