These fine and impressive commodes are near copies of the celebrated pair made by André-Charles Boulle and supplied in 1708 for the bed-chamber of Louis XIV at the Palais de Trianon, now the Grand Trianon, Versailles. During the 19th century, the commodes by Boulle stood in the Bibliothque Mazarine at the Institut de France, consequently commonly known thereafter as the 'Mazarine Commodes'. They are now again displayed at Versailles. From the outset the Boulle model proved immensely popular and at least a further five examples of the commode by the ébéniste are recorded as having been sold at auction in Paris during the 18th century, with one entering the collection of the Dukes of Hamilton at Hamilton Palace. Later 19th century copies of the commode by Charles Winckelsen and Henry Dasson have also appeared at auction in recent years (see Ader Tajan, Paris, 24 March 1997, lot 75 for a pair by the former, and Hotel Drouot, Paris, 14 November 1971, lot 144 for a pair by the latter).
It is quite conceivable that the present pair of commodes, bearing the maker's name, Blake, was once in the collection of Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquis of Hertford. However, just as for the similar pair of commodes in the Frick Collection, New York, and the pair and further single example offered at Sotheby's London during the last decade (2 November 1990, lot 231 and 16 May 1997, lot 130 respectively), all stamped by Blake, however this cannot be stated categorically. Prior to its sale at auction (see Christie's Hamilton Palace Sale, 17 June-20 July, 1882, lot 994, bought by P & D Colnaghi and now at Petworth), the Hamilton Palace commode had been loaned by the 11th Duke to an exhibition mounted by the Board of Trade, Department of Art and Science, held at Gore House, London, May to July 1853. With a virtually unsurpassed passion for 18th century French furniture, which extended to commissioning copies of those pieces he was unable to acquire, it is known that Lord Hertford obtained permission from the Duke of Hamilton to have a replica of the commode made and that he entrusted the task to the co-organizer of the exhibition, the Cork Street dealer, John Webb. In turn, Webb appears to have subcontracted the work to an anonymous cabinet-maker who, to all intents and purposes, must have been Blake (further collaboration between Webb and Blake is known to have taken place between 1854 and 1865 in the execution of the so-called Slocombe table for the 4th Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle).
Very little is known about the firm of Blake, who appear to have consisted of Robert, located at 8 Stephen Street, Tottenham Court Road, London, and listed in the 1820 Post Office Directory as "Buhl manufacturer and cabinet inlayer", and later his sons, George, Charles, James and Henry, who continued the same work. Very few works are signed by the family and include an octagonal marquetry table signed Robert Blake, in the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Alnwick table, an inlaid piano signed by George Henry Blake, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, a small floral-inlaid bureau plat (sold Sotheby's, New York, 19 April 2007, lot 122) a pair of commodes in the Frick Collection, New York, a pair and a single commode offered by Sotheby's, London, 2 November 1990, lot 231, and 16 May 1997, lot 130, respectively, as well as a pair offered at Christie's, New York, 14 October 1999, lot 452, where the caryatid angle-mounts were signed Blake London.