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A Design for a Chair from; A Miscellaneous Collection of Original Designs, made, and for the most part executed, during an extensive Practice of many years in the first line of his Profession, by John Linnell, Upholserer Carver & Cabinet Maker. Selected from his Portfolios at his Decease, by C. H. Tatham Architect. AD 1800.

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    late 18th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Linnell, John, born 1729 - died 1796 (designers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    pencil, pen and yellow and blue watercolour

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level E, case W, shelf 8, box C1

This design for a chair by John Linnell demonstrates the growing fashion for the neoclassical style towards the end of the 18th century. Inspired by the art and design of Classical Greece and Rome, the neoclassical was also inspired by the ancient ruins that were being discovered at sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum. Motifs such as the lyre-shaped chair back and the use of the Vitruvian scroll as a feature of the carved seat decoration, are typical features of the neoclassical style. They also show Linnell’s fondness for opulent carving. The rams heads which are positioned either side of the lyre are reminiscent of the way in which neoclassical architects and designers such as William Chambers were using this motif within their designs. Linnell also uses the lyre form in a design for a chair back (E.63-1929).

While the neoclassical style is present, Linnell has still employed rococo forms. The rococo was a style which became popular in England around 1730. Features such as elaborate S and C curved forms, naturalistic motifs and asymmetry are typical of this style and in this design the scrolling acanthus leaves add movement to the structure. Although the chair legs are heavy in appearance, they still maintain the cabriole form (curved and tapered) which is also a rococo feature.

Linnell has been attributed as the maker of lyre back chairs of a different design for the library at Osterley Park owned by Robert Child, which was redecorated in the neoclassical style by Robert Adam. The blue and yellow watercolour which Linnell has used suggests that the chair would have been gilded and that a luxurious blue material such as damask would have been used to upholster the seat.

Physical description

A design for a chair in a transitional style from the rococo to the neoclassical. The centre of the chair back takes the form of a lyre, either side of which are positioned two rams heads holding foliage. The lyre is surmounted by the profile of a crown. The frame of the chair back is straight in form before curving at the top and the scrolling acanthus leaves entwined around the structure add movement to the design. The chair seat is coloured with blue watercolour. The chair seat frame is decorated by a series of carved borders including a Vitruvian scroll pattern. The chair legs are curved in the cabriole form decorated with acanthus leaves and an imbricated coin pattern. One of a set of designs for furniture, including chairs and state beds, interior decoration, including pier glasses, and architectural fittings including chimney pieces and doors. In a volume.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


late 18th century (made)


Linnell, John, born 1729 - died 1796 (designers)

Materials and Techniques

pencil, pen and yellow and blue watercolour


Height: 12.4 cm volume, Width: 7.65 cm volume

Historical context note

Elaborately carved and decorated chairs such as these would have been positioned in the formal rooms of an interior.

Descriptive line

Design for a chair in pencil, pen, ink and yellow and blue watercolour from a volume of designs for furniture, interior decoration and architectural fittings, by John Linnell, Great Britain, late 18th century

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

Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1929, London: Board of Education, 1930.


Paper (fiber product); Ink; Wash; Watercolour; Material



Subjects depicted

Subject; Vitruvian scroll; Crown; Lyre; Ram; Imbricated


Drawings; Furniture; Designs


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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