French fashion at Petworth
Although the 3rd Earl of Egremont is now best remembered as a major patron of Turner and other British artists, in his youth he had fashionable Francophile tastes. Peter Hughes examines the furniture he acquired at Petworth House, Sussex.
Peter Hughes, Monday, 25th August 2008
The Royal Collection candelabra were chosen for the Prince in Paris by Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh and, as the bill states, they have bases of yellow Siena marble, enabling Sir Harry to associate them as a garniture with a clock of the same marble mounted with a standing bronze figure of Apollo, also from Lignereux and still in the Royal Collection.4 Lord Egremont’s candelabra, on the other hand, have bases of gilt and patinated bronze, resting on shallow plinths of verde antico marble, and are not associated with a clock. The mounts on their bases are also of a different model, each base having a gilt-bronze relief of a river god (Fig. 2) in place of the small patinated bronze roundel with a pendant of fruit on the bases of the Royal Collection pair.
The figure on the Royal Collection and Petworth candelabra was described by Lignereux in his bill to the Prince of Wales as ‘figure de femme Egyptienne’, but, with their hair dressed in chignons at the back, the figures could equally be described as Grecian. The reliefs on the bases of the Petworth candelabra also employ the standard iconography for a Roman river god: a bearded male figure in the prime of life, holding with one arm an urn flowing with water and with the other a rudder, denoting that the river in question is navigable.
The Empire style, already being defined under the Consulate with the appearance of Percier and Fontaine’s Recueil de décorations intérieures in 1801, employed Greek and Roman elements just as much as Egyptian ones. The 3rd Earl’s candelabra were made at least two years before Napoleon assumed the imperial title in May 1804, but the chasing of their figures already has the slightly dry precision of the Empire style. Lignereux’s use of the word ‘Egyptian’ to describe the figures on the candelabra probably implies that they are to be regarded as in the latest fashion. The 3rd Earl no doubt thought them fashionable too, particularly since, buying them in the summer of 1802, he had anticipated by several months the Prince’s employment of the same model in the furnishing of Carlton House.
Five years later, on 28 October 1807, the accounts of the 3rd Earl record the purchase of:
A very handsome Mahogany Cylinder Writing Desk with small drawers inside, large drawers on each side, with Kneehole, on strong castors …………… £19.5
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