Palatial in scale for a hôtel particulier or a Newport ’cottage’, this magnificent suite of bedroom furniture simultaneously celebrates the unmistakable designs of the ancien régime and the golden age of ébénisterie during the final decades of the 19th century. The overall design, rooted in the 18th century fascination with ‘singerie’, was manifested in Charles Cressent’s ‘commode aux enfants balançant un singe’, circa 1749-1755, examples of which remain in the Louvre, the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor and the Linsky Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (C. Payne, Paris Furniture: The Luxury Market of the 19th Century, 2018, p. 141).
The exact dating of the first copy in the 19th century remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, though Payne refers to an unsigned copy bearing the lock-maker Souchet, whose workshop opened in 1835 and is closely associated with cabinetmakers of the Second Empire, specifically Charles-Guillaume Winckelsen (op. cit. p. 143). However, early 20th century scholarship suggests the earliest known examples could be linked to the 4th Marquess of Hertford, who appears to have either acquired or commissioned a pair of commodes, possibly from his preferred bronzier Charles Croaztier and foreman Carl Dreschler. The pair appears in an inventory of the Salon vert of Lord Hertford’s Paris apartment at 2 rue Laffitte (op. cit. p. 142). Though described as ‘two authenticated cabinets by Cressent […] The point of interest is the central motif is a monkey dancing across a tight-rope’ (A. F. Morris, ‘Sir John Murray Scott’s Collection in the Rue Laffitte, Paris, Part II’, The Connoisseur, XXVII, no. 108, p. 237), it does not appear that the pair were ever exhibited at Bethnel Green, London, 1872-1875 or other major exhibitions where the 4th Marquess had displayed selections from his exceptional collection. In fact, the rue Laffitte apartment subsequently passed to his illegitimate son Sir Richard Wallace, then to Lady Wallace and in turn to their secretary John Murray Scott who bequeathed it to Victoria, Lady Sackville, wife of the 3rd Baron Sackville of Knole. Thereafter the collection was sold en bloc to the art dealer Jacques Seligmann who resold it piecemeal after 1916, often to museums and collectors in the United States.
Though perhaps unknowingly influencing furniture production for generations of ébénistes, acquisitions and exhibition by the 4th Marquess of Hertford of 18th century royal models and commissions for their copies, fostered a crescendo of renewed interest and vigorous study among burgeoning cabinet-makers of the mid-to-late 19th century. The first signed copies of the commode, and therefore the accompanying bed and vanity, are associated with the workshops of Emmanuel Zwiener, Antoine Krieger and François Linke. Another example of the commode with similar brèche de Medici marble top was sold at Christie’s, London, 28 October 2014, lot 18 and was incised with both the initials for Zwiener (‘ZN’) and Linke (’FL’), indicating that Linke likely acquired the master models from his contemporary or completed a partially finished Zwiener carcass (op. cit. p. 143). Research also suggests that the Linke commode may have been manufactured for Maison Krieger, as it is interesting to note that while no cliché for it exists in the Linke Archive, a photograph of the comparable commode does survive in the Archive. The photograph was likely acquired from Krieger once Linke had established a comprehensive record of clichés. Another commode by Krieger is illustrated in P. Kjellberg, Le meuble français et europeén du moyen âge à nos jours, Paris, 1991, p. 490. However, the present lot is variously marked with an incised ‘ZN’ for Emmanuel Zwiener only, further supporting the ébéniste’s sole hand in the production of this impressive suite.