This pair of serpentine, finely figured mahogany commodes can be attributed to Chippendale based on closely related documented examples at some of the cabinet-maker’s most prestigious commissions. The design for a ‘Chest of Drawers’ with an option to have shaped bracket feet first appears in the 1754 edition of Chippendale’s Director, plate LXXXV, although this was a model that remained fashionable throughout Chippendale’s repertoire. The moulded and shaped top, cockbeaded drawers, canted angles, and outswept bracket feet are also found on a pair of chests of drawers, 1774, supplied to Ninian Home at Paxton House, Berwickshire (C. Gilbert, The Life & Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. I, p. 271; vol. II, fig. 206). The Paxton examples differ in that they have a fitted upper drawer for dressing equipment, and their dimensions are marginally smaller than the present chests 34 in. (86.4 cm.) high by 45 in. (114.3 cm.) wide by 25 in. (63.5 cm.) deep. The Chippendale Paxton Account shows that the cost of such a commode was £6 16s 6d in 1774 (ibid., p. 274). The present commodes are in ‘The Paxton Style’, defined as ‘neat and substantially good’ by Ninian Home in a letter to Messrs. Haig & Chippendale written from Paxton in June 1789. It is a style that shuns excessive ornament but uses the finest timber; while practical and at times innovative it remains simple and understated (D. Jones, The Paxton Style: ‘Neat & Substantially Good’, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 2018, p. 9). Such chests, often made in pairs, were intended for the best bedroom or dressing room, and were usually placed in the window piers and paired with looking glasses (ibid., pp. 92-93). Further examples include a rosewood chest of drawers at Mersham-le-Hatch, Kent, supplied to Sir Edward Knatchbull, Bt. in 1768; this can be identified as one invoiced on 9 June 1768 as: the ‘neat Black Rosewood Commode with a Slider & Glass, & drawers with good Locks & c. £8 (Gilbert, op. cit., p. 221, fig. 203). Another comparable is a mahogany example at Wilton, Wiltshire, made in c. 1770 (ibid., p. 149, fig. 205).
Other distinctive constructional features that show marked similarities with the work of Chippendale include the stacked or laminated block feet. These are behind the profile brackets and support the weight of the carcass. The S-pattern keyhole found on one of the pair offered here is another characteristic – in 1768, Chippendale invoiced the Countess of Shelburne for a commode table fitted with ‘very good spring & tumbler locks & S-Bitted Keys’ (ibid., p. 253). Furniture at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, from David Garrick’s Villa at Hampton, Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire and Goldsborough Hall in Yorkshire all feature these locks, which were supplied by the Gascoigne family of St. James's, London (ibid.). Furthermore, the thin red wash to the underside can be found on many documented pieces by Chippendale, including the magnificent padouk bookcase supplied to William Crichton-Dalrymple, 5th Earl of Dumfries (1699-1768) for Dumfries House, Ayrshire (‘Dumfries House: A Chippendale Commission’, Christie’s, London, vol. I, 12 July 2007, lot 40).