10348 After the design of Thomas Hope, a mahogany and carved ebony armchair, the rectangular curved tablet back above a X-frame splat centring on a foliate roundel, the straight arms supported by ebony winged lioness supports, the seat rails and exaggerated sabre legs with ebony inlay. Stamped ‘Escalier de Cristal, Paris’.
Height: 92 ins (36 cms)
Width: 23.5 ins (59.5 cms)
Depth: 25 ins (64 cms) £25,000
Thomas Hope and the Duchess Street Designs
Thomas Hope settled in London in 1798 following the other members of his wealthy Dutch banking family in their exodus from Amsterdam. By 1799, he had bought the lease on a mansion at 10 Duchess Street, off Portland Place in Westminster. Hope was an extremely skilled draughtsman and he immediately began drawing up designs for a radical new interior and commissioning individual works. Much of the interior and furnishing were in situ by 1802 and he celebrated with a party in honour of the Prince of Wales. By 1804, Hope was confidant enough of his collection and its mis en scene to open by ticket to the public, beginning with members of the Royal Academy.
The resulting achievement was saved for posterity through a series of line engravings on 60 plates and with 53 pages of explanatory text, published in 1807. The very high quality of the engravings has allowed considerable research and identification of still existing pieces from this extraordinary collection. “Household furniture and interior decoration” as the work is modestly known was widely circulated and has influenced generations of designers upto the present day.
The design for this armchair is very clearly shown on plate XI of Household Furniture and the set of armchairs (probably four) were placed against the walls of the Flemish Picture Gallery.
However, this particular commission in Paris from L’Escalier de Crystal in around 1880 remains unknown.
L’Escalier de Cristal
The important company l’Escalier de Cristal was founded in 1808 in the Palais-Royal area of Paris. It was originally known for high quality work in cut glass and gilt bronze which reached its peak with the astonishing dressing table and chair made for the Duchess du Berry in 1819, now at the Louvre.
The business grew and moved to larger premises in the more fashionable Opera district in 1872 following the Haussmann redevelopment of Paris. It is from these premises that the business reached its commercial heights, particularly with the fashion for Japonisme. Employing the designers Gallé and Lièvre, some of the most influential and innovative works of the very highest quality were produced.
This armchair, clearly marked with the ‘Escalier’ stamp, is from this later period. The extremely high quality and choice of materials indicate that is was a particular commission for a collector of the work of Thomas Hope and the Regency aesthetic.
Although originally derived by Hope from the engravings of Percier and Fontaine, architects to Napoleon I, it would seem to be a completely English design and follow Hope’s published designs of 1807. Several English armchairs and chairs of this design are known in UK collections.