A Fine Pair of George II Giltwood Mirrors

Circa 1755

Height: 60.5" Width: 34.75"

Inventory Number 8515-525




Each with later oval mirror plate within a frame heavily carved with flowering thistle, acorn, flowers and scrolls; surmounted by a foliate cresting; re-gilt.

Additional Information

The strength of the design of these mirrors illustrates the lightness of the rococo elements such as the pierced rocaille and acanthus sprays coupled with classical elements such as the palm branches and trailing floral garlands. The overall design and elements of this mirror are closely related to a pair of mirrors commissioned by John Russell, 4thDuke of Bedford and made by the firm of Whittle and Norman for Woburn Abbey in 1757. These two magnificent carved and gilt oval frames with glasses, hung in the Sate Saloon and incorporate palm fronds and fruiting and flowering garlands. James Whittle began work for Russell in 1752, with his son Thomas, and continued with Samuel Norman until his death in1759. Besides the mirrors for the Saloon, the firm was responsible for supplying the door cases, moldings screens of columns and much of the other interior woodwork for Woburn.
Another group of mirrors, which was formerly at St. Giles's House, Dorset, was almost certainly commissioned for the house by the 4th Earl of Shaftesbury, the group being sold at Christie's, London, Highly Important English Furniture and Sculpture from St. Giles's House, Dorset, June 26, 1980, lots 53, 54 (pair), and 55 (pair). Unfortunately the surviving Shaftesbury account books contain only brief references to London cabinetmakers, preventing any positive attributions to be made regarding possible craftsmen employed in the furnishing of the house. In this context the firms of Vile and Cobb and James Whittle and Samuel Norman have been suggested, the former supplying related mirrors to the 4th Earl of Coventry in 1761, the latter having supplied similar mirrors for the saloon at Holkham. It should be noted that Samuel Norman married the daughter of William Hallett, one of the few recorded cabinetmakers known to have worked at St. Giles's House.

Samuel Norman appears to have had a meteoric rise to the upper echelons of the mid-eighteenth century cabinetmaking world. Following his apprenticeship to Thomas Woodin from 1746-1753, he began his own business. Shortly thereafter, most likely through the influence of his renowned uncle and fellow cabinet-maker, William Hallett, he entered into partnership with James Whittle of Gt. St. Andrew's Street, Soho, in 1755. This partnership was enabled by the death of Whittle's son Thomas that year and assisted by Norman's marriage to Whittle's daughter Ann a month after her brother's death. The partnership of Whittle and Norman flourished and they were patronized by the Earl of Egremont at Petworth and the Earl of Holderness, probably for Hornby Castle, Yorkshire. Norman also supplied a wine cooler to the 4th Earl of Holderness for Hornby that is now in the Gerstenfeld Collection and illustrated in E. Lennox-Boyd (ed.), Masterpieces of English Furniture, The Gerstenfeld Collection, London: 1998, p. 225, cat. no. 66.

Following Whittle's death in 1759, Norman inherited half the stock of goods in trade of his father-in-law allowing him full control of the business. Continued patronage from established clients assisted Norman's business as did his purchase of Paul Saunders's Royal Tapestry Manufactory in Soho in June 1760. In 1762 he was honored with a royal appointment as 'Master Carver in Wood' to the office of Works and in 1763 was described as 'Sculptor and Carver to their majesties; and surveyor of the curious carvings in Windsor Castle.'

The form of palm branches is typical of the naturalistic motifs derived from Continental sources and used by English furniture designers and makers in the mid 18th century, not only seen in the work of Whittle and Norman, but also prevalent in the work of John Vardy for John, Ist Earl Spencer, in the Palm Room at Spencer House, London, probably executed by his brother, Thomas Vardy, the carver and gilder. Vardy designed similar palm-motif furniture for the 5th Duke of Bolton in 1762-3 at Hackwood Park. For comparison, see Vardy's Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones and Mr. Wm. Kent, 1744, a design by Jones for 'An Alcove for a Bed at Greenwich for King Charles Ist,' pl. 4, with pilasters in the form of palm tree trunks with palm fronds above.