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  • Settee
    Stuart, James 'Athenian', born 1713 - died 1788
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  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1759-1765 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Stuart, James 'Athenian', born 1713 - died 1788 (designer)
    Vardy, Thomas (Carver)

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with the assistance of the Brigadier Clark Fund through Art Fund

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On display at Spencer House, London

This settee is part of a set of seat furniture made for the Painted Room at Spencer House, London. The design is exceptionally bold, with winged lions forming the arms of the settees. James Stuart, the architect who designed the house and many of its furnishings was one of the first architects in Britain to work in the new Neoclassical style. For the Painted Room he had the walls painted with arabesques and oval panels, imitating the style of decoration found during the archaeological excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii. His design for the seat furniture probably took its inspiration from Greek and Roman thrones in stone. These often showed seats supported on mythical beasts.

These settees are now once more on show at Spencer House. Please follow this link to be directed to the Spencer House website: http://www.spencerhouse.co.uk/

Physical description

The eight-legged settee features striking carved winged lions on either side, forming the legs and arm supports. Guilloche ornament runs along the back and heavily fluted decoration to the seat rails adds to the neo-classical style.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1759-1765 (made)


Stuart, James 'Athenian', born 1713 - died 1788 (designer)
Vardy, Thomas (Carver)

Object history note

In his design of the first floor rooms of Spencer House, James Stuart took responsibility for every detail from fixtures to furniture. The winged lion settees formed an integral part of the design of the Painted Room, arguably the most important interior at Spencer House and among the earliest fully-developed neoclassical interiors in Europe. The lion forms at the side of the settees correspond to classical originals that Stuart must have seen on his visit to Rome, such as the Arundel marble throne featuring similar carved lion flanks, now in the Ashmolean Museum. The two larger settees (W.1 and 2-1977) were designed to fit either side of the window facing the fireplace, while the smaller settees (W.3 and 4-1977) had curved backs to fit the curve of the aspe and sat underneath mirrors between the windows. This arrangement ensured that visitors entering the room were presented with the impressive lion flanks of all four settees. In the 1772 publication Tour Through the Southern Counties, Arthur Young describes the Painted Room, noting that ‘the frames of the tables, sofas, stand etc. are all carved and gilt in the same taste as the other ornaments of the room, rich but elegant’ (p. 114).

Purchased in 1977 from Earl Spencer [1976/2628]. On long-term loan to Spencer House since 1993.

Descriptive line

Settee in carved and gilded limewood, featuring carved winged lions on each side, upholstered with modern green silk damask.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Joseph Friedman, Spencer House - Chronicle of a Great London Mansion, (London, 1993)
Peter Thornton & John Hardy, ‘The Spencer Furniture at Althorp II’, Apollo, (June, 1968), pp. 440-51
Arts Council of Great Britain, The Age of Neo-Classicism, Exhibition Catalogue, (London, 1972), pp. 780-81
Maurice Tomlin, Catalogue of Adam Period Furniture, (London: V&A, 1982), p. 9
David Udy, ‘The Classical Sources of English Neo-classical Furniture’, Arte Illustrata, No. 52, February 1973, pp. 96-104
National Gallery of Art, The Treasure Houses of Britain: Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting, Exhibition Catalogue, (Washington, 1985), pp. 343-44
Christopher Wilk (ed.), Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day, (London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1996), p. 114
Clifford Musgrave, Adam and Hepplewhite and other Neo-Classical Furniture, (London: Faber, 1966), Plate 80, P. 197
Susan Weber Soros, ‘James “Athenian” Stuart and Furniture Design’ in James “Athenian” Stuart 1713 – 1788: The Rediscovery of Antiquity, ed. by Susan Weber Soros, (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 412-466 (pp. 431-437)
Richard Hewlings, ‘The London Houses’ in James “Athenian” Stuart 1713-1988: The Rediscovery of Antiquity, ed. by Susan Weber Soros, (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2007), pp. 194-264 (pp. 194, 216)
‘London Houses: Spencer House II’, Country Life, November 6th (1926), 698-759, pp. 758-9

Labels and date

ENGLISH; about 1759
Gilt wood, damask upholstery

Part of a set of seat furniture designed by the architect James 'Athenian' Stuart (1713-88) for the Painted Room in Spencer House, St. James's, London, for Earl Spencer (1734-83). The execution is attributed to Thomas Vardy (d.1765), carver of Grosvenor Square. An armchair (W.9-1977) en suite is also displayed in this bay. The remainder of the set is on loan to Kenwood House.

Bought with a contribution from the Brigadier Clark Fund, through the National Art-Collections Fund. [pre October 2000]

Production Note

Production of the suite of seat furniture for the Painted Room has been attributed to the partnership of John Gordon and John Taitt, well-known London cabinet makers (Friedman, p. 187; Thornton & Hardy, p. 450). This firm may well have made the frames for the settees, but the lions – naturalistic in style and featuring impressive detail – appear to be the work of a carver rather than a cabinet-maker, and these elements have been attributed to Thomas Vardy, who worked at Spencer House for his brother John Vardy as well as for Stuart (Weber Soros, p. 436). The original upholstery was green damask with brass tacks. In 1772 the firm of Gordon & Taitt provided loose, crimson covers for the set.




Carving; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Winged lion




Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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