This ‘French’ commode was almost certainly made by the cabinet-maker Pierre Langlois (1718-67), of 39 Tottenham Court Road, London, who was probably descended from a French émigré family and specialised in commodes in the Louis XV-style. The characteristics commonly associated with his workshop that feature on this commode include the bombé form, the skillful interplay of diagonally banded and quartered veneers, and the rough panelled construction of the back and top in black-stained softwood (echoing French construction).
The use of ‘sliding shelves to hold cloaths’ formed part of Chippendale’s two designs for a ‘French Commode Table’ published in the 1st edition of the Director, plates XLVI, XLVII (1754), which could be made with doors in front. However, this French form appears most often in Langlois’s production, including the famous ‘Grande Commode Pour Mettre Des Abit’ supplied for Croome Court, Worcestershire in 1764, and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (59.127). The present commode reflects Langlois’s typical practice whereby the doors are hinged on the front of the commode and the apron is fixed to the carcase; a practice that differentiates his work from contemporaries such as the Royal cabinet-maker, John Cobb (1715-78), who incorporated ‘doors hinged on the side faces so that each door moves as one piece with the corner and the apron forms an integral part of the doors and is thus divided in two when they are opened’ (P. Thornton, W. Rieder, 'Pierre Langlois, Ébéniste’, Connoisseur, May 1972, part V, p. 32). For an example of Cobb’s construction, see the Corsham commode (with matching pedestals) supplied to Lord Methuen for Corsham Court, Wiltshire, in 1772 (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, p. 91, figs. 75-77). Another commode was exhibited by M. Harris & Sons, London, at the Antique Dealers Fair, Grosvenor House, 1959 (illustrated in the catalogue p. 43); while no attribution or provenance was given, it featured an almost identical pattern of veneers including laburnum, rosewood and yew-wood.
However, the reliance on highly contrasted figured veneer for decorative impact, with three dominant lozenges on the top and the folding doors, is most unusual and has no exact parallel in Langlois’s accredited work. The closest comparable commodes are possibly a pair of small commodes attributed to Langlois in the Saloon at West Wycombe Park, Hertfordshire, which have striking geometric parquetry tops, and a pair of commodes with outstanding parquetry trellis-work, attributed to Langlois by John Cornforth and Gervase Jackson-Stops, from the Gubbay Collection at Clandon House, Surrey (T. Knox, West Wycombe Park Guidebook, Swindon, 2001, p. 20; J. Cornforth, G. Jackson-Stops, ‘The Gubbay Collection at Clandon’, Country Life, 19 April 1971, p. 1008, fig. 9).
The refined – almost austere – aesthetic of this commode is suggestive of a 1770s date of manufacture, notwithstanding the bombé form. Langlois died in 1767, and thereafter the workshop was run by his widow Tracey (to 1773) and then by their son Pierre Daniel Langlois (1774–81). This commode was very probably made in this latter period. Two auctions of the workshop stock were held during Tracey Langlois’s tenure: in 1771 ‘some of the principal performances of that most ingenious workman Mr PETER LANGLOIS’; and in 1772, ‘Some most elegant and matchless Pieces of inlaid work, begun by that famous artist Mr. Peter Langlois, and finished since his decease’. These sale announcements suggest that the workshop’s output continued almost unchanged in the first few years after Langlois’s death, relying on the high reputation of his established ‘brand’. The rather different taste attested in the present commode could well reflect some innovations developed soon afterwards.
The bronze caster and gilder, Dominique Jean (fl. 1764-1807), is usually recognised as supplying Langlois’s mounts. Jean married Langlois’s daughter, Marie Françoise, and shared the Tottenham Court Road workshop premises with the cabinet-maker; Pierre Daniel Langlois was apprenticed to Jean in 1771, and following Langlois Snr.’s death, Jean undoubtedly continued to supply mounts to the workshop in addition to furnishing other leading cabinet-makers (N. Goodison, ‘Langlois and Dominique’, Furniture History, 1968, pp. 105-106). Identical mounts to those found on this commode feature on a large number of commodes of the early 1770s; on a commode possibly from the Langlois workshop, with Mallett in 1968, on most of the gilt-metal-mounted commodes that Wood attributes to Henry Hill of Marlborough in the Catalogue of Commodes and on other unidentified maker’s works (Mallett advertisement, Country Life, 30 May 1968; Wood, op. cit., no. 4, figs. 56, 59-61; p. 139, no. 137; p. 170, no. 160). The prolific use of the same mounts in this period might suggest they were selected from a pattern book; see N. Goodison, ‘The Victoria & Albert’s Collection of Metal-work Pattern Books’, Furniture History, 1975, pp. 1-30 for the use of pattern books by 18th and early 19th century furniture-makers.
We are grateful to Lucy Wood for her assistance in cataloguing this commode.