The commode was commissioned for Lady Mary Barrington by William Wildman, 2nd Viscount Barrington (d. 1793), in 1756, around the time of his appointment as Master of the Great Wardrobe in 1754. He was later Secretary at War 1757-1761. Lord & Lady Barrington lived from 1755-1792 at 16 Cavendish Square (H. Phillips, Mid-Georgian London, London, 1964, p. 302).
The recent rediscovery of a receipt, dated 17 February 1756 and signed by William Vile has allowed a firm attribution of this commode to the Royal Cabinet-making firm of Vile & Cobb. The receipt, for the huge sum of £250, gives no specifics, only 'for goods delivered':-
Feb 17 1756 Received of the Right Honble the Earl of Hillsborough & Norton Berkley Esq. by the Hand of the Right Honble Lady Barrington the sum of two Hundred & fifty pounds on account for Goods delivered to Lady Barrington's House in Cavendish Square. received for help(?) & Co. 250- Wm Vile'
It is ormolu-enriched in the French 'picturesque' manner, and incorporates a 'marriage' clothes-chest in a 'pier-commode-table' that is conceived in the George II 'Modern' style as advertised in Thomas Chippendale's, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1754. Its shell-scalloped drawer-handles closely relate to those of Chippendale's pattern for a 'French Commode Table' in the same publication (pl. XLIV). In addition, the same ormolu handles (but with different backplates), appear on the 'Raynham' commode, that relates to another of Chippendale's adjoining 'French Commode Table' patterns (pl. XLIII). The latter was sold by French & Co., Christie's New York, 24 November 1998, lot 60 (A. Coleridge, Chippendale Furniture, London, 1968, pl. 238).
The overall form of this commode is similar to the group associated with the London cabinet-makers, William Vile and John Cobb of St. Martin's Lane. The group is distinguished by its reliance on lavish ormolu mounts for its effect, with the overall shapes being nearly rectangular with serpentine fronts (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, no. 1, pp. 43-53). Vile and Cobb were in partnership from 1751 until 1764 and they enjoyed Royal patronage, recorded in the Great Wardrobe accounts. The furniture they provided for the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire when he was appointed Ambassador to the Court of Russia at St Petersburg in 1762, is also recorded in the Great Wardrobe accounts, so it would have been a natural choice for Viscount Barrington to commission this commode from Vile and Cobb. For further information on the partnership of Vile and Cobb, refer to lot 44.
Its hinged and reed-ribboned top is elegantly serpentined in a 'Cupid' bow, while its columnar corners rest on truss-hermed pilasters that are enriched with 'Venus' shell-scalloped cartouches, and terminate, in the Roman altar-tripod fashion, with festive satyr-hooves evoking Pan-ruled Arcadia. In addition, stately-plumed nymph herms, enwreathed in scallop-fretted cartouches, provide the façade with golden bas-relief medallions, that are presented in four reed-ribboned and mosaic-parquetried tablets. More Arcadian nymph heads emerge from the chest's reeded and scalloped carrying-handles, which are also framed in mosaiced tablets. This mosaiced inlay, like Cupid's pointed dart, recalls the three chevronels on the shield of the Barrington family.
The commode descended in the Barrington family until it was sold at Sotheby's in 1958. It was later in the collection of David Style, the renowned decorator and was included in the Christie's house sale of his collection at Wateringbury Place, Kent in 1978 when it was bought by Lady Chaplin, widow of the actor, Sir Charles 'Charlie' Chaplin (1889-1977).