11501 A MOST REMARKABLE PAIR OF EBONIZED AND PARTIALLY GILDED SIDE CHAIRS OF UNIQUE FORM Probably North German. First Quarter of the Nineteenth Century. Measurements: Height: 35 3/4″ (90.8 cm) Width: 19″ (48.3 cm) Depth: 21″ (53.3 cm).
Each chair with complex double loop backs issuing from a plain frieze. The front legs of circular baluster turned form with carved giltwood foliate capitals. The rear legs of square tapered sabre form.
While ebonized furniture of the early 19th century often has Viennese or Hungaro-Austrian origins, it should not be forgotten that, parallel to this, ebonized furniture was also being produced further north, not only in Denmark and England but also in Berlin, Leipzig and Weimar. According to the leading scholar on Prussian and German decorative arts, Mr. Frank Möller, the present chairs are most likely of Berlin manufacture, and may derive from an as yet unidentified design by Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
Schinkel was perhaps the greatest German architect of the 19th century and the leading arbiter of national taste in his lifetime, with his influence was felt in all branches of the arts. He studied architecture with the brilliant Friedrich Gilly (1798-1800) and at Berlin’s Academy of Architecture (1800-02), although much of his early career was occupied in gaining a reputation as a painter. After a number of years in Italy and some time in France, he returned to Berlin in 1805 where he turned more seriously to architecture. By 1815 he had risen to become Chief Architect of the Prussian Department of Works, executing many commissions for Frederick William III and other members of the royal family. An early romantic inclination towards mediaevalism gradually gave way to an expression of a pure neo-classicism most clearly manifested in his impressive public buildings, including the Neue Wache (1816) and Altes Museum (1823-30), which still dominate Berlin.1
A small group of black and gilt chairs by Schinkel demonstrate this style and similarity to the present pair. These include a drawing for an unexecuted ebonized gondole chair (figure 1), as well as a suite made for Schloss Stolberg (figure 2). Each echoes the austere simplicity of line of the present chairs, as well as the front leg with gilt foliate collar, typical of Schinkel’s work.
The extraordinary form of the present chairs encapsulates the severe and inventive nature of Prussian design and must be considered one of the most unusual and fluent in all early nineteenth century European furniture. The ‘double loop’ backs appear to have no known parallel and the proficient handling of this ambitious form indicates a designer and maker of the first rank.
1. The Age of Neoclassicism, The Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1972, p. 624.