A Beautiful 18thC Japanned & Painted Elbow Chair; Attributed to Gillows c.1792-93

Origin: English
Period: George III
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1792-93
Width: 22”
Height: 35”
Depth: 22” (all at extremities)

The hand painted beech elbow chair retaining much japanning and its original painted decoration, with quadrant elbows, canted canopy top rail with drapery splat with an urn amongst vines, paterae to the tops of the front square tapering legs terminating in spade feet, with rear sabre legs, the upholstered seat of nineteenth century material and the whole surviving from the last quarter of the eighteenth century, made almost certainly by Gillows of Lancaster.

The chair is in good original condition with all of its components surviving with little restoration save for a piece added to the upper arm rail where it meets the top rail. We have tightened the joints to the frame and have given her a light wax to bring out the wonderful colour and patination in in the surface, which is beautifully worn, heavier in the right areas, namely the arms. The upholstery is certainly nineteenth century and is nicely faded but still in tact. There is some evidence of woodworm though it is sporadic and old. She remains stable and sturdy for everyday use.

Gillows might not be as prestigious a name in English furniture as Chippendale, Hepplewhite or Sheraton, but the firm, based in Lancaster, outlasted all of them. The history of Gillows, from the early eighteenth century to the early twentieth, encapsulates the history of English furniture and its manufacture. Robert Gillow began making furniture around 1730, some 20 years before Thomas Chippendale, and developed first a national and then an international reputation as a supplier of quality furniture to the upper middle classes, the landed gentry, and the aristocracy. The company won commissions to furnish and decorate public buildings in Australia, South Africa, India, Russia, Germany, France and the U.S., and it also executed Pugin’s designs for London’s Palace of Westminster from 1840.

As per the book ‘Gillows of Lancaster and London 1730-1840: by Susan E. Stuart’ a set of chairs very similar to this one were “made for Walter H. Fawkes of Farnely Hall, North Yorkshire in 172” (see photograph of plate). The ‘drapery splat’ we see in the chair is a pattern that “was drawn in the estimate sketch book in February 1792:. The plates in the book also mention the chairs ‘canted’ tops;  “that is the concave corners at each side of the top rail” as this example shows and also that the chairs have ‘arms which are jointed almost into the top of the stiles near the top rail, which was very characteristic of the 1790s”. The painter of this chair could possibly have been Thomas Wilkes, a painter from London who would have ‘japanned the chairs for 6s. each”. Japanned chairs were protected “by many layers of varnish, a long and tedious process because of the drying time needed between applying each coat”.

A wonderful piece that can be dated precisely and can almost certainly be given the appropriation of the hallowed Gillows name. You won’t see many a prettier chair.