Lot 398 / Sale 5626
a george iii ormolu-mounted satinwood and marquetry commode

Price Realized £430,500
Sales totals are hammer price plus buyer’s premium and do not reflect costs, financing fees or application of buyer’s or seller’s credits.

  • £200,000 - £300,000
  • ($311,740 - $467,610)

Sale Information Sale 5626
Important Furniture, Tapestries and Carpets
4 July 1996
London, King Street

By Thomas Chippendale
The eared, concave-sided rectangular top with moulded edge and crossbanded in tulipwood and framed with green-stained key-pattern pearwood banding, the central oval patera with stiff leaf-centre surrounded by inlaid fluting, the long frieze-drawer inlaid with flowerhead-filled ovals divided by stiff leaves and with cartouche-shaped pendant scroll handles, above a pair of doors divided by pendant bellflowers and with conforming key-pattern banding, each door centred by a fielded oval panel, the raised centre inlaid with a vase of roses, edged with ormolu beading and in a cavetto surround of stiff leaf, the doors and frieze flanked by slightly-tapering ormolu pilasters of overlaid flowerhead-filled roundels and headed by ram-masks and laurel loops, each pilaster below a further rectangular panel with reeled top and laurel swags with bellflowers, the spreading curved sides with key-pattern banding on a quarter-veneered panel, below a conforming frieze and mounts, the front doors with rosewood-veneered backs and enclosing three rosewood-fronted oak-lined long drawers with loop-handles, on splayed feet with foliate scroll-angles and edged with a rectangular moulding ending in key-pattern scroll and fitted with tapering laurel husks, the drawers and dustboards numbered consecutively 1 to 4, the triple-toothed frieze lock and double-toothed door-lock both stamped E. GASCOIGNE, restorations, the mounts re-gilt
57½in. (146cm.) wide; 35½in. (90cm.) high; 24½in. (65cm.) deep


Provenance The pair to this lot in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, reputedly given by the 1st Duke of Wellington (d.1852) to Reverend Thomas Cooke; the connection is discussed in L. Wood, 'A Commode by Thomas Chippendale', Christie's International Magazine, June 1995, pp.52-55
Almost certainly acquired by Ashton Yates, Esq. (1781-1863), M.P. for Carlow
Thence by descent to his great-grandson, H. H. Phillips, Esq., sold Sotheby's London, 13 October 1967, lot 96
Anonymous sale, in these Rooms, 6 July 1995, lot 152 (sold for ¨331,500)

Literature L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp. 184-185, fig. 168
L. Wood, 'A Commode by Thomas Chippendale', Christie's International Magazine, June-July 1995, pp. 52-55

Lot Notes This magnificent marquetry commode, with paired ormolu-enriched pilasters, canted 'hollow' sides and 'truss' feet wrapped with Roman acanthus foliage, was designed by Thomas Chippendale (d. 1778), cabinet-maker of St. Martin's Lane, to correspond with the 'antique' style introduced around 1770 by King George III's architects Sir William Chambers (d. 1796) and Robert Adam (d. 1792). It was conceived as a French 'pier-commode-table' and evolved from an engraving of a Louis XIV sarcophagus-commode issued by Jean Bérain (d. 1711). Its mosaic inlay top recalls the sun-god Apollo and derives from a Temple ceiling compartment illustrated in Robert Wood's Ruins of the Temple of Palmyra, 1753. Sunflowers and palm-leaves embellish the commode's ribbon-guilloche frieze, where they are framed by laurel-garlanded and husk-festooned trusses. Festive ram's heads with husk-wreaths embellish the imbricated and sunflowered paterae of the paired 'herm' pilasters, which provide a frame for the rayed panels of the front and sides. In addition love-trophy medallions, wreathed by pearls and palm-leaves, are set into the doors and display 'Etruscan' black rosewood vases of roses, the flower sacred to the nature-goddess Venus.
Such rich coloured 'paintings' in marquetry were popularised in London during the 1760s by specialist inlayers such as Christopher Furlogh (d. circa. 1787), the Paris-trained cabinet-maker of Tottenham Court Road, who was to be granted the appointment of 'Inlayer' to George, Prince of Wales, later King George IV. Indeed Fuhrlohg may have provided the medallions displayed on a related commode by Chippendale of the early 1770s and known as the Renishaw commode (see: C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 292 and vol. II, fig. 236). The same template that was used for the flower-vases on this lot was again used, with the addition of vase-handles, for the commode that has been identified as 'An Inlaid Commode' listed in Thomas Chippendale Junior's 1781 inventory of Thomas de Grey, 2nd Lord Walsingham's Harley Street House (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp. 186, figs. 171-2). The commode was designed around the time that the Adam brothers began to popularise their style through the publication of their Works in Architecture 1773-8. Another item designed by Chippendale at this period was a clock-case which appropriately displayed an Apollo mask. It also featured the combination of a sunflower medallion and rayed tablet within an Etruscan-black border, together with ram-headed pilasters and a flowered ribbon-guilloche (ibid., fig. 35). This richly decorated case, which is in the Victoria & Albert Museum, was commissioned by James Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale (d. 1801), who, like the Earl of Bute, his father-in-law, was one of Robert Adam's leading patrons. It incorporated Alexander Cumming's remarkable barograph-clock, and was set up at Lowther Castle, Westmorland, in 1774.


The Duke of Wellington's possession of the pair to this commode was recorded at its sale in these Rooms, 10 June 1914, lot 128. It is unlikely to have been acquired by Arthur, 1st Duke of Wellington (d. 1852) with his 1816 purchase of Apsley House, London, but it is worth noting that the Duke served as Lord High Constable at the Coronations of George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria, and acted as executor for members of the Royal family. Interestingly King George III's medal-cabinets, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum and Metropolitan Museum, were once in the Wellington Collection at Stratfield Saye, Hampshire (D. Fitz-Gerald, Georgian Furniture, London, 1969, no. 34). In view of the similarity of the commodes to that supplied to Sir Rowland Winn (the Messer commode, discussed below), it is also of interest to note that the excuse provided by Thomas Chippendale for the delay in completing work for Sir Rowland Winn in 1768 was the 'great quantity of unexpected business which I did not know of nor could I refuse doing as it was mostly for the Royal Family'. Indeed the revised edition of his Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1762 had been dedicated to H.R.H. Prince William Henry, 1st Duke of Gloucester, and Thomas Chippendale Junior was later to style himself 'Upholsterer and cabinet-maker to the Duke of Gloucester'. It was Chippendale Junior, who showed Thomas Mouat the firm's work at Gloucester House, London, while Thomas Haig, the Chippendales' partner, later showed him round the work they had executed for George III at Windsor Castle. This no doubt included the suite of drawing-room chairs, whose medallioned backs, if upholstered with floral upholstery, would have harmonised with just such a pair of medallion-fronted pier (C. Gilbert, op. cit., p. 235 and fig. 185).

The furnishings at Windsor are likely to have been carried out under the direction of Sir William Chambers (d. 1796), architect to King George III, who paid close attention to furniture design and was closely involved with Parisian-trained 'inlayers' or marqueteurs working in London. Particularly with Georg Haupt and Christopher Furlogh, who had worked with Simon Oeben. The latter had executed furniture with very closely related mounts on the feet (P. Kiellberg, 'Le Mobilier Françaid du XVIIe siècle', Paris, 1989, p. 621). The general shape of this commode with its hollowed sides, further relates to meubles d'entre deux by Dautriche, such as two illustrated in Kjellberg, op. cit., p. 222, who executed this type in the second half of the 1760s.

All of these factors raise the tantalising possibility that this commode and its pair were once part of the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.



by Lucy Wood

The eve of the First World War was perhaps not the most propitious moment for the public début of a previously unknown commode by Chippendale of obvious distinction, which has since become one of the best-know pieces in the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery. But at the appearance, fifty years later, of its identical twin interest redoubled in both pieces, which it was obvious must originally have played an important part in a major decorative scheme.1 There can be no question that the two commodes were originally made as a pair, but owing to their long separation, apparently since the early 19th Century, there are slight differences in their present appearance:2 most conspicuously the loss or replacement of some of the mounts on the Lady Lever piece - the husks on the front feet and the frieze-drawer handles - which survive in their original form on the Christie's commode.

Unusually for a pair of objects that have long been parted from each other and from their original home, both can be traced back tantalisingly close to their origins. The Lady Lever commode comes with a provenance that even suggests a possible context for the original commission. Immediately prior to being acquired by Sir William Lever, it had appeared in the sale of Leonard Clow, a retired stockbroker, purporting to have belonged to the Reverend Thomas Cooke of Brighton (Clow lived in the adjacent town of Hove), and to have been presented to the latter by the Duke of Wellington.3 Thomas Cooke (1791-1874), who had been Wellington's campaign chaplain during the Peninsular War, was appointed Perpetual Curate of St. Peter's Church, Brighton in 1828. This was, coincidentally, the same year that Wellington began transforming Apsley House, 'No. 1 London', which he had purchased twelve years earlier, apparently with some of its furniture, from his elder brother the Marquess Wellesley, who in turn had bought the house from the 3rd Earl Bathurst in 1805.4 These circumstances have prompted speculation that the commodes could have been among the original furnishings of Apsley House, built for Lord Apsely (later 2nd Earl Bathurst) by Robert Adam in 1771-8; and that the Duke may have disposed of these then old-fashioned objects when he embarked on his refurbishment. No firm evidence to support this supposition has come to light however, and even the evidence that the Duke thought of buying some furniture with the house in 1816 proves unhelpful, for the pieces mentioned were only eight years old. Moreover, no other furniture from the Bathursts' occupation is known to have passed to Lord Wellesley or the Duke; and it is not even clear which room a pair of commodes like these would have occupied in the Adam House, as the window piers in the only two suitable three-bay rooms appear to have been much too wide for them.5

While no comparable provenance or tradition attaches to the Christie's commode, its history suggests that it could well have left its first home at about the same time as the Lady Lever piece; for it is inconceivable that an object of this grandeur was acquired new by the parents of John Ashton Yates (1781-1862), its earliest recorded owner, whose great-grandson sold it in 1966.6 Just ten years older than Thomas Cooke, Ashton Yates (as he was known) came from a prominent Liverpool family. The second of four sons of a Unitarian minister and himself a merchant, he published several pamphlets on maufacture and commerce, and was a mover in the abolition of the slave trade. 'A Liberal of advanced opinions', he was elected M.P for Carlow in Ireland in 1837 (having contested Bolton unsuccessfully in 1832).7

In this connection, among others, he would at least have come into contact with the Duke of Wellington, although of course as a parliamentary opponent. Yates was also a collector of drawings and pictures, and an associate of Liverpool's greatest citizen, his fellow collector William Roscoe. On a visit to Paris during the Peace of 1814 (when Wellington, incidentally, was ambassador there), he wrote to Roscoe about the Paris market in Old Masters, and reported on the private collection of Vivant Denon, and on part of the collections at the Louvre which Denon had allowed him to inspect.8 He sent a similar account to his sister, also describing the alteration at Versailles then being carried out for Louis XVIII.9 Whether he consciously collected old furniture is not recorded, but an interest in interiors, at least, is implied by a comment his father made to his younger brother James Yates (a distinguished antiquary) in about 1820; 'You know how much your brother Ashton's room is admired'.10

If the evidence for the original provenance of these commodes is frustratingly insubstantial, on the question of attribution we stand on much firmer ground, for the pair display such striking affinities to fully documented furniture from the Chippendale workshop as to place their authorship beyond doubt (a fact that in itself weighs against the putative Apsley House connection, since Thomas Chippendale is not among the handful of cabinet-makers named in Lord Apsley's bank account).11

Many of the closest parallels are among the marquetry furniture supplied to Harewood House in the early 1770s, including the celebrated Diana and Minerva commode and the smaller example featuring a grisaille medallion of the Three Graces, which are of very comparable general design; while individual motifs recur identically on the pier tables in the Music Room and Dining Room and on the dining-room pedestals.12

The commodes also find parallels both earlier and later in the Chippendale oeuvre, separated by up to twenty years. The basically rectilinear design, articulated by coupled pilasters with ram's-head capitals over splayed feet ending in Greek-key blocks, occurs in two manuscript designs datable to the early 1760s. One of them, with a serpentine front and six small drawers, was published as plate LXVIII in the 1762 edition of the Director; the other one was straight-fronted with two doors, dominated by two large medallions as on the Christie's and Lady Lever commodes.13

At the opposite end of the date-spectrum is a serpentine commode that appears to have been supplied by Chippendale the Younger to Thomas de Grey, 2nd Lord Walsingham, between 1778 and 1781:14 in form this has barely any affinities with the others except for the concave shaping of the sides; but the decorative treatment is an almost direct translation of the Christie's Lady Lever model, and the vases of roses in the two medallions could even have been taken from the same templates. The evidence suggests that this largely rococo object post-dates the more classical version by several years.

Perhaps the most interesting comparison with the present model is to be seen in the mahogany commode from the collection of Samuel Messer, sold at Christie's in 1991.15 In form it closely corresponds to this model, and parts of the marquetry decoration are directly translated: the cross-banded frames, with Greek-fret corners, on the doors and ends, are repeated in ebony inlay (which is also used to great effect in a geometric design in the frieze); and the medallions on the doors recur as recessed roundels of figured mahogany. But even more interesting is the way in which the metal mounts of the Christie's/Lady Lever model are translated as carvings in the Messer piece, very faithfully in the detailing of the feet, for instance, and more freely in the treatment of the pilasters, which at the sides have husk-swagged lion's-mask consoles in place of the ram's heads on the present model. The correspondence throughout is sufficiently close to suggest that Chippendale exercised tight control over the design and execution of the mounts used on his furniture, and indeed it seems likely that these patterns, so similar to those on commodes by Langlois, presumed to have been made by Dominique Jean, were actually manufactured on Chippendale's own premises.

The stature of this pair of commodes remains undiminished by the uncertainty surrounding their origins, for they rank alongside Chippendale's most celebrated neo-classical furniture at Harewood House. It is to be hoped that a further clue may yet fall into place with the Wellington tradition and the Yates connection, to identify the interior for which both commodes were first commissioned.

Lucy Wood is Curator of the Lady Lever Art Gallery (National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside) and author of The Lady Lever Art Gallery: Catalogue of Commodes, HMSO, 1994

This article was first published in the June/July 1995 Christie's International Magazine.


1 For the most recent discussion, and earlier bibliography, see L. Wood, The Lady Lever Art Gallery: Catalogue of Commodes (London, 1994), pp. 180-90.
2 The two commodes are almost precisely matched in construction, dimensions, internal fittings and finishes, and the drawers and dustboards are numbered (in pencil) consecutively, 1 to 4 on the Christie's commode, 5 to 8 on the Lady Lever commode.
3 Leonard Clow sale, Christie's, 10-11 June 1914, lot 128, bought by Frank Partridge, by whom sold to Sir William Lever 8 July 1914.
4 'The building and decoration of Apsley House', Apollo, September 1973, pp. 170 ff.
5 Apart from the Dining Room, the only rooms with two adjacent window piers were the two large drawing rooms then overlooking Hyde Park, one above the other on the ground floor and principal floor; both rooms lost these windows to the new west wing built for the Duke, but the piers as shown on two scaled Adam drawings in the Soane Museum were some nine foot wide, nearly double the width of the commodes (at four foot ten inches).
6 Sotheby's, 7 October 1966, lot 55, sold by H.H Phillips.
7 S.A.T. Yates, Memorials of the Family of the Rev. John Yates (privately printed, 1890), pp. 16-18, 43, 47-8
8 Liverpool Public Library: Roscoe Papers, 920 Ros. 5376.
9 S.A.T Yates, op. cit., pp. 68-70.
10 Ibid., p. 67.
11 Christopher Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale (London, 1978), Vol. 1, p. 291; L. Wood, loc. cit. at note 1.
12 Gilbert, op. cit., Vol. 1, plate 21; Vol. 2, figs. 232-5, 231, 474, 476, 352.
13 Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession no. 20.40.1-2, the Chippendale Albums, nos. 173 and 174; L. Wood, op. cit., figs. 169-70.
14 L. Wood, op. cit., figs. 171-4.
15 Christie's, 5 December 1991, lot 130; L. Wood, op. cit., figs. 178-80.

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