An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 132

Clinton Howell Antiques - June 14, 2021 - Issue 132
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
I heard about Sledmere, a house in East Yorkshire, from a friend who said that although the furnishings in the house were not original, they represented the collecting style of the early 20th century. On reading about Sledmere in wikipedia, there is no mention of the family being collectors of English furniture. Indeed, there is a long history of ownership by one family but no indication of who supplied the furniture for the house. The only event that might have led to collecting of any furniture may have been the fire in 1911, but apparently the staff got most everything out of the house that could be removed. I was not disappointed, however, as there is a wonderful set of eight mahogany, chinoiserie style open armchairs that are around the dining table. The chairs date circa 1755 and they are rare--I have seen one other long set (lots of pairs that likely came from sets) over the years which sold at Christie's in New York in the 1990's, I think. In any case, I have searched for a single photo of the Sledmere chairs (you can see side on views in a couple of shots) to no avail, so you have to take my word on it--they are beautiful chairs and almost worth the time it takes to get to East Yorkshire. Believe me, it isn't just around the corner.

One of the most interesting aspects of Sledmere is the library. (There is also a Turkish room, oddly enough designed by an Armenian.) In one of the websites below, you can read how the library is considered one of the finest rooms in England, a pretty grand boast that can't necessarily be refuted but is equally impossible to verify. The plaster work decoration in the library is by Joseph Rose, one of the many high quality craftsmen that worked with Robert Adam although he is not quite as well known as, for example, furniture craftsmen such as Chippendale or Linnell. (If you are uncertain about what great plasterwork looks like, I recommend a visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York to look at the Kirtlington Park Room, removed from Kirtlington Park in Oxfordshire. Baroque in style, it shows you what great plasterwork, also known as stucco, can do for a room.) In any case, the library took almost ten years to restore and is very beautiful with the parquet floor reflecting the designs on the vaulted ceiling.

The list of names that are associated with the building and landscaping of country houses often feels redundant as the same names crop up again and again. This is true at Sledmere, despite the paucity of information about the furniture in the house, the exterior was a major project for Lancelot (Capability) Brown (1716-1783) who not only landscaped the house and environs but the entire village of Sledmere.  Brown had done the same thing at Floors, as I wrote about in an earlier post. I can't imagine what Brown's work force must have looked like moving hundreds of thousands of tons of earth to re-design an entire village. But there is a second aspect to this which is the feeling of omnipotence that comes with the re-shaping of the landscape, not so much by Brown, but by his clients. There is a reason why 19th century Britain felt so invulnerable and I occasionally wonder if it is because of men like Capability Brown who seemed capable of moving earth, if not heaven.