Sir Edwin Lutyens - Important Design London Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Midland Bank Limited, New Head Offices, Poultry, London

  • Literature

    A. S. G. Butler, The Architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens, Volume III, London, 1950, illustrated fig. 65
    Edwin Green, Buildings for Bankers: Sir Edwin Lutyens and the Midland Bank, 1921-1939, exh. cat., London, 1980, illustrated p. 18

  • Catalogue Essay

    Phillips wishes to thank the Lutyens Trust for their assistance cataloguing the present lot.

    Sir Edwin Lutyens, Reginald McKenna and The Midland Bank.

    After a distinguished political career during which he served as First Lord of the Admiralty, Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Reginald (‘Reggie’) McKenna joined the Board of Directors of Midland Bank in July 1918.

    Married to the niece of Sir Edwin Lutyens’s mentor and lifetime friend, Gertrude Jekyll, McKenna was appointed chairman of Midland Bank in 1919 on the death of his predecessor, Sir Edward Holden. Sir Edward had always insisted that a bank needed a worthy building ‘because a good bank with poor premises does not attract deposits in the same way as a bank with good premises’. A.S.G Butler, states a similar sentiment in The Architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens, Volume III: ‘It is obvious that a bank should look, above all, strong. It should also look, up to a point, rich. The housing of one should, therefore, express, these two fundamental qualities – assuming that the expression of purpose is considered important in architecture. People do, in fact, like it. They are encouraged to deposit valuables in and do business with a bank that looks both strong and rich…’

    Lutyens had built a house for the McKennas at 36 Smith Square, Westminster in 1912 and was by now the most celebrated British architect of the day. Given this and their shared connection to Jekyll, it is, therefore, no surprise that one of McKenna’s first actions as Midland chairman was to commission Lutyens to design the bank’s new branch in Piccadilly – a building worthy of its nearby neighbour, St. James’s church, designed by the architect of St Paul’s cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren. Three further Midland commissions followed for Lutyens, including the spectacular headquarters (now the prestigious five-star hotel, The Ned), built on a site close to the Bank of England, between Princes Street and Poultry, in the City of London.

    The present ten chairs comprising lot 74, formed part of a set of furniture designed by Lutyens for the boardroom at the Midland Bank Poultry headquarters. The set also included the elliptical and rectangular tables, also designed by Lutyens and more fully described in lot 75. Lutyens first experimented with modular furniture in Marsh Court (1901–1905) where his design for the dining room table comprised of two D‐ends with free standing inserts. Marsh Court was in fact one of the very first buildings that Lutyens furnished with his own designs for furniture and lighting. Apart from his own family use, Lutyens appears not to have used his own designs much until his great work in New Delhi (completed 1935), his great office buildings, Britannic House in Finsbury Circus, the Midland Bank buildings, London and the one in Manchester, and smaller office buildings such as 120 Pall Mall.

    The boardroom furniture designed for the Poultry Headquarters of the Midland Bank was very important as it represented Lutyens’s total control of a major space within the building. In it he returned to the modular form first seen in Marsh Court with a series of tables that could be arranged in several different formations and chairs that could cope with all iterations of the arrangement. Aside from the modular design, the Midland Bank tables encompass classic Lutyens features: exaggerated bun feet beneath Tuscan columns and a strong stretcher arrangement between the two. This stylistic signature was seen first in the Marsh Court dining table, later in much of his Delhi furniture and in the vitrines, he designed for the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The latter most strongly resembles the under structure of the table in question with the moulded edge to the strong linear frame.

    The boardroom chair that Lutyens designed to match the table was drawn in detail, which can be clearly seen when viewing the original, archived, technical drawings. It is a sturdy, practical chair but there are elements of Lutyens that sing out in the design. The curved return at the end of the arm is an oft‐repeated feature and, most interestingly, the Delhi Bell detail at the top of the front leg is significant. Closely associated with the ‘Delhi Order’, the Delhi Bell was used extensively on the column capitals in New Delhi, and elsewhere, but Lutyens applied it quite extensively to his furniture designs including the present model chairs.

Property from The Lutyens Trust


Important set of ten 'Board Room' chairs, designed for the Midland Bank Limited, New Head Offices, Poultry, London

Cuban mahogany, leather, brass, painted wood.
Each: 94.5 x 54.5 x 65.5 cm (37 1/4 x 21 1/2 x 25 3/4 in.)

£20,000 - 30,000 

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta E Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Important Design

London Auction 21 March 2019