This impressive commode is a 19th Century copy after the pair made by André-Charles Boulle and supplied in 1708 for the bed-chamber of Louis XIV at the Palais de Trianon, now the Grand Trianon, Versailles. Another 18th Century example entered the collection of the Dukes of Hamilton at Hamilton Palace. Prior to its sale at auction (see Christie's Hamilton Palace Sale, 17 June-20 July, 1882, lot 994, the black and white catalogue photograph of which is reproduced below), the Hamilton Palace commode had been loaned by the 11th Duke for the Specimens of Cabinet Work exhibition at Gore House in London from May to July 1853. Here it was admired by Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, founder of the collection of which a large part was bequeathed to the British nation, to become The Wallace Collection. The Marquess of Hertford obtained permission from the Duke of Hamilton to have a replica of the commode made, entrusting the task to the co-organizer of the exhibition, the Cork Street dealer, John Webb. In turn, Webb appears to have subcontracted the work to an anonymous cabinet-maker who, to all intents and purposes, must have been Blake of London (further collaboration between Webb and Blake is known to have taken place between 1854 and 1865 in the execution of the so-called Slocombe Table for the 4th Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle).
A bill from John Webb to the Marquess of Hertford, itemized in the Wallace Collection archive for December 1855, records two copies of the commode (see P. Hughes, 'The Grand Trianon Commodes by André-Charles Boulle and their Influence', Furniture History Society Journal, Vol.XLIII, 2007, pp.195-203). However no commodes remain in the Wallace Collection and there is some scholarly dispute that Lord Hertford might have actually received a total of five: three are recorded in a 1912 probate inventory for his Paris hôtel on rue Lafitte and two from Hertford House were sold Christie's, London, 24 June 1913, lot 292 (see P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection - Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996, Vol. III, Appendix VII, p. 1554 & p. 1576).
Determining if the present lot might have been part of the Hertford commission is further hindered by their being a total of eight recorded examples stamped by Blake (three pairs, a single example and the present lot). One pair is preserved in the Frick Collection, New York, another pair was offered Sotheby's London, 2 November 1990, lot 231 and then sold Christie's New York, 25 October 2007, lot 369 ($577,000). One other pair, offered at Christie's, New York, 14 October 1999, lot 452, and a single example sold Sotheby's, London, 16 May 1997, lot 130, were all signed, like the present lot, Blake London to the reverse of the caryatid angle-mounts. It is possible that the latter single example is the pair to the present lot as they both share distinctive brèche marble tops.
There is every possibility that the present lot did not number among those commissioned by the Marquess of Hertford, but nonetheless may still have an illustrious pedigree as becoming of such fine cabinetry. When it was bought by the present owner in these rooms in 1987 it was offered with a 'de Chaulnes' provenance. This is thought to refer to the 10th duc de Chaulnes, and the commode could conceivably have been part of the substantial refurbishments he made to the Château de Sablé in the 1860s and 70s.
Very little is known about the firm of Blake, who appear to have consisted of Robert, located at 8 Stephen Street, Tottenham Court Road, London, and listed in the 1820 Post Office Directory as "Buhl manufacturer and cabinet inlayer", and later his sons, George, Charles, James and Henry, who continued the same work. Apart from the aforementioned commodes and the Slocombe Table at Alnwick Castle, few signed pieces by the family are recorded. Known examples include an octagonal marquetry table signed 'Robert Blake', in the Victoria & Albert Museum, an inlaid piano signed by 'George Henry Blake', in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and a small floral-inlaid bureau plat (sold Sotheby's, New York, 19 April 2007, lot 122). The model remained of enduring popularity throughout the 19th Century, with later examples recorded by only the most capable Parisian ébénistes, notably Henry Dasson, Joseph-Emmanuel Zwiener and François Linke.