Attribution: Wright & Mansfield of London, after the designs of Robert Adam and pieces made in the 18th century by Mayhew & Ince.
Trends are Cyclical, Quality is Forever
One of the great truths of life is that trends, in fashion, art and even interiors, come and go; then they swing right back around with those small adjustments that bring them to life again in a more modern era. What better example of this is found in design than the resurgence of admiration for neoclassically-inspired revival furniture in the late 19th century?
Nearly one hundred years after the big names of late 18th-century Neoclassicism, from Chippendale and the Adam brothers to Ince & Mayhew and Sheraton, had made their mark, furniture makers like Wright & Mansfield of London revived their styles in the exceptional quality of their own time. Their works were not considered as simple reproductions but as artistic, influential, and praiseworthy creations in their own right.
A pair of Satinwood Demi-lune Console Tables with marvellous and mythical inlays found their way into the showrooms at Harvey’s Antiques, and they are an excellent example of quality 19th-century cabinetmaking in the manner of the 18th-century Neoclassical creations by Ince & Mayhew after the designs of Robert Adam. The exceptional materials, construction and visual motifs indicate that these Console Tables are almost certainly by Wright & Mansfield.
A Brief History
The firm of Wright & Mansfield first rose to prominence for the general public during the International Exhibition in London in 1862, where they displayed a “sensational” Satinwood cabinet. They became one of the most admired and exclusive Victorian Furniture makers in England, producing the very finest pieces in the Adam and Sheraton Revival styles.
Established at 184 New Bond Street between 1860 and 1886, Wright & Mansfield were described in “The Cabinetmaker and Art Furnisher” Vol. II as “… the leaders of that pleasing fashion which was happily brought back into our houses many of the charming shapes of the renowned 18th-century cabinet makers”.
In fact, the Victoria and Albert Museum displays a marquetry Cabinet made for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 that is remarkably comparable to the pair of Console Tables at Harvey’s. The museum’s Cabinet was the only piece of British furniture to be awarded a Gold Medal at the Exposition and was perceived as “very English” due to the use of Satinwood and Neoclassical decoration. The same Cabinet was acquired in 1868 by the V&A, followed in 1886 by “a collection of marquetry panels for interior decoration, two small tables and a pair of these chairs from the sale of the stock of Wright and Mansfield” to show its visitors the difference between 18th-century furniture and 19th-century reproduction pieces of the highest quality. The V&A Cabinet was designed by a “Mr. Crosse” of whom nothing further appears to be known.
Alfred Thomas Wright first came to notice in 1856 as a junior partner in the firm of Samuel Hanson, a cabinetmaker and upholsterer trading from 16 John Street (later renamed as Great Portland Street), and 106 Oxford Street.
The company was joined by George Needham Mansfield, son of the old established builders and decorators George Mansfield, of Gray’s Inn Lane and Wigmore Street, and the firm is recorded in Post Office journals as Hanson, Wright and Mansfield at the above addresses until 1861 when Hanson died.
Thereafter the company traded as Wright and Mansfield, and swiftly rose to prominence after their exhibits at the 1862 International Exhibition held in London, on the site of what is now the Natural History Museum, South Kensington. Attended by over six million visitors, despite the death in 1861 of Prince Albert, and the absence of Queen Victoria, who was still in mourning. The Art-Journal Catalogue of the 1862 International Exhibition, and J.B. Waring’s Masterpieces of Industrial Art and Sculpture of 1862 record their work, and two bookcases, and a fireplace constructed of ‘Ginn’ or ‘Gean’ wood, with inset Wedgwood plaques were illustrated, along with a piano, painted in the manner of George Brookshaw, and commented upon and favourably compared to the 18th-century work of the Adam “Adelphi”. Wright & Mansfield admired and copied the works of the 18th-century Cabinetmakers Ince & Mayhew even producing, in about 1870, a replica of their Commode made for the Countess of Derby’s home in Grosvenor Square and designed by Robert Adam in 1774.
The progress and incredible quality presented by the exhibitors occasioned Eugene Rouher, a prominent French statesman, after the exhibition to form a committee, taking as a premise “the results of the Exposition prove, that if rapid progress is not made in France, we will quickly be outstripped by our rivals”. Thus, as noted, in the 1867 Paris Universelle Exposition, a remarkable satinwood, marquetry, bronze and Wedgwood mounted cabinet won a Gold medal, the only time such an honour was bestowed upon an English cabinet maker, by the judges, presided over by M. du Sommerard director of the Cluny Museum, and M Wilkinson, Administrator de Mobilier de la Courrone. The Gold medal was presented personally to Wright & Mansfield by Emperor Napoleon III. The cabinet was purchased by the South Kensington Museum (later named the Victoria and Albert Museum) for the extraordinary sum, in those days, of £800. It remains in their possession today. Their showing at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition attracted wide admiration and was most favourably commented upon in the journals of the day.
Neoclassical Revival Motifs
The creators of the Satinwood and Rosewood Console Tables had a firm grasp of the work of Ince & Mayhew, a prominent company in the latter half of the 18th century who frequently created pieces commissioned by Robert Adam. The 19th-century influence of Ince & Mayhew, and even Chippendale, in the fan motifs, swags of bellflowers, husks and balanced fan designs in the elaborate marquetry is unmistakable.
Similar to the strength of the Wedgwood brand, which began in 1759 at the cusp of Neoclassical prominence, the motifs inspired by discoveries in Pompeii and Herculaneum, of bi-coloured Greek and Roman pottery, continued to inspire in the 1870s. At the inception of their practice, Wright & Mansfield displayed sensational items incorporating the ever-popular Wedgwood plaques into their pieces. Theirs was a revival in style without losing sight of the present.
The contrast of Satinwood and Rosewood marquetry on the Console Tables brings to mind the Greco-Roman-inspired bi-coloured Wedgwood motifs in the inlay of urns and tazzas.
The influence of Ince & Mayhew cannot be understated in the use of Neoclassical motifs within the Console Tables. The greatest proponent of this style was the architect/designer Rober Adam, who, with his brother James, moved taste from the mid-century rococo, gothic and Chinese elements towards the iconography seen in so many of their projects from Harewood to Osterley. For the first time, the interior and exterior of a house were being designed as complementary, and the carpets, walls and ceilings were designed in harmony. The furniture was also created to reflect the new taste as with the Kedleston Cabinet made by Ince & Mayhew for the Duchess of Manchester in the 1770s.
There are so many illustrations one could use to show Write and Mansfield’s obvious admiration for their works but possibly the clearest example is their copy of the Commode made for the Countess of Derbyshire by Ince & Mayhew.
Comparisons may be taken from plates in the 2022 publication Industry and Ingenuity The Partnership of William Ince and John Mayhew by Hugh Roberts and Charles Cator as well.
The influence of Chippendale on the Console Tables is easily perceptible, especially when compared to the Chippendale “Renishaw Commode”, which has been cited as being originally designed for the Dining Room at Melbourne House in Piccadilly for Lord Melbourne.