Designers, makers, and patrons

These three categories reflect key aspects of the works of art that you will find on this website, and which we continue to pursue.

Quality of design is the underlying criterion used in selecting what we offer. That often leads to thoughts about the processes that brought a particular object into existence. Who was the designer, was he or she the same as the maker and if not, what was the relationship between the two? Was something created for a particular individual or institution, or was it made simply for sale through a retail outlet?

Frequently there are more questions than answers but that never undermines what our eye sees. Some of the most appealing things that come our way will forever, beyond their beauty, remain full of mystery.

This section of the website aims to pique curiosity and ask questions. As with our catalogues, we welcome correspondence offering new information and corrections.

Charles Lepec: artist in enamels

Charles Lepec (1830-1890) has now emerged from obscurity to be recognised as the most remarkable enamel artist active in France during the third quarter of the nineteenth century.

The ambivalence toward French decorative arts from the middle decades of the nineteenth century can perhaps be understood against the backdrop of a sense of loss for the dignified and aristocratic grandeur encapsulated…

Modern Gothic Furniture by Charles Bevan

Charles Bevan (probably active by circa 1860-circa 1882 was a talented and influential furniture designer, working in the ‘Modern Gothic’ style. Details of his life and career, however, remain elusive (see Simon Jervis, ‘Charles, Bevan and Talbert’ in The Decorative Arts in the Victorian Period, 1989, pp. 22-25).

Alfred Morrison (1821-97): a patron and collector of decorative arts

Alfred Morrison inherited a vast fortune from his father James Morrison (1789-1857). Even in an era famous for the collecting habits of the nouveaux riches, James Morrison stands out. His son Alfred (fig. 1) was not only a voracious collector in his own right, but also a notable patron of contemporary artists and manufacturers.

Sitting comfortably, on chairs designed by Thomas Chippendale the Younger

During a recent visit to Salisbury, I took some time to enjoy the magnificent cathedral.  Walking past the north transept, my eye was caught by a life-size seated figure.  On inspection this turned out to be a funerary monument to Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838), the antiquarian owner of Stourhead, Wiltshire (above).

Pair of chairs for Walter Morrison (1836-1921): a new discovery

Walter Morrison, the ninth (of eleven) children born to James Morrison (1789-1857) and his wife Mary (1795-1887) was just twenty-one when his father died leaving him £300,000 (a fortune that today would be the equivalent of £28m) and the Malham Estate in Yorkshire.

William Shakespeare: a table incorporating part of his mulberry tree

23 April 2016 marks the four hundredth anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

Shakespeare (1564-1616) is revered as the greatest figure in English literature.  Although long admired, it was not until the Great Shakespeare Jubilee arranged in 1769 by the actor David Garrick (1717-79) that the ‘Shakespeare industry’ really caught fire.

A Gordon Russell ‘Writing Desk’, 1925

Although the popular view prevails that English Arts & Crafts period design derives from the vernacular tradition, the story has, in fact, always been more nuanced.  Stephen Baker, in a perceptive article ‘Gimson’s Cotswold Furniture and its London Origins’ (Apollo, January 1979) discusses the influence of sophisticated metropolitan furniture on Gimson and his Cotswold contemporaries.

W.A.S. Benson: furnishing and lighting the Arts & Crafts interior

W.A.S. Benson - Copper and brass English (London), circa 1891 (date design was registered)

William Arthur Smith Benson (1854-1924) inherited his love of art and beauty from his mother Elizabeth.  His father, also William, was a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn and his son together with five younger siblings grew up enjoying the comfort of an upper middle-class life.  After Winchester and Oxford, the younger William became a pupil of the rising architect Basil Champneys.  By 1877, having begun to realise…

From the archive: Chinese reverse painted glass pictures

Philip Blairman took an early interest in eighteenth-century ‘Chinese mirror paintings’. Our records show him handling such work from the 1920s onwards. Blairman held several exhibitions of glass pictures. A catalogue, sadly undated, is included in the archive, but it probably dates from the period of World War II, when the firm had gallery space in New York.

Christopher Dresser: a Victorian designer

Philip Blairman took an early interest in eighteenth-century ‘Chinese mirror paintings’. Our records show him handling such work from the 1920s onwards. Blairman held several exhibitions of glass pictures. A catalogue, sadly undated, is included in the archive, but it probably dates from the period of World War II, when the firm had gallery space in New York.

Variations on a theme: two armchairs designed by C.F.A. Voysey (1857-1941)

Voysey Pair of Armchairs

C.F.A Voysey’s armchair, with a heart-shape in the back, is one of his most recognisable designs. The armchair with rush seat (above) is a close variant of this widely published model, which is itself known in various forms; see, for instance, Wendy Hitchmough, C.F.A. Voysey, London, 1995, p. 155, fig. 28, showing examples in an interior at Voysey’s The Homestead, Frinton-on-Sea.

A pair of chairs after a design by Thomas Hope (1769-1831)

The seemingly simple form of this pair of Regency ‘tub’ chairs exemplifies Thomas Hope’s timeless genius as a designer.  Their apparently effortless curved backs seem redolent, for example, of the 1920s ‘art deco’ seat furniture by designers such as Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933).

Furniture and Works of Art 2014: some new information about J.E. Knox

Most years, following the publication of Furniture and Works of Art, we receive valuable additional information about one or more of the objects included.  Such responses tend to get tucked away for future use.  But now, with our new website, the opportunity exists to draw attention to these welcome contributions.

Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857-1941): furniture

Voysey’s furniture makes a distinctive and distinguished contribution to turn-of-the-century interiors. His designs, materials and production methods epitomize the dichotomy of the Arts & Crafts Movement’s between tradition and modernity; between individual craftsmanship and machine production. In the later 1890s and early…

George Bullock (died 1818): a Regency sculptor, designer and cabinet-maker

George Bullock header

Today, far more is known about George Bullock than when Brian Reade drew particular attention to this now much admired designer and cabinet-maker in Regency Antiques (1953). It was not until the following decade that others began to take an interest. Significant contributions include Anthony Coleridge’s two part ‘The Work of George Bullock Cabinet-maker, in Scotland’ in The Connoisseur (1964) and Edward Joy’s, ‘A Modernist of the Regency: George Bullock, Cabinet-Maker’ in Country Life (1968).

Circle of George Bullock: a Regency sarcophagus-form strong box?

Although, for now, the precise origins of this remarkable and perhaps unique masterpiece remain unknown, it is clearly an exceptional work by a talented designer and maker, and was surely commissioned for the grandest of interiors.  Since this seemingly unique object came to light at auction (Christie’s, New York, 15 April 2005, lot 125), mystery has surrounded its purpose and authorship.

Charles Lepec: two recently identified works

As was acknowledged during their lifetimes, the crucial relationship between the fabulously wealthy patron and collector Alfred Morrison (1821-97), and the supremely talented enamel artist Charles Lepec (1830-90), led to much of Lepec’s artistic output, during the 1860s, finding a home at Morrison’s Fonthill House, Wiltshire.

A mysterious album of tile designs, inscribed on the cover ‘G. Edmund Street, Esq., R.A.’ and dated 1881

In March last year we acquired from the auctioneer Dominic Winter, but without additional provenance, a leather bound album of watercolour designs for tiles.  The album, which measures 34.2 x 34.5 cm, is inscribed on the cover ‘Patterns of / Minton, Hollins, & Co.’s / Encaustic Tiles. / G. Edmund Street, Esq., R.A. / 1881’.  The Whatman paper is watermarked for 1880, the year before Street’s death.

A missing cabinet by Louis Le Gaigneur

The cabinet illustrated above, now in an American private collection, was sold at Christie’s (London), 12 July 2012, lot 6.  It can be attributed with confidence to Louis Le Gaigneur , about whom little is known and whose documented oeuvre is also small; see Martin Levy, ‘Sincerest Form of Flattery’, Country Life, 15 June 1989, pp. 178-181, and also the same writer’s ‘Taking Up the Pen’, Country Life, 23 April 1992, pp. 60-62 (for an inkstand at Attingham Hall).