An important carved and giltwood mirror, designed by Thomas Johnson, circa 1760, is going under the hammer for an estimate of £35,000-£45,000 at Cheffins Fine Sale on Thursday, 21st March.

Thomas Johnson (1723 – 1799), is widely acknowledged as one of the most accomplished wood carvers and furniture designers of Georgian England. Renowned for his dedication to the Rococo and Chinoiserie tastes, Johnson's creations stand out for their ingenious fusion of the era's most popular motifs, featuring elaborate carvings depicting human figures, animals, birds, and fishes.

Measuring 183 x 94cm, the ornate detail in the mirror includes cresting carved with a seated man holding an eagle, flanked by an owl and a dog, the upper section with a fox with a goose in its mouth being chased by a woman holding a broom, and elaborate frame carved with scrolling acanthus leaves, Ho Ho birds and hunting dogs.

A carved and giltwood mirror, designed by Thomas Johnson, circa 1760

Dating back to approximately 1760, the earliest documented history of the mirror (Lot 500) originates in the early 20th century when it became an integral part of the esteemed collection of Irwin Untermyer (1886-1973), a prominent figure in New York. Untermyer, a distinguished lawyer, judge and dedicated art collector with a profound affinity for 18th century British culture, meticulously assembled one of the most significant and comprehensive collections of British decorative arts in the United States during his lifetime.

His collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he served as a trustee from 1951 to 1971, played a pivotal role in the cultivation and sharing of his passion. Ultimately, he generously gifted approximately 2,000 works and upon his death, the entirety of his collection was bequeathed to the museum.

In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Johnson's enduring legacy can be attributed, in part, to his published engravings which include Twelve Girandoles (1755), One Hundred and Fifty New Designs (1761), The Book of the Carver (1758), and a folio volume of Designs for Picture Frames, Candelabra, Ceilings, &c. (1758). These publications played a crucial role in propelling Johnson's reputation to global acclaim.

The mirror demonstrates both Johnson’s ability to be a storyteller, and how his pieces were not purely decorative but were also didactic in nature. He was influenced by the illustrator, Francis Barlow, especially his depiction of Aesop’s fables, which had a particular provenance within Johnson’s work and influences of which can be found in the mirror. The origins of the central figure of the fox with a goose being chased away by the farmer’s wife, for example, can be found in the title page of Animals of Various Species Accurately Drawn by Francis Barlow, part three of Various Birds and Beasts Drawn from Life, Francis Barlow, London, 1660-70. 

The Fine Sale, 20th / 21st March 2024

Location: Cheffins, Clifton House, 1-2 Clifton Road, Cambridge, UK, CB1 7EA

For further information contact the Fine Art Department on 01223 213343,