A Rare Regency Chinoiserie Slipper Chair attributed to John & Frederick Crace for The Royal Pavilion, Brighton c.1815

Origin: English
Period: Regency
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1815
Width: 18.25”
Height: 26.75”
Depth: 16.5” (at extremities)

The attractive early-nineteenth century chinoiserie slipper chair of low form almost certainly by Crace; the back constructed of interlocking key fret and scrolls loosely based on the Chinese Shou (longevity) character, the frieze with further fretting and central stretcher, the front legs ring turned, the rear legs sabre, the whole showing some of the remaining original painted decoration, the c.1900 blue cloth seat now re-sprung.

This bedroom chair for use primarily in ladies bedrooms as seating, and to assist when getting dressed, shows a lived in and consistent amount of wear to its surface with around half of the painted decoration now lacking the whole with an all-over patination proving beautifully decorative. The whole has no breakages or restoration and it is largely in untouched condition. We have tightened the joints and re-sprung and re-webbed the seat but left the upholstery in as found condition, which we believe to be late nineteenth to early twentieth century.

This rare chair is typical of the designs of John Frederick Crace and was probably made for the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. For a similar example see The Craces: Royal Decorators 1768-1899, Megan Aldrich, the Royal Pavilion, Art Gallery Museum, 1990, pl. 1:7, where a design by John Crace for the Glass Passage displays similar fret work. The backrest is loosely based on the Chinese Shou (longevity) character.

Frederick Crace (1779–1859) was an English interior decorator, who worked for George IV when Prince of Wales, for whom he created the chinoiserie interiors of the Brighton Pavilion. Crace was also a collector of maps and topographical prints, now at the British Library. Frederick was the son of the prominent London decorator John C. Crace (1754–1819), who had been hired in 1788 to provide Chinese works of art for the Royal Pavilion Beside his familiar interiors at the Marine Pavilion, Brighton, Crace provided interiors at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, in which he was assisted by his son, John Gregory Crace. He died at his home in Hammersmith on 18 September 1859, aged 80, and was buried at West Norwood Cemetery. His extensive collection was purchased for the British Museum in 1880.

The vogue for Chinese-inspired interiors in England had been in its heyday in the middle of the eighteenth century, closely associated with the Rococo taste, and was declining in the later part despite some notable projects employing Chinese features, for example Thomas Chippendale´s work at Harewood House and Nostell Priory in the 1770s. However, in the early 19th century the taste had retreated to a point that, as the eminent scholar John Harris remarked in his Regency Furniture and Designs 1803-26, ´Sinomania or Hindoo Mania exerted little influence beyond court circles´. He goes on to say that ´only in rare instances do these exotic styles make an appearance in the early 19th century pattern books´, the barometers of popular demand and taste. (John Harris, Regency Furniture Designs, from Contemporary Source Books, 1803-1826, 1960, p.25) It appears that the Prince of Wales began to be interested in the style around 1790, when he commissioned the lavish interiors for the Chinese Drawing Room at Carlton House. From 1801 onwards, he went on to ´relieve the chaste (classical) interior of Brighton Pavillion´, where he wished for a ´gay and lively scheme of decoration that would be more appropriate for a seaside holiday palace´. (Clifford Musgrave, Regency Furniture, 1800 to 1830, London, 1970).

Having worked for the Prince of Wales in the 1790s at Carlton House and completed several commissions for Sir John Soane, John and Frederick Crace began their employment at the Royal Pavilion shortly after 1800. The Pavilion´s legendary interiors are breathtaking examples of complete Chinese schemes, set within the largest building project ever undertaken in this taste. It is important to note the little known fact that, under the guidance of the Craces, both overall decorative concepts and detailed elements are not the wild Cino-European fantasies now associated with the Chinoiserie. Instead, actual Chinese designs were employed, faithfully derived from porcelain, textiles and enamel etc. This literal approach was a result of John Crace´s genuine fascination with and scholarly knowledge of the Orient. Upon John´s death in the year 1819, Sotheby´s sold his considerable collection of Chinese curiosities and a library which included many works on the Orient. (Megan B. Aldrich, The Craces: Royal Decorators 1768-1899, London, 1990, p.14) Interestingly, a typescript survives at Brighton that records that the Craces acted as agents acquiring for the Prince ´enormous quantities of Chinese furniture, porcelain and curiosity of many kinds?´ (Musgrave, 65) This gives rise to the intriguing idea that these items served as first hand sources for decorative motifs which appear in the Crace designs for the interiors at the Pavilion. (Aldrich, 19)

Like much of the decoration at the Pavilion, this slipper chairs’ design shows a particularly pure vocabulary of Chinese ornament throughout. Wonderful.