WRIGHT AND ELWICK
With its exaggerated bombé form, characteristic carved embellishments and distinctive handles, this commode is closely related to the documented oeuvre of the celebrated Wakefield firm, Messrs. Wright and Elwick. Both subscribers to Chippendale's Director, Richard Wright and Edward Elwick are first recorded in Wakefield, Yorkshire, in 1748, although Wright had undoubtedly worked in London at 'ye Greatest Tapestry Manufactory in England for Upwards of Twenty Years' beforehand (C. Gilbert, 'Wright and Elwick of Wakefield', Furniture History, 1976, pp. 34-50). Extensively, but by no means exclusively, patronised by the Yorkshire nobility and often engaged alongside the architect John Carr of York (1723-1807), they counted the Marquess of Rockingham of Wentworth Woodhouse amongst their principal patrons (some of the latter's commission being included in the Wentworth sale, Christie's, London, 8 July 1998).
The clear derivation of this commode's design from Chippendale's 1762 pattern (see above) suggests few firm clues to authorship. It is well known that Chippendale's patterns were widely imitated, more or less as soon as they were published and for the years immediately following whilst the rococo, French or 'Modern' style remained fashionable. However, it is suggested here that this commode is by the Wakefield cabinet-making firm of Wright and Elwick. Few contemporary firms of Chippendale's have contrived to imitate Director patterns so closely, whilst incorporating their own particular idiosyncrasies. Similarities with pieces by Wright and Elwick include the boldly carved gadrooned edge, the unusual handle-pattern, the reliance on a Director pattern and the idiosyncratic feet. These are seen on a fustic and padouk bombé commode, sold at Christie's, London on 19 November 1992, lot 54, that is now thought to be by Wright and Elwick (cf. Christie's Wentworth catalogue, 8 July 1998, p. 112). Like the present commode, its form is also derived from a Director pattern. In the 1998 Wentworth sale was a sabicu commode, also attributed to Wright & Elwick, with handles featuring plain circular backplates, but with an identical pattern of handle-pull as featured here. Whilst this is not to be counted as conclusive, this perhaps less than significant detail nonetheless contributes toward establishing an attribution.
The 'commode-table' for a bedroom apartment window-pier has an elegant 'cupid-bow' serpentined top with columnar corners and hollowed centre corresponding to Thomas Chippendale's 1762 'French' patterned commode engraved in the 3rd edition of his Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director, 1762 (pl. 67 left side). The Chippendale pattern for a three-drawer 'Commode Table' shows it raised on tall stand-like feet wrapped by Roman acanthus; and appears alongside an alternate design for one with canted and 'antique' sarcophagus-scrolled pilasters. Chippendale's adjoining engraving also featured two 'Commode Tables' with alternate schemes (ibid., pl. 67a). That on the right has ram hooves on one side; while the alternate scheme had water-scalloped enrichments and volute-scrolled feet as featured on the present commode. Likewise the companion 'commode table' has the molded edge of its top enriched with foliage or reed-gadroons. The present commode's apron is enriched with reed-gadroons and wave-scrolled lambrequins; while the reeds banding the drawers are enriched with triple pearl clusters. Chippendale adopted the same façade for the base of a 'commode clothes-press' supplied by his St. Martin's Lane firm, and invoiced in 1766 for Nostell Priory, Yorkshire (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, fig. 245).
WADDINGHAM OF HARROGATE
The family of furniture dealers established in Harrogate, Yorkshire, like that of its rivals in the same town Charles Lumb, flourished in the middle years of the 20th century and coincidentally handled not only this commode but also another, spectacular commode attributed to Wright and Elwick: one of the 'Raynham' commode pattern - sold by French and Company, Christie's, New York, 24 November 1998, lot 60 ($1,487,500).