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Armchair, one of a pair: M.7A-2021

Object information

Current Location: Gallery 4


Armchair, one of a pair


Designer: Kent, William




One of a pair (with M.7B-2021) of upholstered mahogany armchairs with beech frames with ornately carved legs and arm uprights, now with replacement ash seat rails.
Originally covered in yellow pure silk damask, the chair was acquired with replacement crimson damask, replaced in 2023 with modern yellow silk damask covering.


History note: Made for the Hon. Charles Bruce (1682–1747; 3rd Earl of Ailesbury from 1741) for his family seat, Tottenham House, Wiltshire. Thence by descent. Given in 1839 by Charles Brudenell Bruce, 1st Marquess of Ailesbury (1773–1856) to the family’s parish church of St Mary’s, Great Bedwyn, Marlborough.

Legal notes

Bought from St Mary's Church, Great Bedwyn, with the Colin Granville Elliot Legacy Fund, 2021

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bought (2021) by St Mary's Church, Great Bedwyn


18th Century, Mid
George II
Circa 1738 - 1741


For whatever reason, most likely changes in taste and fashion, the Fitzwilliam's armchairs were rejected from Tottenham House in 1839, and donated by its then owner, Charles Brudenell Bruce, 1st Marquess of Ailesbury (1773–1856), to the Bruce family’s parish church. By this time, the original yellow silk damask had been replaced by the ‘crimson cloth’ recorded in the 1839 diary of the Revd. John Ward, Vicar of St Mary’s. This crimson cloth (possibly worsted or damask) was replaced by another red cover before the pink and white damask found on the chairs in 2019. The chairs were reupholstered by The Fitzwilliam Museum in 2023, with modern yellow silk damask in reference to the original coverings. The distinctive nailing scheme, with stamped bosses at the corners of the back, has been preserved throughout. While none of the nails are original, all of the bosses seem to be.

Much of the interior decoration and furnishings of Tottenham House were designed by William Kent, in the same Palladian language. In their form and carved ornament, they are superb examples of one of Kent’s most characteristic types of seat furniture and notable for their proto-neoclassical turned legs of which there are few parallels in Kent’s work. Moreover, despite several phases of re-covering, their original upholstery treatment has been retained: four large stamped bosses at the corners of the chair-back, linked by large round-headed brass nails around the edges. This is also entirely characteristic of Kent (though lost in most of his surviving chairs), and indeed is sketchily recorded in a drawing in the V&A showing a half-section of a ‘plain chair’ (i.e. without arms) in the Franco-Italian Album of the later architect Sir William Chambers (1723–1796), acc. no. 5712. It is inscribed in Chambers’ hand, ‘Tottenham / Kent’, which provides incontrovertible proof that these armchairs were made as part of a larger suite of seat furniture, including plain chairs, by William Kent for Tottenham House.

Text by Dr Victoria Avery, Keeper European Sculpture & Decorative Arts at The Fitzwilliam Museum. First written in 2021 and edited in 2023 on advice from Lucy Wood, Furniture historian and former curator.

This V&A drawing has previously been relied upon to identify a set of four matching plain chairs, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as part of the furnishings of Tottenham House, but (unlike the present armchairs) those chairs have no documented provenance before the twentieth century, have been extensively altered and their replacement blue silk upholstery has not retained the original upholstery design. There are three surviving related sets of chairs, chiefly divided between the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, and (again) the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The present group – the Fitzwilliam's pair of ‘elbow chairs’, and the four ‘plain chairs’ in Philadelphia – is much the most luxurious of five extant suites. Research into the inventories of Tottenham House show that, undoubtedly, this group must be from the ‘Great’ (effectively State) Bed Chamber, and were the most important seats in Tottenham House.

This is one of a pair of armchairs (M.7A-2021 and M.7B-2021), or ‘elbow chairs’, which formed part of the original furnishings of Tottenham House, Wiltshire, the Palladian house designed by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694–1753) for his sister, Lady Juliana Bruce (d. 1739), and her husband, the Hon. Charles Bruce (1682–1747; the future 3rd Earl of Ailesbury from 1741), to replace an earlier building. Begun in 1721, with Henry Flitcroft as the executant architect, Tottenham House is significant as being the first professional architectural project of Lord Burlington, the ‘Architect Earl’, who – together with his protégé and friend William Kent (c. 1685–1748) are credited with introducing Palladian architecture to Britain.

Components of the work

Part composed of silk ash beech mahogany

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.7A-2021
Primary reference Number: 307504
Object entry form: 1557
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Tuesday 30 November 2021 Updated: Wednesday 17 January 2024 Last processed: Wednesday 17 January 2024

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

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