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Wright & Mansfield (1861-1884)

Wright & Mansfield

Great Portland Street and Oxford Street, London; cabinet makers and upholsterers (fl. 1861-1884)

Alfred Thomas Wright’s origins and training are unknown. From 1856 he was a junior partner to Samuel Hanson, cabinet maker and ‘antiquarian upholsterer’ of 16 John Street (later Great Portland Street) and 106½ Oxford Street. In 1858, George Needham Mansfield, son of George Mansfield, builder and decorator of Gray’s Inn Lane and Wigmore Street, joined the firm which then traded as Hanson, Wright and Mansfield until Hanson’s death in 1861. Thereafter the firm traded as Wright and Mansfield. They exhibited at the London International Exhibition of 1862 – where they won a first-class medal – and the accompanying catalogue by J. B. Waring included a full colour lithograph of an Erard piano in the ‘Adams’ style, together with a number of black and white illustrations of other furniture. The piano, which had been painted by Pincon and Prolisch and the carving done by R W Godfrey, (illus. Meyer (2006), p. 123),was bought by D. C. Marjoribanks, MP, of Guisachan House, Inverness-shire, and was part of a large commission of ‘Adams’ furniture made by the firm, the earliest so far documented. A particular feature of this cabinet furniture was the incorporation of Wedgewood plaques, including black basalt ware and the first documented use of Highland black cherry wood. A cabinet, a pair of candelabra and a gilt side table from this commission are illus. in Meyer (2006), pp. 149 & 150.  The firm went on to furnish the family’s London home at Brook House (1867) and Haddo House, Aberdeenshire (1880s), belonging to the 7th Earl and Countess of Aberdeen (lady Aberdeen’s father was D. C. Majoribanks). At the 1867 Paris Exhibition, Wright and Mansfield won the only gold medal for art furniture awarded to a British firm, and their satinwood cabinet with porcelain plaques, designed by Mr Crosse and made for the Exhibition, was sold to the South Kensington Museum (V & A: 548:5-1868). The firm’s listing in the 1871 Post Office Directory recorded addresses at 104 New Bond Street, 3 Great Portland Street & 6 Ridinghouse Street, London. A drawing room in the style of ‘the Adam brothers’ shown at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition was awarded a medal but found no buyers and was sold off with their stock in 1886. One of the pair of sideboards, satinwood, marquetry and parcel gilt featured in the firm’s display at this Exhibition is illus. Meyer (2006), p. 214.  

Guisachan and Brook House do not survive, but their furniture and decoration were recorded in contemporary photographs (illus. Harris, Furniture History (1996). The Erard piano of 1862 (illus. Harris, Furniture History (1996) p. 147) was recorded in the 1905 inventory of Guisachan. It was later in a Canadian collection in 1996 and sold at Bonhams on 20 November 2007 for £24,000. Haddo House is better recorded. It seems that Wright and Mansfield were responsible not only for furnishing the house but for much of the plasterwork, interior joinery and other interior decoration. Much of the furniture supplied by the firm is still at the house, some of it stamped ‘Wright and Mansfield’, while other furniture has been dispersed into the antiques market. The Haddo library writing table, veneered in highland cherry, was with the London furniture dealers Butchoff about 2010 (illus. Bowett, Woods in British Furniture Making (2012), figs C21 & 22). Other examples of the firm’s work include a satinwood display cabinet of about 1870, formerly in the Handley-Read collection, at the Cecil Higgins Arts Gallery and Museum, Bedford (HAGM:F.79); a painted satinwood armchair with cane seat made c.1880 (V&A: 240:1,2-1887).

Also a large mahogany pedestal desk and dressing table of satinwood inlaid with kingwood, part of a bedroom suite which also comprised a wardrobe, a commode seat and a towel rail are illus. Symonds & Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962), figs 219, 220 & 232. The firm was recorded in the Lord Chamberlain’s accounts in 1885.

Haddo House was probably Wright and Mansfield’s last major commission, and it is unlikely it was completely finished before the partnership was formally dissolved in December 1884. Nevertheless the firm continued to advertise until 1885/6 and were recorded in the Furniture Gazette Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery and Allied Trades, 1886, as Art Furniture Manufacturers and Merchants. The reasons for dissolution are unclear, but Wright was almost certainly unwell by this time and there may have been financial mismanagement because Wright left only £312 8s 3d at his death in 1890. Wright and Mansfield furniture was expensive and perhaps unaffordable to all but the very rich. The firm had invested considerable capital in a collection of important specimens used as models for their reproduction furniture which The Cabinet Maker & Art Furnisher (1 July 1887) described as ‘[equal to] the real work of the best makers, Chippendale, Sheraton, Hepplewhite, Adam and Richardson [which was] becoming scarcer every in the auction rooms, and fetch[ing] high prices’. Their stock was dispersed in two sales conducted by Phillips, Son and Neale in June 1886 and June 1887. George Mansfield, with his brother, attempted to carry on the business as before, buying stock from the 1886 sale, but was forced to close in 1887 when the premises were sold.

Source: The Art Journal illustrated Catalogue of the International Exhibition (London, 1862); Waring, Masterpieces of Industrial Art & Sculpture at the International Exhibition, 1862 (London, 1863); Furniture Gazette: Classified List of the Furniture, Upholstery, and Allied Trades, 1886; Aslin, 19th Century English Furniture (1962); Symonds & Whineray, Victorian Furniture (1962); Joy, ‘The Royal Furniture Makers, 1837-87’, The Burlington (November 1969); Collard, ‘The Regency Revival’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (1984); Harris, ‘Adams in the Family: Wright And Mansfield at Haddo, Guisachan, Brook House and Grosvenor Square’, Furniture History (1996); Donnelly, ‘British Furniture at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, 1876’, Furniture History (2001); Meyer, Great Exhibitions. London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia. 1851-1900 (2006); Bowett, Woods in British Furniture Making (2012); Wallis, ‘A Hand-List of the Handley-Read Collection’, The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present (2016).