McTear’s is pleased to offer a rare and important dining suite in the history of 20th Century Design with a distinctly Scottish heritage.
The ‘Allegro’ suite was produced by a collaboration between the then rising star of architecture Sir Basil Spence, educated and trained in Edinburgh, and the established Glasgow furniture firm H. Morris & Co., known for hotels, cinemas and ships on the Clyde.
Having served in WWII during the D-Day Landings (including the design of a fake oil terminus as part of the preparations), Spence’s architectural vision post-war had crystalised into the unflinchingly and uncompromisingly modern, a vision which fitted with a Britain keen to move on from the horrors, for tomorrow to come today.
Notable commissions followed including the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral which earned Spence his knighthood but among the first was Morris & Co of Glasgow; the firm were aware of Spence’s interest in designing with plywood, a pliable and utilitarian material embodying the spirit of the age, and had their own military experience in supplying helicopter blades for the war effort.
One can see this influence in the distinct curves and lines which frame these pieces and indeed the same methods of production were applied: many layers of wood were bonded together in a lamination process and then shaped as desired, in this instance into chair arms and table legs rather than whirring blades. The manufacture of Morris combined with the vision of Spence combined to produce this suite, named the ‘Allegro’ perhaps to convey the optimistic, lively tempo that the furniture embodied in its striking design.
The suite was a critical success, receiving a diploma from the Council of Industrial Design in early 1949 with displays at the Glasgow Today and Tomorrow as well as Scottish Industries exhibitions leading to commissions of the signature chairs by both the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Commercially, however, the ‘Allegro’ suite did not chime with the finances of the age, however much it led the way in design: so prohibitive were the manufacturing costs a single chair was retailed at over £31 in 1950 when the average yearly wage might be £100. As a consequence of constraints therefore in both supply and demand very few suites were ever produced, making them amongst the rarest of 20th Century furniture and much sought after whenever suites or individual pieces appear on the market. Over the past two decades only two full suites have come up for auction and both were sold for approximately £30,000; another is held by the National Museum of Scotland in their Design for Living Gallery.
With the sideboard and table attractively estimated at £3,000-5,000 and featuring in our dedicated design auction, 7 June, we anticipate much interest in what has proved to be the dining suite for today, tomorrow and many days to come.
For a complimentary, no-obligation valuation, visit our Glasgow Galleries or contact a specialist on 0141 810 2880 or firstname.lastname@example.org.