While Fairfax House in York, England is best known for elaborately decorated interiors exemplary of 18th -century English design, the institutional mission focuses on York architecture and decor from a broader period. The opportunity to acquire the King David Panel, a high-relief sculpture completed by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1720) in York during the late 17th century will dramatically enhance this effort. The panel is currently up for sale at auction and, if purchased by an international buyer, at risk of leaving England. Thus, Fairfax House has launched a ‘Save the King’ campaign to keep the King David Panel in York.
Intimately scaled, the King David Panel is an interpretation of Peter Candid’s painting, The Performance of a Motet of Orlando di Lasso (1589-1583), which similarly illustrates a concert directed by the biblical King David. The panel depicts episodes related to Psalms 148 and 150, with King David carved at the center of the composition and was likely commissioned by a member of the Barwick family of Yorkshire. The king composes music with his harp as cherubs listen closely and angels in the clouds join him in concert, most notably Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, who is shown playing her cello. The complex and detailed carving of this limewood panel showcase Gibbons’ exquisite ability to manipulate wood.
The ‘Michelangelo of Wood’, ‘Britain’s Bernini’, and the ‘King’s Carver’ are just a few names that have been assigned to Gibbons. His woodcarvings can be found in situ in England’s grandest 17th-century country houses as well as Museum collections in the UK and abroad. Gibbons soared to success in the late 17th century under the patronage of the English the royal family. He then went on to create pieces for St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and Kensington Palace among other renowned establishments.
Information on Gibbons’ early life and career, however, is surprisingly scarce. This is why the King David Panel, which is Gibbons earliest and only surviving York-made piece, is important to English cultural heritage and for future research on the artist. The magnificent panel demonstrates his promising talent for woodworking at the beginning of his fruitful career. Even today Gibbons’ lasting impact on the interior design of English country homes is visible. Traces of his influence can be linked through the work of later craftsman such as the widely successful cabinet maker Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) who was inspired by Gibbons and also worked in York for a brief time.
The Decorative Arts Trust fully supports Fairfax House’s efforts to keep this panel in York. Our organizations have long been intertwined from curatorial internship placements to study trip abroad tours, and we wish Fairfax House a hearty success in the final push of their fundraising efforts. To date, they have been enormously successful with their ‘Save the King’ campaign and they have raised over £290,000 thanks to the generous support from the HLF Art Fund, V&A Purchase Fund, public campaigning, and other various donors. They are within £10,000 of their final goal. If you wish to contribute to this important campaign and aid Fairfax House in securing Gibbons’ panel you can do so through an online donation by following this link. Participants in the Chippendale Tercentenary Tour next spring will enjoy the opportunity to see the panel up close in York.