An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 78

Clinton Howell Antiques - May 18, 2020 - Issue 78
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
The road I was on from Wrexham to Chirk (the A483) also was to lead me fairly closely to Powis Castle. Powis is famous for its gardens--all my gardener friends asked me about them when they found that I had been and all is could say was that part of the gardens were on a steep slope and very extensive. They, of course, all knew that Powis is one of the older gardens in the UK, dating back 300 years. Unlike Chirk Castle, Powis is not a Marcher Castle as it was built by a Welshman loyal to the English/Norman crown around the same time as Chirk. It has been played around with, re-built, more than Chirk. (, If you go to the website, you will see what I mean about the steepness of the property, but if you want to get the history of Powis, you need to go to Wikipedia.

As you well know by now, my first inclination is to go into the house and see the furniture. None of the guide books focus on furniture besides saying, "fine furniture", or possibly, Chippendale furniture which usually has no meaning. I thus had no idea what I was going to see on walking into Powis nor how good it would be, and it is very good. The history of Powis in the 18th and early 19th century explains where some of the great furniture comes from with a set of  gilded chairs by Mayhew and Ince that I recognized immediately. The set was made for Clive of India, Robert, who leased 45 Berkeley Square in the 1760's and then proceeded to do the apartment up in royal style. There are also Gainsborough style chairs by John Bradshaw, walnut and parcel gilt, quite similar to a set of dining chairs that are at Holkham Hall on the other side of Britain in Norfolk. There were two eye poppers for me which were the silver gilded furniture, very similar to the silver gilt furniture at Erddig and last, but not least, the Langlois lacquer commodes.

Langlois was a French Hugeunot who came to England and essentially made French furniture in London. His cabinetwork was superb and his work, not hugely widespread, is in many of the top museums. Because his work looks French, the Huntington Hartford Library in San Marino, Los Angeles bought a commode by Langlois because they thought it as French. It is one of the finer Langlois commodes in existence. The pair at Powis are similar to a pair that Godson and Coles, contemporary dealers in English furniture, sold a number of years ago. Langlois' work is scarce and to see this pair of commodes was a real thrill and so very unexpected. There is an article on Robert Clive in the "Journal of the Furniture History Society, 2000 (Issue XXXVI by Robert Fairclough entitled, "In the Richest and Most Elegant Manner' A Suite of Furniture for Clive of India", that talks about the gilded suite by Mayhew and Ince. The commodes are not referenced although it is clear that Clive patronized many of the top makers of the era including Thomas Chippendale.

One more thing to mention. The second time I visited the trio of Welsh border houses I have talked about, I left Powis at around 5 in the afternoon on June 21. I thought I would try my luck and visit one of the most famous gardens in the Cotswolds, Hidcote Manor Garden. The handbook said the garden was open until sunset which I figured had to be around 10:30 or so. It isn't a long drive, but it is across country which can be very slow. I don't remember what time I got to Hidcote, but I remember aspects of it very well, particularly the vanishing point over endless fields on the longest day of the year. Not as important to me as the Langlois commodes, but decidedly more magical.