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Chair

Giles Grendey (British, 1693–1780)

c. 1740

Medium walnut with walnut veneer and period needlework upholstery Measurements H: 38 3/8 x W: 21 x D: 21 3/4 in. (97.47 x 53.34 x 55.25 cm) Credit Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund Accession Number 83.38 Location Gallery 19, Bruce Galleries

Narrative

This stately chair bears the label "GILES GRENDEY/In St. John's-Square, Clerkenwell/LONDON,/MAKES and Sells all Sorts of Cabinet-/Goods, Chairs and Glasses." The chair is also stamped with the initials IC and ID, presumably the marks of chairmakers working in Grendey's shop. Grendey was unusual in allowing his craftsmen to stamp their work, but by doing so he has left us concrete evidence that at least two craftsmen were involved in making this chair. The head of a large, successful shop could not himself have produced all the furniture for which he was responsible. As his business prospered, his staff grew, both in numbers and diversity. This chair required skills of joining, turning, veneering, and carving, and both IC and ID brought their skills to the chair, while the name which stood behind the chair-and appeared on the label-was that of Giles Grendey. This chair and others by Grendey that survive are evidence that his shop produced furniture of the highest quality. Although he lived until 1780, to the age of 87, Grendey's importance in the history of furniture is established by his work of the 1730s and 40s, particularly seating furniture. He apparently maintained a thriving export business since, when the premises burned in 1731, he lost one thousand pounds worth of furniture described as "packed for exportation." Surviving evidence of his export trade is a magnificent suite of red lacquer furniture that was in the Castle of Lazcano in Spain until 1930 and today can be seen, in part, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Museum of Art's chair is likewise from a suite, now widely scattered. Another side chair from the set is in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago; a third side chair and an armchair are in English private collections. Regrettably, we have only a modern provenance, these four chairs having been owned in the twentieth century by J. S. Phipps at Old Westbury, Westbury, Long Island. Nevertheless, this chair is a superb example of early Rococo English furniture and the high quality of furniture that continued to be made in England throughout the eighteenth century. An expanding middle-class clientele with increasingly discriminating taste, along with the skills of well-trained designer-craftsmen, produced objects that the twentieth century still finds greatly pleasing. William Hogarth in his Analysis of Beauty (1753) praised the S-curve as the line of beauty, and this chair, from the age of Hogarth, is composed of interrelating S-curves. The surfaces of the curving elements in the chair's back are enlivened by the elaborate grain of the burled walnut veneer; and carved foliage, restrained and felicitous, articulates the curves. Three carved shells, placed in a triangular pattern in the middle of the crest rail and atop the front legs, define a compositional pattern in which the curving elements find stability. The combination is a complete visual success.