Rare early Mouseman furniture is to be sold at Tennants Auctioneers, which charts the development of Robert Thompson’s iconic designs around the pivotal year of 1928 when his signature carved mice are thought to have first appeared. Consigned by several vendors, the sale of Modern Living: Art & Design on 12th October is perhaps the most interesting opportunity for specialist Mouseman collectors to buy exceptional early pieces in recent years.
Tennants’ Mouseman specialist Diane Sinnott says of the sale: ‘I have been handling Mouseman furniture at auction for over twenty years, and these items are some of the most interesting examples of the early work of Robert Thompson that I have ever seen. To have one of these pieces would be exciting, but to have so many lots from the 1920s from different sources is remarkable’.
Three of the pieces in the sale are unmarked or ‘pre-mouse’ (dating from before 1928) which incorporate widely used furniture shapes and styles that Thompson would go on to eschew in his own canon of designs. The first is a chair, at first unrecognisable as a traditional piece of Mouseman furniture (£2,000-3,000 + b.p.). The chair, which emulates furniture from an earlier century, has incorporated into the back an earlier heraldic panel carved by another hand. However, when the chair is turned over an inscription is revealed, which reads ‘Thompson Kilburn York’, the lettering matches that found on a 1915 table in the Kilburn Mouseman Museum. Second is a small dish-top tool made from dark burr oak, a shape that would go onto become a staple design (£500-700 + b.p.). However, Thompson was clearly experimenting at this stage, as the stool has barley-twist legs and stylised carved leaves at each corner of the top, and carved decoration along each side. Thirdly is a chair, which has turned front legs, a stylised vase-shape back, and stylised scroll decoration (£300-400 + b.p.).
1928 saw Thompson consistently introduce the carved mouse signature onto his furniture and furnishings, which he would patent as his trademark in 1931. Some of the top lots in the sale come from a family collection of furniture that was commissioned by J R Hey of Leeds in 1928, comprising a sideboard inscribed JRH and 1928 (£7,000-10,000 + b.p.) with two mice, a buffet with mouse (£3,000-5,000 + b.p.), possibly the first nest of tables he produced (£600-800 + b.p.), and a carved fruit bowl (£300-500 + b.p.). The unmarked dish-top stool mentioned previously was also in his collection. These unusual pieces show Thompson experimenting with carving and shape. Also in the sale from 1928 is a small dish-top stool in burr oak with mouse – like the example above but pared back to the simple clean style characteristic of his later work. It is unadorned with decoration except for the date carved to one side (£700-1,000 + b.p.).
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