Antiques alive with stories

Rare furniture with fairytale charm and political history

Connoisseurs of fine English furniture will delight in discovering exceptional pieces that have until recently been held in private US collections, as they come to market in an exhibition at the London premises of renowned antiques dealer Mallett. Striking, majestic and noble, the aesthetics, rarity and sense of history of these remarkable works will tempt collectors.

One walnut chair (guide price about £125,000) is an imposing 3m high; ornate gilt leaves crown its shoulders, while its arms curl into lions’ heads. A George II master’s chair, it is thought to have been made around 1750 for the Anti-Gallican Society, founded in 1745, which opposed Anglo-French trade at a time when Britain and France were at war. A story lies in the engraving on its inlay: the society’s motto, “for our country”. This is fabulously politicised ornamentation. It is one of only two known examples, the other being in the Temple Newsam collection in Yorkshire.

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Those with royal aspirations might appreciate a splendid giltwood trophy (over £100,000), whose ornate miniatures of torches, arrows, bells, floral wreaths, spears and birds entwine, frozen in blindingly bright gold. It is attributed to Sefferin Nelson, who worked as a carver, gilder and framemaker at Carlton House, the London residence of the Prince Regent. Designed by the architect Henry Holland for the throne room at Carlton House, it closely resembles four trophies now in the throne room at Buckingham Palace.

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Further highlights are a William and Mary oyster-veneered cocuswood cabinet (second picture, over £100,000), made around 1700, which, with its mesmeric spotted pattern, has the imposing and statuesque presence of a wildcat. An elaborately carved Chippendale-period giltwood mirror (over £100,000), whose rococo design dates from around 1765, is vine like, with tendrils of flowers winding their way from the woodland creatures at the bottom to the curious flying creatures at the top. It seduces and entrances, as though plucked from a fairytale. An elegant Queen Anne double-back walnut settee (first picture, about £50,000), made around 1720, and a rare late-17th-century William and Mary desk decorated with “seaweed” marquetry inlay (about £50,000) are also examples of exquisite craftsmanship.

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