Eight Closely Similar Joined Chairs Made in Oak
Each with a fan-carved arched crest rail above a band of spindles with bobbin, baluster and other turnings, between plain square section uprights over a plank seat and raised on block, ball and baluster turned legs joined by turned stretchers. (8)
Chairs, or more correctly, back-stools of this type were made in Oak by joiners and carvers over an approximately seventy year period in South Lancashire and North Cheshire 1. An extensive record has been made of the very diverse designs which these makers made, and they can be divided into those with pyramid shaped finials, and those, as in this case, with flat, inward curved terminals to the back legs. All of the chairs in this tradition were originally stained with lamp black and varnished over, and, as is the case of several in this group, the apprentices who stained them often left their finger prints under the seat rails as they moved them.
The eight chairs can be divided into four pairs, which in each case, were largely made by the same hand. Related chairs of this type can often be established by examining the position of the leg connecting stretcher tenons, and in this case, each pair has its own distinctive tenon position, except for those labeled B1 and B2. In this latter case, two different positions are found, suggesting that a joiner had joined a group of makers from a different workshop, and carried his early training with him.
As with much 17th century carving on Oak furniture, the decoration reflects the joiners' knowledge of printed design sources, which came to Britain from the continent in the 16th and 17th centuries. In this case, the principle decoration of a lunette carved as part of the top rail has clear antecedents in the influential work of Paul Vredeman de Vries (1567–after 1630). Born in Antwerp, he was responsible for the architectural backgrounds of many paintings taken from his engravings of elaborate interiors. Amongst these illustrations he included the form of the lunettes carved on these chairs as part of his renderings of classical pediments. It is highly likely that the joiners who carried out the carving on these chairs were all acquainted with de Vries' published work 2.
In summary, these eight chairs are a rare and robust survival of high status 17th or early 18th century back-stools from the North West of England whihc have a high degree of originality and historical design provenance.
1 Chinnery V. Oak Furniture. The British Tradition. ACC 1979 pp 484, 485
2 Jervis S. Printed Furniture Designs before 1650. FHS 1974 Illus 339
Dr B D Cotton October 2016