London; upholder and cabinet maker (fl.1754–93)
At Porter St near Newport Mkt from the 1750s until the late 1780s when he moved to 33 Marylebone St, Piccadilly. Subscribed to Chippendale's Director, 1754, his copy now being in the British Library. A trade card of this period in a Chinoiserie style survives. It states that Robert Campbell ‘Makes and Sells all sort of Household Furniture, Useful & Ornamental in the Newest Fashion, at the most Reasonable Rates. NB. Rooms Neatly Paper'd & all sorts of Goods … for Exportation’. In 1761 he signed statements regarding the working conditions of journeymen cabinet and chair makers which were published in Lloyds Evening Post and British Chronicle. In this year he took John Finnis as an app. Robert Campbell was a man of considerable ingenuity and his business flourished, diversifying away from the purely upholstery side of the trade. In 1774 he took out a patent (patent no. 1086) on sets of library steps which could be ‘contained in tables … chairs or stools’ when not in use. The first set was stated to have been made for George III. The practical nature of this piece of furniture had a strong appeal and a number of examples are known of sets of library steps enclosed in tables which bear Robert Campbell's trade label (illus. Gilbert (1996), figs 185-188). One of these sets of steps enclosed in a mahogany Pembroke table is in the Library at Saltram, Devon and was supplied to John Parker in 1777 at a cost of £6 10s. The original address on the engraved plate for the label for the Saltram steps has been erased and replaced with ‘Queens St, 7 Dial’ written in ink. Thomas Sheraton thought this item of furniture of sufficient merit to illustrate and describe it in his Drawing Book, 1793. A mahogany pedestal, c.1780-85, also has the Queen Street label (illus. Gilbert (1996), fig.183).
By the 1780s Robert Campbell was attracting patronage of the very highest order and his firm was described as ‘Upholsterers to their Majesties’ and ‘Cabinet maker to the Prince of Wales’. He was the maker of the King’s throne and canopy in the King’s Audience Chamber at Windsor Castle and probably the maker of the framework of Queen Charlotte’s bed with two en-suite chairs and ten stools, finished in 1778,and placed in the Queen’s State Bedchamber in Charles II’s Star Building on the north side of Windsor Castle (now at Hampton Court Palace). This bed was probably designed by John Yenn. In the 1780s and 1790s King George III commissioned work at Windsor Castle and Campbell made the chair of state, and possibly the canopy frame and back, and to the accompanying stools and window seat. Also produced were 4 oval pier glasses for the King’s Dressing Room and King’s Closet, designed by John Yenn, carved by Mr Lawrence and Yenn wrote that ‘Mr Campbell Upholsterer in Leicester Square must be Consulted as to the oval form and Size of the Glasses as he is to provide the Same.’ (illus. Furniture History (1997), pp.180-1). He produced an estimate for furniture required for Carlton House in 1789 amounting to £10,500 and subsequently was employed there on upholstery work. Chinoiserie chairs for the Chinese Drawing Room, Carlton House (illustrated by engravings dated 1793 in Sheraton's Drawing Book) were made by François Hervé but upholstered in plain yellow satin and brocaded satin by Robert Campbell. A set of four chairs at the Nieborow Palace, near Warsaw, owned formerly by the Radziwill family, are labelled ‘Robt. Campbell … upholders & cabinetmakers … to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales on the west side of Leicester Square London. Makes all Kinds of useful & ornamental furniture in the newest taste’ (illus. Gilbert (1966), fig.184).
In 1785 he took out insurance cover on his dwelling house and workshop amounting to £1,500 with a further £750 for utensils, stock and goods in trust. He owned other property and in 1791 insured a house at 28 Gt Ormond St tenanted by James Buckley Esq. He subscribed to Sheraton's Drawing Book, 1793. From 1784 the business is usually described as Robert Campbell & Son.
Sources: DEFM; Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840 (1996); Edwards, ‘Such Costly Furniture, Such Beds of State – Reflections on the Conservation and Re-Display of Queen Charlotte’s State Bed’, FHSNewsletter (August 2008); Roberts, ‘A Neoclassical Episode at Windsor’, Furniture History (1997); Jervis, ‘Furniture in Eighteenth-Century Country House Guides’, Furniture History (2006).