A Quite Remarkable Carved Pine Chimneypiece or Fireplace Surround Adorned with Maritime-Themed Decoration Made for the Offices of the Marine Society in Bishopsgate in 1775 by the Great Carver “Mr Touzey”

12th October 2023

A George III carved pine chimneypiece from The Marine Society by Tousey, 1775

Provenance

This fully documented chimneypiece was ordered by the Marine Society in April of 1775 “the cost not to exceed £36”. The carver “Mr Touzey” was subsequently paid £30 15s and 6d for the work. The chimneypiece was the centrepiece of the Committee Room at 54 Bishopsgate and when the Society moved to different premises in Clarks Place, Bishopsgate in 1891 the chimneypiece was transferred to the new building. It remained the property of the Society until acquired by us.

Literature

The chimneypiece is described and illustrated in the following.

Henry T. A. Bosanquet, The Marine Society, A Catalogue of the Pictures and other Works of Art, 1905, p. 14.

Richard Woodman, Of Daring Temper: A History of the Marine Society, 2006

This wonderful chimneypiece is an exceptional example of a carved pine design with additional carved and composition detailing-something of a British speciality during the later 18th century. There were many specialist craftsmen employed in the production of chimneypieces of this sort during this period but we are fortunate that the Marine Society’s records are so unusually complete and the craftsman who supplied this piece can be identified. The man concerned is identified in the ledgers as “Mr Touzey” and it is almost certain that this must have been John Tousey/Touzey of Bow Street in Bloomsbury from 1763-81. According to a newspaper advert recording the sale of his stock at the time of his retirement in 1781, Touzey was a “carver, upholder, cabinet-maker and dealer in plate glass”. He was also one of a group of cabinetmakers recorded by the Duchess of Northumberland c.1776 and referred to by Christopher Gilbert in his monograph on Thomas Chippendale.

The only known bill for a piece of furniture supplied by Touzey is for a cabinet supplied to Sir John Hot at Shelburne House, Berkeley Square, in 1767 which cost the princely sum of £96 4s. What is also recorded however is that Touzey was employed to add carved details to the interiors at Croome Court and also gild picture frames there. Croome was the seat of the Earl of Coventry and the architecture and direction of the interiors was undertaken by Robert Adam. The fact that the Duchess of Northumberland (see above) was also a major Adam client and that the interiors of Shelburne House were also remodelled by the Adam brothers suggests a very strong link between Touzey’s workshop and the Adam family.

54 Bishopsgate was not built specifically for the Marine Society-the pre-existing building was adapted to suit their needs-and there is no surviving evidence that Robert Adam might have been involved in the design of the interiors there but as he was at the height of his fame in this period it is likely that the Society were attempting to create a somewhat neoclassical scheme of decoration with a strong maritime focus and employing a known Adam associate to carve the chimneypiece would have been a real statement at the time.

The Iconography of the Chimneypiece

The chimneypiece is designed with a pediment incorporating shelves for the display of sculptural busts and incorporates very finely carved, but typical, columnar jambs. There is a carved medallion of Robert Marsham, 2ndBaron Romney, who was president of the Marine Society from 1756-1793, above the frieze but it is the three carved elements that make up the frieze which are truly exceptional. These elements show, from left to right, a naval trophy of arms incorporating a cannon and drum, a reclining youth, dressed in the uniform of the Society and holding what appears to be a flask as he gazes out to sea, and a collection of maritime navigational equipment including sextants, a globe on a stand and rolled maps and charts.

Many chimneypieces produced during this period incorporated standard decorative panels clearly recorded in pattern books and used over and over again. The present chimneypiece is most certainly a complete one off and the iconography, particularly the wonderful figure of the Society recruit on the central tablet, would certainly have had to have been designed from scratch. Most other surviving maritime themed chimneypieces are more generic in nature but one other marvellous example, featured in the Antique Dealers’ Fair Souvenir Issue of Connoisseur Magazine (June 1949) with the dealers Pratt and Sons Ltd., was made in 1776 for the Duke of Cumberland and the astonishing quality of the carving on this piece might also be attributed to Touzey as further evidence comes to light.

The Marine Society

The Society was the fruits of the labours of Jonas Hanway, a traveller and merchant, who sought to deal with problems relating to an under-equipped British navy and, at the same time, provide gainful employment to young men and boys who were either orphaned or unemployed.  Hanway formed a group of fellow merchants and London gentlemen and together they sponsored a number of boys, clothing and training them before despatching them to sea.  The experiment was a great success and by 1763 some 10,000 recruits for the navy had been supplied through the endeavours of the Society.  The Society was incorporated by act of Parliament in 1772 and Lord Nelson became one of a number of prominent naval figures to be intimately involved with the Society, serving as one of its governors for a number of years.  As a result of this involvement, many of Britain’s pre-eminent naval heroes would have sat gazing at our chimneypiece whilst employed in committee business – if it could talk, what tales it would have to tell us all.

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