PAINTED AND LACQUERED SEDAN CHAIR WITH DOMED TOP.
Designed by the Brothers Adam for Lady Watkin Williams Wynn.
Now in the Bethnal Green Museum.
Evelyn, when gossiping anent the chaise à porteur, — the piece of mobilary furniture par excellence, and, like most things, of Eastern inception,— ascribes its introduction from Naples to a certain Sir Sanders Duncombe, who was granted the monopoly for fourteen years, of letting these chairs on hire in London. Although Buckingham certainly did much to secure their popularity, their heyday of favour in England was the eighteenth century—much later than upon the Continent. Originally employed that the occupant might “take the air,” and usually, when not in use, placed for convenience in a prominent place in the hall, the carrying-chair or sedan became a favored piece of indoor equipment, being decorated elaborately, and upholstered in rich stuffs.
The memoir writers and other chroniclers of those sophisticated days, have given us many a picture of Court beauties in their chairs bound for Court functions, the Mall, ball, or rout.
In England the sedan, though a picturesque accessory of traffic, scarcely reached the high artistic level which, when decorated by such artists as Jean Berain, Boucher, and Fragonard, it attained in France. Yet the example illustrated, designed for Lady Watkin Williams Wynn, and shown in the hall also designed by tho Adelphi for the house in St. James’ Square, is not unworthy to uphold British decorative woodwork.
What a brave show would the chaise a porteurs of the consorts of kings make, could they but be unearthed from the limbo of the forgotten! Some few survive – notable that of Queen, Charlotte, George the Third’s wife, preserved in the collection at Windsor Castle. Made at the end of the century, its Adam Brothers’ classic detail is both exuberant and pompous, and far less pleasing than the restrained lines which the same Robert Adam chose when he designed the chair illustrated.
Need one mention that the decoration of Lady “Wynn’s carrying- chair is entirely British? England long ere the Adam period had become capable of embodying her native designs in home-made lacquer of almost as high quality as that produced upon the Continent. Birmingham by 1750 produced lacquer on wood, admittedly more durable than that made in France. Nor could the Oriental lacquerer have produced the classic decorations of the Adelphi, even had Lady Wynn been willing to wait the years which must have elapsed if the sedan was sent out by one of the tea ships of the East India Company, on the long sailing voyage to the East via the Cape, in addition to the time absorbed by the leisurely ways of the Celestial, to whom even the Spaniard’s mañana (tomorrow) would savor of hustle.
Source: The book of decorative furniture, its form, colour history by Edwin Foley. London: T.C. and E.C. Jack, 1910.