Thursday - 21 August 2014

Superbly simple – simply superb

20 August 2003Written by ATG Reporter

Windsor Chairs: An Illustrated Celebration by Michael Harding-Hill, published by the Antique Collectors Club. ISBN1851494294 £25hb

...OR rather, an illustrated celebration of the chairs that have mostly passed through the hands of Cotswold antiques dealer Michael Harding-Hill, who has specialised in Windsor chairs, particularly those from the 18th century, for more than 25 years.

The pictures include, on page 47 and courtesy of the V&A Picture Library, the 18th century Perceval-Compton Windsor chair that was originally thought to be unique until its twin turned up for auction in May at Brightwells of Leominister, estimated at just £300-500, and sold for an exciting £19,000, thought to be a record for an English regional chair .

In the book’s introduction, Mr Harding-Hill rattles through the why-called-Windsor-chairs theories and mentions one of the first recorded utterances of the Windsor chair as a specific type. This was by Lord Percival at Hall Barn, near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, in 1724: “The narrow winding walks and paths cut in it are innumerable and a woman in full health cannot walk them all, for which reason my wife wass carry’d in a Windsor chair like those at Versailles, by which means she lost nothing worth seeing.”

The author covers the chair’s evolution, while the book then follows on with 150 illustrations and short descriptive paragraphs of stick-back, solid-splat, fretted and the delicious Gothic Windsor chairs of the 18th century. This is followed by the Windsors of the 19th century, including one crafted by John Gabbitass (fl.1822-39), possibly the first Worksop maker of Windsor chairs. This is a yew wood, elm seat chair which is considered by Mr Harding-Hill to be “arguably the best 19th century low-back,” and which is illustrated on page 94.

Mr Heywood-Hill has handled far fewer American Windsors and he has enlisted the help here of a few West Coast dealers for this section. This includes a picture, on page 139 of a green-painted, mixed woods Windsor writing-arm chair, attributed to Ebenezer Tracey (1744-1803), of Lisbon, Connecticut, c. 1790-1810, and which still retains an old green painted surface. Just how important the “green paint look” is to the value of a Windsor was illustrated recently at a Cheffins of Cambridge auction with two early 19th century ash and elm comb-back Windsor chairs. One, with an interesting lobster back and a large chunk of its original green paint showing, made £3400 while the other was unsold, but was snapped up post-sale for just £360.

Decorators are hysterical about classic interior statements and they are right in the sense that Wallace Nutting, in his 1917 volume A Windsor Handbook, saw it when he said: “It is the lightest of chairs, but its merit is its beauty. Though its lines are so simple it is at its best very dignified, attractive and decorative. It is truly an aristocrat among chairs.”

Good specialist pictorial reference source and with a small section on the modern tradition.

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ATG Reporter

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