Friday 19 October 2018

Holland and Sons: high class furniture makers to royalty

ITEMS of furniture by the well-known British firm of Victorian cabinetmakers Holland and Sons regularly appear at sales in Ireland and it could be useful, and of financial benefit perhaps, to have some knowledge of the company.

Holland and Sons were a top class firm: besides other important commissions they made furniture for Queen Victoria at Balmoral, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Osborne. The firm also furnished the rooms of the servants, constructed the stands at Edward VII's coronation in 1902, and arranged Princess Sophia's funeral in 1846. They also made furniture for the Palace of Westminster, the Reform and Athenaeum Clubs, the British Museum, the Royal Academy, All Souls, Oxford, and even John Lewis - the Oxford Street shop.

On 22 January 1986, a cabinet by Holland and Sons was sold at Christie's for £81,000, the highest price paid until then for an item of Victorian furniture.

The cabinet had originally been exhibited in the Paris Exhibition of 1867 and the designer was Bruce Talbert. Holland and Sons were the first London firm to employ Talbert and the cabinet is regarded as one of Holland's most important works. Of oak, fruitwood and marquetry, the breakfront side cabinet had inscriptions on its superstructure which read, 'May good digestion wait on appetite'; 'Health on both, Mirth becomes a feast'; and 'We have all great cause to give great thanks'. Arched panels beneath the canopy had inlays representing fish, fruit and game.

A description in a contemporary catalogue reads: 'Messrs Holland and Sons exhibit, among other works (all their contributions being for Gothic furnishing), a dressoir for a dining-hall: it is of oak, inlaid and relieved by gilding, with a carved subject in bas-relief and mottoes from Pericles.' Pericles commissioned the building of the Parthenon in 447 BC. The name of Holland and Sons is stamped on much of the furniture they produced. By mid-Victorian times the practice of stamping drawer edges or tops of cupboard doors was usual with leading furniture makers.

Other designers who worked for Holland and Sons included Sir Charles Barry, GE Street, Gottfried Semper, and JK Collings.

An ebony cabinet and stand designed by the German architect Professor Gottfried Semper (1803-79) was shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1855. The cabinet, now in the V&A Museum, has gilt metal mounts with a large porcelain copy by George Gray of 'Crossing of the Brook,' the original by the Irish artist William Mulready. The frieze at the top is decorated with Wedgwood plaques.

Although Holland and Sons continually encouraged design, they complained that the country had a great want of designers, draughtsmen and modellers. However, "The very few who can assist, demand and are paid with such excessive rates that their services are dispensed with except on important occasions."

They showed their furniture at a number of important exhibitions including London in 1862, Vienna 1873, and Paris 1867 and 1872.

At the Vienna Exhibition of 1873 a contemporary account at the time said of the firm: "Holland and Sons show a round table with costly inlaid work. They have filled their bookcase, a wonderful mixture of Gothic ornament and leather scrollwork, with books."

Their records detail the variety of woods used: rosewood, birchwood, ebony, walnut, satinwood, and tulipwood, to name a few. The styles of furniture were in accordance with the taste of the client.

The catalogue of Holland and Sons would advertise work done, for example, in the 'Italian Style best fitted to a Hall or Dining Room,' or 'the Moresque Style in much request for the Smoking Room where comfort is looked for'.

A chest of drawers of Hungarian Ash was part of a suite of bedroom furniture made to an Augustus Pugin (1812-1852) design for the Duke of Marlborough, bearing the Duke's Gothic 'M' sign on its handles. Hungarian Ash is often identified with Holland and Sons as they appeared to use it more than any other cabinetmaker of the time.

The London firm of Stephen Taprell and William Holland were chair and sofa manufacturers from about 1803-1835. They were succeeded by Taprell, Holland and Sons from 1835-1843, and the firm traded as Holland and Sons after 1843.

Stephen Taprell, the senior partner, remained actively in business until his partner William Holland took over in 1843. Taprell died in 1847, aged 73, and was buried in the Holland family vault in Kensal Green Cemetery.

The esteem in which Stephen Taprell was held by the Holland family is shown by the fact that William Holland's second son James, who was the senior partner of the firm from 1851-72, named his first two sons Stephen Taprell Holland and George Taprell Holland.

The earlier known major commission achieved by Taprell and Holland was the furnishing of the Athenaeum from 1824-38. Before the Athenaeum was finished, Taprell and Holland supplied to their temporary quarters at Waterloo Place in 1824, '20 dinner tables and 5 dozen chairs of the same pattern and price as those supplied to the Union Club'.

William Holland & Sons became one of the greatest British furnishing firms of the Victorian period and remained in business until 1942.

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