Jean Jacques Pafrat, maître in 1785, is known to have worked under the celebrated ébéniste Martin Carlin (1730-1785) and to have completed a number of pieces of furniture by Carlin on the latter's death. The stamps of both ébénistes appear on a table à déjeuner in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (see: O. Brackett, Catalogue of the Jones Collection, Part I - Furniture, London, 1930, no. 44).
From his workshop on the rue de Charonne, Paris, Pafrat is known to have supplied many significant pieces to notable patrons such as a secretaire with a commode en suite for the apartments of the Duc d'Orléans at the Château de Raincy, circa 1785. These were confiscated in 1793 and are now at Versailles (illustrated A. Pradère, French Furniture Makers, London, 1989, p. 423, nos. 522 and 523). Pafrat is known to have participated in the storming of the bastille and it was his political leanings which drew his promising career to a premature conclusion when he was killed whilst supporting the revolutionary forces.
This commode is typical of Pafrat's oeuvre with its masculine interpretation of the neoclassicism of the late Louis XVI period. It employs ebony borders set in contrast with rich mahogany and ormolu decorations as often used by this ébéniste, see P. Arrizzoli-Clementel Versailles Furniture of the Royal Palace, vol 2, Dijon, 2002 pp.119-120-121. The same pattern of frieze-mount, decorated with ivy and vine leaves, can be seen on a commode by François Leleu in the Petit Trianon, and again in a commode by Claude-Charles Saunier in the Palais de Fontainebleau. A further example of Pafrat's work exhibiting this mount, as well as closely related sans traverse drawer-treatment with ebony border, was sold,Sotheby's, London, 14th June 1968, Lot 129. Jacques Robiquet suggests in his work Gouthire, sa vie, son oeuvre : essai de catalogue raisonné ( Paris, 1912), that based on the evidence of the commode in the Petit Trianon, this design of frieze mount could be attributed to Pierre Gouthière.
The present commode can be identified with some certainty in the 1912 inventory ofthe apartment in the rue Lafitte from the following description, 'Meuble d'entre deux a cotés cintrés formant étagère en acajou bois noir et bronze - époque Louis XVI dessus de marbre blanc - prisé 20 000 francs' and can be related to the Mahogany and ebony chest-of-drawers by J. Pafrat, sold from the collection of a Westchester private collector, Parke Bernet, New-York,13 May 1950, Lot 154. (P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Furniture, London , 1991, vol III, p. 1542 ). This inventory was carried out on the death of Sir John Murray Scott indicates by the high value given to the piece how significant it was considered to be Captain Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, (1800-70), spent much of his life in Paris where he was brought up by his mother who had moved to Paris in 1802 following her estrangement from his father (later the 3rd Marquess of Hertford) in 1802. Upon the death of the 3rd Marquess the he inherited a vast art collection to which he continued to add, particularly following his purchase the Château de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne. Despite his nationality, title and English estates the 4th Marquess would live out most of his life in his apartment on the rue Lafitte, Paris, as one of the richest men in Europe. Upon the his death in 1870 all of his unentailed wealth passed to his un-acknoledged illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace Bt.,(1818-90) who inherited not only his father's vast French collections but the Château de Bagatelle and his apartment in the rue Laffitte. Wallace, also, a renowned collector, would continue to add to one of the most significant collections of European decorative arts ever assembled. Wallace died in 1890 leaving all his property to his wife, Lady Wallace (1818-97), and it was upon her death that the collection at Hertford House was left to the nation and Hertford House was opened to the public. The remaining collection at rue Laffitte and at the Château de Bagatelle, which also contained many exceptional works of art, were bequeathed to her secretary, Sir John Murray Scott Bt.,(1847-1912) and upon his death, he left the collection at the rue Laffitte apartment to his friend Lady Sackville who sold the collection in its entirely to a Parisian dealer in 1914, Jacques Seligman. Seligman subsequently sold the commode to George Rasmussen of Chicago (G. Seligman, Merchants of Art: 1880-1960, New York, 1961, p. 276). It was works of art from this part of the collection, such as this splendid commode, formed by the Marquess of Hertford, which would find their way in to great twentieth-century collections around the world. A related console dessert by Pafrat, of the same outline and with very similar pierced gallery was sold Christie's, Paris, 23 June 2005, lot 471 (96,000 Euros including premium).