Chippendale's pier glass at Nostell
The Chippendale pier glass, designed to hang at the heart of the State Apartment has reflected a swirling world of gold and green for nearly 250 years. In 2019, discover what lies behind the looking glass as it's taken off the wall for the first time in living memory.
At the beginning of May 2019, a team of experts moved the pier glass from the State Dressing Room to a temporary studio on the ground floor. They made significant new discoveries hidden behind the mirror, including original markings inside the frame, vibrantly coloured wallpaper preserved behind the glass and even a set of fingerprints.
Visit the studio in the house this season to take a look at the beautiful mirror up close and see video footage of the conservation work that the team carried out to preserve this treasure for future generations.
Chippendale's interior worlds
These amazing discoveries have helped open up Chippendale’s world in terms of how he operated, how artefacts were made and how these impressive interiors originally looked.
The mirror will be off the wall until late summer 2019. Visit the State Dressing Room and take this rare opportunity to see how most of the wall behind the pier glass was left blank, with wallpaper only used near the edges of the pier glass in a patchwork of off-cuts. This shows how Chippendale, as an entrepreneur, kept his costs down by only hanging the expensive paper in the places it would be seen.
Most significantly, these pieces of wallpaper have been protected over time by the mirror. Some of the original vibrant colours can now be seen as light has not faded the exotic birds and flowers in the foreground, and the background has not been turned brown by air pollution.
The markings on the back of the frame itself show that this elaborate show piece, which was created in the fashionable Chinese-inspired style, was the work of many hands.
" It’s a huge privilege to work on a piece like this, particularly here at Nostell, which has probably the best documented collection of Chippendale furniture. The ornate frame was carved by hand and there’s plenty of evidence of the people that crafted it."
Reflections of the 18th century
As well as the physical discoveries that we've found behind the looking glass, this historic piece offers a window into 18th century, opening up stories of transport, trade and empire, and the development of interior design.
A chinoiserie masterpiece
Imaginary creatures featured in Chippendale’s work and he often borrowed elements of Chinese design and turned them into something very different within his pieces. The pier glass is a classic example of these ideas, showcasing a miniature pagoda, flanked by Ho-ho birds, an English take on mythical creatures in Chinese and Japanese folklore. The sweeping curls and flourishes that decorate the frame are a mixture of rococo, chinoiserie and neoclassicicm.
A fragile relationship
The transport of mirrors was a bone of contention between Chippendale and his client. Whilst Winn preferred the cheaper option of transport by water, Chippendale insisted on bringing the pier glass from his workshop in London to Wakefield by land, as he was worried the fragile silvering of the glass would tarnish in a damp boat.
As tense correspondence in Nostell’s archives reveals, two panes of the mirror broke during the journey. Not only did Rowland Winn have to pay the cost of transport, he also had to pay for any damages, making this mirror the most expensive item Chippendale supplied to Nostell, coming to a total cost of £97; around £6,500 in today’s money.