This elliptical commode is elegantly inlaid in the 'antique' manner popularized by an 'Etruscan' commode pattern in Robert and James Adams' Works in Architecture, 1773-1777. Conceived as a pier-table-commode, it was likely to have accompanied a mirror in a bedroom apartment window-pier.
The extremely spare decoration on this commode is largely of very distinctive type, allowing it to be placed within a specific sub-group of the commodes attributed to the cabinet-making partnership of John Mayhew and William Ince, particularly as discussed by Lucy Wood in Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp. 226-235. The key connection is a commode at Badminton associated with large payments made to the firm by the Dowager Duchess of Beaufort (op.cit.., p. 231) between 1778 and 1798. This group includes a commode of exactly the same constructional form as the present lot (ibid., figs. 221-222) with voids at the sides behind the curved side panels. This feature is also shared by a plainer but closely related commode, also by Mayhew and Ince, supplied to Warren Hastings for Daylesford (L. Boynton, 'The Furniture of Warren Hastings', Burlington Magazine, August 1970, p. 512, fig. 30). A commode of this type was sold '50 Years of Collecting: The Decorative Arts of Georgian England,' Christie's, London, 14 May 2003, lot 20.
In comparing the decorative motifs on this commode, one notes further affinities with the firm. The side panel medallions within their husk chain surrounds appear on a pair of commodes almost certainly supplied by them for the 4th Duke of Marlborough and later in the collection at Whiteknights, the house near Reading purchased for Lord Blandford in 1798-99 (illustrated in H. Roberts, 'Nicely fitted up: Furniture for the 4th Duke of Marlborough,' Furniture History, 1994, p. 139, fig. 29). The firm was among the principal suppliers for the 4th Duke for over 25 years and first appears in correspondence dated 1773. The distinctive combination of a flower-centered fan with feathered flowerhead and husks appears on a pair of cabinets at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York attributed by Lucy Wood to Mayhew and Ince (ibid, p. 215, fig. 205) while the floral banding on the top corresponds to that on a commode and pembroke table, p. 194, figs. 183 and 184. A chest of drawers with stiles headed by inlaid urns was almost certainly supplied by the firm to the 2nd Viscount Palmerston at Broadlands (H. Roberts, 'Towards an English Louis Seize. Furniture at Broadlands, Hampshire-II,' Country Life, 5 February 1981, p. 346, fig. 2). Payments to Mayhew and Ince appear in Lord Palmerston's personal account book for 1785-1797 total 1,939 9s. 0d. with evidence that the association with the firm was already well established before 1785. The chest may be associated with the 'Commode Chist Drawers Satton Wood' [sic] listed in the 1786 inventory at Broadlands.
GEORGE D. WIDENER, JR. (1889-1971)
The commode was owned by the Philadelphia born George D. Widener, Jr., the son of the financier George D. Widener, who perished on the Titanic in 1912, and Eleanor Elkins. As heir to the family fortune amassed by his grandfather, P.A.B. Widener, George was successfully devoted to horse racing and breeding, and was also a great philanthropist, serving as trustee of museums, art centers, hospitals, universities and scientific institutions in Philadelphia, New York and Washington. A significant benefactor to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he bequeathed numerous magnificent objects from his collection including the spectacular carved mahogany commode from Raynham Park, Norfolk (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol.I, p.289).
Art and philanthropy were of great interest to the Widener family. George's uncle, Joseph E. Widener (d. 1943), devoted his energies to expanding the family's art collection that was begun by his father, P.A.B. Widener, and which he displayed for the public in the galleries of Lynnewood, the family's vast estate designed by Horace Trumbauer. In 1939, Joseph Widener offered his family's collection to the National Gallery of Art in memory of his father. The Widener gift was announced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Gallery's opening ceremony in 1941 and installed shortly thereafter.