Johns (or John) St, London, cabinet and chair maker (fl.1781–96)
While François Hervé is known to have worked for the most fashionable and fastidious patrons, such as the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Devonshire and Earl Spencer, he still remains a shadowy figure. His name is virtually absent from the London directories, but two entries of 1790 and 1793 record that an ‘F. Herve chairmaker’ worked at 32 Johns St, off Tottenham Ct Rd. He had earlier been in partnership with John Meschain of the same address. Both names appear on a brass tablet found upon a folding library table-cum-steps, of their invention (Fig. 43). Meschain is recorded from at least 1769 as a cabriole chair maker, and in 1770 he took app. named Gabriel Laurent La Porte, presumably also of French extraction. [Boyd's index to IR app. reg., 4, p. 682] In January 1769 he supplied ‘18 French Cabriolets’ at £1 7s each to Shelburne House, Berkeley Sq., London. [Bowood MS] In 1777 ‘John Meschain, cabinet and chairmaker’ took out an insurance policy for £600 on premises at 32 St John St, his utensils and stock being covered for £350. In 1781 Meschain was rated upon a £30 rental — a higher figure than for most others in the street, but was superseded there by Hervé from 1781 until at least 1791. He had moved to 64 John St by 1796, presumably in larger premises across the street (now the middle part of Whitfield St) and was well placed in a still fashionably developing part of London. Whether Francis Hervé fell on harder times is uncertain, but that name is recorded in Holden's 1808 directory as a turner and brush maker in Kingsgate St, Theobald Rd. In 1782 the John St premises were insured by Catherine Mortel, spinster, with £200 attributable to the workshop and £500 to Hervé's utensils and stock. [GL, Sun MS vol. 298, p. 385]
Hervé's style is now best represented by the documented pieces at Chatsworth where it can be seen as a light, elegant and adroit mixture of English and French detail. Thus the back legs of his chairs are splayed in the English manner, while some of his carved detail, for example the interlocked C-scrolls or the undulating shaping of his chair backs is wholly French, and a very conservative survival of the Rococo motifs of the 1750s. Most extant Hervé pieces were either painted to harmonize with the soft furnishings elsewhere in the rooms concerned or were gilded. In directory entries Hervé described himself as ‘a cabriole chairmaker’. Many of his chairs have caned backs or seats, and, to reduce costs, he sometimes employed ‘composition’ ornaments in substitution for hand carving. His output included beside seat furniture, pier tables, state beds and chandeliers. Hervé worked in conjunction with well-known architects such as John Carr at Chatsworth (for the Duke of Devonshire), and perhaps at Welbeck (for Devonshire's brother-in-law, the Duke of Portland) with James Wyatt; at Heveningham (for either Sir Gerard Vanneck, or his brother, later created the 1st Lord Huntingfield) and with Henry Holland at Althorp for Earl Spencer; and at Carlton House for George, Prince of Wales. There is no firm evidence that Hervé was dependent upon any of those architects for furniture designs though the proportions of several of his larger pieces were determined by the spaces allotted for them within those architects’ designs. Hervé was also linked with his fellow Frenchmen, such as Guillaume Gaubert at both Chatsworth and Carlton House. The style of his documented pieces embodies certain distinctive features, among them the stepping down of the seat rails at their junction with the legs, a sensible constructional device that retained the slender elegance of the seat rails while providing a stronger joint at the leg junctions. The top-most part of the leg is frequently a quadrant in plan, sometimes overlaid with a patera or a half patera of radiating petals or foliage. The leg below the seat frame often has a turned necking band deeper than that found upon wholly English chairs, and the flutes of the legs are sometimes further enriched with reeding or with the carved chandelles that are also French in inspiration. CHATSWORTH, Derbs. (5th Duke of Devonshire). 1782–85: Supplied numerous suites of upholstered and caned seat furniture, many of which can still be identified at the house. [I. Hall, ‘A neoclassical episode at Chatsworth’, Burlington, June 1980, pp. 400–14] CARLTON HOUSE, London (Prince of Wales). 1783–94: Supplied considerable amounts of furniture for interiors, notably the Chinese Drawing Room. [Burlington, September 1967, pp. 518–28; Conn., June 1977, pp. 116–25] WINDSOR CASTLE (George III). 1789–92: Received payments on account 10 October 1789, £100 and 8 August 1792, £150. [Windsor RA 88736 and 88812] ALTHORP, Northants. (Lady Spencer). 1791: A bill dated 25 January 1791 invoices ‘6 Cabriole Backstools’ at £2 0s 6d each and ‘2 Tete a Tete to match’ at £3 13s each ‘by order of Messrs Holland and Daguire’. [Apollo, June 1968, pp. 271–72] WOBURN ABBEY, Beds. (5th Duke of Bedford). 1791: Paid £45 7s 7d in December 1791 for unspecified work by order of Henry Holland. [Bedford Office, London] BROADLANDS, Hants. (2nd Viscount Palmerston): A furniture design is inscribed ‘Herve’. [C. Life, 5 Feburary 1981, p. 346] Sets of library steps that fold down to form a table have been recorded with the inscription on a wood tablet ‘Herve Fecit No. 32 John Street/Tottenham Court Road’; an example is at the V&A (W.7–1932). Other sets bear brass labels engraved ‘Invented & SOLD BY MESCHAIN & HERVÉ, No. 32 in Johns Street TOTTENHAM Court ROAD’ (Sotheby's, 7 July 1967, lot 167). Examples are illustrated in Gilbert (1996), figs 628-632. There is a signed set at Heveningham Hall, Suffolk.
Source: DEFM; Gilbert, Pictorial Dictionary of Marked London Furniture 1700-1840 (1996).