Dining Xavier

Perhaps the most elegant of all are the tripod-based pole screens and banner screens, most of which date from the second half of the eighteenth century. Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton all turned their hand to designing pole screens in their influential pattern books: Chippendale's were fairly chunky and lavishly encrusted with carved Rococo scrolls and tendrils; Hepplewhite's were lighter, with the legs sensibly weighted to make them stable; Sheraton espoused a more restrained, classical approach and his designs include details of how the screen could be raised, lowered and tilted to shield the face by means of a complex system of weights, pulleys, swivels and tassels. In general, the value of a cheval or pole screen depends on the elaborateness of its decoration. Look for attractive carving, inlay or stringing (thin bands of contrasting veneers) and original needlework in good condition.

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Designs that can be directly attributed to an influential maker will also command a premium. At Witney Antiques a handsome mahogany fire-screen after a design by Thomas Hope is stylishly decorated with bronze mounts and pull-out side panels. George Smith, self-styled Upholsterer and Furniture Draughtsman to King George IV' also produced some notable designs, in the classically inspired Regency style, which are highly sought-after today.

A fine example, recently sold at Christie's for £4, 200, won my prize for ingenuity: it had a glazed bookcase on one side and a silk-lined, adjustable fire-screen on the reverse. If you owned such a screen, even if the fire wouldn't light, at least you would always have a good book to hand House of scandal Intrigue, gambling and the badness of George Ill's children… Roger White describes the racy past of Ilsington House.


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