This extraordinary commode and another, similarly conceived but veneered in satinwood, have a history in the Hoare family until sold by Christie's in 1986. Close parallels with the documented work of Thomas Chippendale, and extensive Hoare family patronage, allow for a firm attribution to his workshop. As such, it is likely that the commode was supplied to Sir Richard Hoare for his Surrey estate, Barn Elms, and descended in the family of his son, Charles, at Luscombe Castle, Devon.
In 1754, Sir Richard Hoare, 1st Baronet (d. 1787) was the great-grandson and namesake to the founder of the Hoare banking dynasty. In 1754, he inherited Barn Elms on the river Thames from his father, also Sir Richard. The elder Richard Hoare, Lord Mayor of London, had moved into the house in 1742, eventually buying it in 1750. He was a noted patron of London's pre-eminent cabinet-makers including Giles Grendey, William Linnell and John Boson as evidenced by surviving tradesmen's bills which date from 1731 until the year of his death (National Art Library, MSL/1942/212).
Like his father, the 1st Baronet was also actively engaged in improvements on the house. An early literary reference states that Barn Elms was 'considerably enlarged, and improved, by the late Sir Richard Hoare, Bart. in the year 1771'. (J. N. Brewer, Introduction to the original delineations intitled The Beauties of England and Wales, 1801, p. 650). Stylistically the commode (and its companion) corresponds to the time of these renovations. While no invoices survive, Sir Richard's first recorded payment to the Chippendale firm does not appear until 1787, the year of his death (£1,400 to T. Haig). This enters into the debate as to whether these commodes, and others of a similar serpentine outline, were produced after the death of Thomas Chippendale (d. 1779) by his son, Thomas Chippendale Junior, who carried on the business with his father's partner Thomas Haig (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, 1978, vol. I, pp. 14-15). Documentation for certain related commodes, such as that supplied to Lord Walsingham, also dates to the late 1780s. (L. Wood, 'Lord Walsingham and the Younger Chippendale, Antique Collecting, February 1987, pp. 38-44 and Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, no. 20, pp. 180-191 ).
The question is a complicated one as it was not unusual for payments to be made years after work was completed and, given the substantial sum, it is worth surmising whether Sir Richard may have been settling his accounts prior to his demise. Following his death, he left Barn Elms to his widow (and second wife), Frances-Anne, for life and then to their elder son, Henry Hugh Hoare. When Lady Hoare died in 1800, Thomas Chippendale the Younger carried out three rudimentary inventories of Barn Elms (one dated September 19 and two October 2 1800) and for her Berkeley Square house at 45 Charles Street. The commodes are not identifiable in these listings (C. Hoare & Co., ref. HFL/10/12).
Richard's second son by Frances-Anne was Charles Hoare, who built Luscombe Castle in Devonshire, between 1799-1804. The picturesque 'castle', by architect John Nash, was described as 'one of the most beautiful domains on the southern coast. Here, surrounded by all the comforts incident to the well-regulated home of the English country-gentleman, and possessed of wealth sufficient to procure all the luxuries that money can purchase, he, and his amiable wife, lived an unostentatious life'. (S. Urban, The Gentleman's magazine and historical review, vol. 191, 1852, p. 191). Charles too was a patron of Chippendale whose accounts record numerous and regular payments to Haig & Co., Haig & Chippendale or Chippendale that begin in 1789 (Hoare Family Manuscripts at C. Hoare & Co.).
Sir Richard's eldest son, and half-brother to Charles, was Richard Colt Hoare, 2nd Baronet, who inherited Stourhead, the home of his maternal grandfather. By this means some of the Barn Elms furniture may have come to Stourhead. Sir Richard, 2nd Baronet became one of Chippendale the Younger's more significant patrons
Stylistically, the commodes sit firmly within Chippendale's documented work produced in the early 1770s: the inlaid ovals, rosewood banding and mounts are all standard attributes from this period. Its idiosyncratic form resembles the pair of commodes supplied in circa 1770 to Daniel Lascelles for Goldsborough Hall as well as the fustic commode supplied in the same year for Lady Winn's Bedchamber at Nostell Priory (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, 1978, vol. II, figs. 226 and 221). The Nostell commode is mounted with the same ormolu mounts as the present piece. A commode at Aske Hall, Yorkshire, circa 1773-75 is remarkably close in design to the companion commode from Barn Elms in its distinctive pattern of ovals (L. Wood, op. cit., 1994, fig. 175). Other furniture that can be identified with this group includes: a pair of secretaire-bookcases, with identical mounts (L. Wood, op. cit., 1987, p. 42, figs. 8-9); and a pair of marquetry corner cupboards with closely related mounts (one sold Christie's, London, 8 June 2006, lot 117). The choice of pollard oak veneers is an unusual one and may indicate the influence or hand of Chippendale the Younger in the making of this commode.