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The Remarkable Journey of the Stansted Park Suite

on November 18, 2010 – 10:56 am

The historic Stansted Park suite of giltwood seat furniture was almost certainly commissioned by the 2nd Earl of Halifax for his stately mansion at Stansted Park in Sussex in the 1760s.  It remained there until a fire consumed the building in 1900.  It was sold at Christie’s in 1911 when it entered a glamorous new chapter among America’s collecting elite.

Eleven chairs and two settees were acquired by Duveen’s great client, the financier Edward Stotesbury, a partner to J.P. Morgan and one of Philadelphia’s most prominent patrons.  He was worth over $100 million at the height of his career.  The suite was placed in his palatial mansion Whitemarsh Hall, a monument to American wealth and society in the early 20th century. Known as ‘the Versailles of America’, Whitemarsh was built by the most outstanding artisans of the day:  Horace Trumbauer was the architect, while Duveen orchestrated the interiors together with the Royal decorator Sir Charles Allom and the Parisian firm of Alavoine.

A George III Giltwood Settee, attributed to John Linnell, circa 1765-70. 
[Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2010]

The suite was then acquired by Anna Thomson Dodge, the widow of automobile magnate Horace Dodge and one of the richest women in the world.  She used the same team of Trumbauer, Duveen, and Alavoine to create an equally impressive Rose Terrace on Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Farms, which was primarily furnished with French 18th century furniture, much of it Royal.  The suite was sold at Christie’s as part of the celebrated series of sales in 1970 and 1971.   It was then placed on long-term loan at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California where it sat beneath Britain’s most famous portraits including Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.

Whitemarsh Hall, circa 1922.
[Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2010]

Five further chairs and a settee from the Stansted suite have been used by Prime Ministers and visiting dignitaries at 10 Downing Street in London since acquired in 1946.  There are various wonderful depictions of world leaders seated in the chairs and Margaret Thatcher’s painted portrait at the Carlton Club shows her seated in a Stansted chair. 

The refined design is produced during a prime moment of classicism in England as promoted by the architect Robert Adam for his most sophisticated patrons.  Each piece is capped by a ribbon-wrapped portrait medallion.  The suite is attributed to pre-eminent London maker and designer John Linnell, known among today’s connoisseurs, particularly for his extensive commission at Osterley Park. 

On November 23, Christie’s 500 Years: Decorative Arts Europe, including Oriental Carpets will include pieces from the historic Stansted Park suite of giltwood seat furniture, comprising three pairs of armchairs and a settee (estimate: $70,000-110,000 per pair of chairs and $50,000-80,000 for the settee).  This sale marks the third time that Christie’s will have offered the suite in the past 100 years since it left Stansted.   Website