THE 'RAYNHAM' COMMODES
This serpentined and richly carved commode is conceived in the French 'picturesque' manner called the 'modern' style in Thomas Chippendale's Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director of 1754. Its sarcophagus form, framed by ribbon-scrolls wrapped by Roman acanthus and scalloped enrichments, relates in particular to Chippendale's pattern for a French Commode Table engraved by Matthias Darly in 1753 (pl. XLIII). Whereas the pattern illustrated a rectangular and cut-cornered top, this commode's rounded top is bowed at the front and sides and wreathed with a filigree ribbon guilloche of darts and cabochons framed by confronting C-scrolls. However, its chest-of-drawers follows Chippendale's 'commode table' pattern and has bowed and richly sculpted trusses embellished with acanthus and scalloped enrichments. For such commodes, Chippendale had recommended that 'The ornamental Parts are intended for Brass-Work, which I should advise should be modelled in Wax and then cast from these Models (Director, pl. LXVII).
This commode belongs to the celebrated group of richly sculpted English Rococo bomb commodes associated with Raynham Hall, Norfolk. Built to the design of Inigo Jones by Sir Roger Townshend in 1636, Raynham was improved by William Kent in the 1730's and its interior further enriched in the 1750's. Included in the sale of 'Highly Important OLD ENGLISH FURNITURE from Raynham Hall, Norfolk FORMING PART OF The Townshend Heirlooms' at Sotheby's London, 24 June 1921 was 'ONE OF THE FINEST CHIPPENDALE COMMODES EVER OFFERED FOR SALE' (lot 40) and 'Another very fine Chippendale Commode' (lot 41), the latter of which corresponds directly with this commode.
In all, there are five commodes that belong to the 'Raynham' group. Of these, that in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (72-50-10) and this commode conform exactly to that sold as lot 41 in the 1921 sale; another commode, also of this form but with two short frieze drawers replacing the long drawer, was sold by Mrs. Whitmore Jones from Chastleton House, Gloucestershire at Sotheby's, 12 November 1920, lot 125 and this too is now in the Philadelphia Museum (72-50-11); finally, two commodes of the grander, tripartite form with pendant foliate swags are recorded, of which one is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (41-73-1 - lot 40 in the 1921 sale) and the other was sold by the Trustees of the late A.C.J. Wall, Esq., at Christie's London, 19 November 1970, lot 140 and again anonymously at Sotheby's London, 14 July 1989, lot 60.
The tripartite commode definitively from Raynham (lot 40) and now in Philadelphia was sold again from the collection of Colonel H.H. Mulliner at Christie's London, 10 July 1924, lot 84. In that same year, Mulliner stated (op.cit.) that 'There can be no doubt that it is the piece referred to in an inventory of 1757 where it is described as 'sideboard, the one in the room of Captain Townshend'. The label on the back of the commode corresponds with the inventory entry'. This claim is corroborated by H. Cescinsky in 'Rainham Hall and its furniture', Connoisseur, June 1921, p.lvi, who, having clearly read the 1757 inventory, noted in the room of 'Capt. Townshend, M.P., N.N.'....'sideboard; one', further commenting that 'The Rainham inventory of 1862 removes the larger commode from Capt. Townshend's apartments to the Chinese Room' . Interestingly the Philadelphia tripartite commode still retains two handwritten labels to the reverse, one inscribed 'Chinese Room Capt. Townshend M.P.N.N.', the other inscribed 'Chinese Room 1862'. Tantalisingly, the locations of the 1757 and 1862 inventories of Raynham are no longer known, but the fact that Raynham did indeed have a Chinese Room is further confirmed by the pair of George II Chinoiserie hanging-cabinets also sold in 1921 and now at Houghton (op. cit., fig.9 and R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, London, 1954, p.192, fig.55), which are recorded in the 1757 inventory as '2 cupboards with China; Capt. Townshend, M.P.'.
The 'Capt. Townshend, M.P., N.N.' (probably N.M. for Norfolk Militia) referred to in the handwritten labels is the Hon. George Townshend, son of Charles, 3rd Viscount Townshend (d.1767), who was created a Marquess in 1787 after a distinguished military and political career. A Member of Parliament for Norfolk, he was responsible for pushing the Militia Bill through Parliament in 1757 and became the first Militia Colonel appointed, before his subsequent promotion to Field-Marshall. In 1751, he married Charlotte, Baroness Ferrers of Chartley and Baroness Compton in her own right, and it seems highly probable that the Raynham commodes were commissioned shortly after his marriage, whilst he still remained a Captain.
BALLS PARK AND 'CHIPPENDALE'
Mulliner, op.cit., went on to say: 'Mr Herbert Cescinsky, the author of an article dealing with this commode, which appeared in the Burlington Magazine of June 1921, was informed by a lawyer who acted in connection with the Townshend estates that Chippendale & Haig's original bill for this commode is in existence, and he stated that he had inspected it several times; it could not, however, be produced at the time of the sale. The lawyer further stated that according to the bill the commode was supplied by Chippendale's firm to Balls Park, Hertfordshire, which came to the Townshend family by the marriage of Charles, afterwards 3rd Viscount, in 1723, to Audrey (sic.), only daughter and heiress of Edward Harrison.' The 'extraordinary controversy' of the missing bill is discussed by C. Gilbert, op. cit. (vol.1, p.289, vol.II, p.121, pl.213) and he concludes that whilst it is impossible to say that Chippendale did not make the commode, a positive attribution is out of the question, although there is a subsequent link between Raynham and Chippendale the Younger - 'Dear Chippendale' being paid 1,200 for work at Raynham in 1819.
The association with Balls Park, moreover, would appear to be difficult to substantiate in that although the house did indeed come into the Townshend family through the marriage of Charles, 3rd Viscount (d.1767) to Ethelreda Harrison, it was apparently never lived in by their son George, 1st Marquess (d.1807), instead passing through his second son John to a collateral branch of the family. Thus, unless George, later 1st Marquess did in fact live there briefly between 1751, following his marriage, and 1767, when he inherited Raynham on the death of his father, it was only when the title passed sideways in 1855 to John, 4th Marquess Townshend (d.1863) that Balls Park and Raynham again fell into the same hands. The labels on the reverse of the Philadelphia commode, combined with the 1757 inventory references which clearly correspond with them, would therefore appear to make the Balls Park provenance unlikely. Whilst there was certainly a 'London House' frequently referred to in the 1757 inventory, the fact that the Philadelphia labels refer to a 'Chinese Room' in both 1757 and 1862 would appear to confirm Raynham as the original provenance fairly convincingly.
A QUESTION OF IDENTIFICATION
When this commode was sold in 1988, it was identified with that sold in the Townshend Heirlooms sale, directly from Raynham as lot 41 and acquired by Partridge for the huge sum of 2,000 guineas. The latter subsequently sold a commode of this exact model- presumably the same (lot 41) - to George Widener, Esq., in whose collection it was recorded in 1941 and by whom it was bequeathed to The Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1950 (72- 50-10). Interestingly, Widener also owned the Chastleton commode, which he bequeathed to Philadelphia in the same (72-50-11). In view of this closely linked provenance, it seems most probable that the Philadelphia example is indeed lot 41 from the 1921 sale. However, the extraordinary similarity of the grain of both commodes, one mirrorring the other - not to mention the almost identical losses to the carving which could lead one to conclude that either commode is that from the 1921 sale - suggests that they were almost certainly made as a pair for the same commission, either for the same room or adjoining apartments, as with the series of identical commodes attributed to John Cobb and supplied for the State Rooms at Burghley House, Lincolnshire (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp.48-9, II a & b). If, as seems most probable, they were indeed supplied as a pair, cut as they are from the same timber, then this commode must have left Raynham (which was largely abandoned by the family at the turn of the century) before 1907 - when only one large and one small commode are recorded in the inventory - and there were certainly public sales from Raynham at Christie's in 1904.
'MESSRS. WRIGHT AND ELWICK'
In their derivation from plates in Chippendale's Director, exaggerated bomb form, characteristic carved embellishments and distinctive handles, the Raynham commodes are closely related to the documented oeuvre of the celebrated Wakefield firm, Messrs. Wright and Elwick. Both subscribers to Chippendale's Director, Richard Wright and Edward Elwick are first recorded in Wakefield, Yorkshire, in 1748, although Wright had undoubtedly worked in London at 'ye Greatest Tapestry Manufactory in England for Upwards of Twenty Years' beforehand (C. Gilbert, 'Wright and Elwick of Wakefield', Furniture History Society Journal, 1976, pp.34-50). Extensively, but by no means exclusively, patronised by the Yorkshire nobility and often engaged alongside the architect John Carr of York (1723-1807), they counted the Marquess of Rockingham of Wentworth Woodhouse amongst their principal patrons (some of the latter's commission being included in the Wentworth sale, Christie's London, 8 July 1998).
The distinctive handles of the 'Raynham' commodes feature on a pair of commodes from Studley Royal, Yorkshire, which display closely related robust, bomb form and sculptural carving (anonymous sale, Christie's London, 9 July 1998, lot 75). A commode of similarly robust character to the latter, formerly in the collection of the Hon. Oliver Lyttelton, later created Viscount Chandos, which was sold at Christie's London, 9 July 1992, lot 124, may well have been supplied to George, 1st Lord Lyttelton (d.1773) for Hagley Hall, Warwickshire. It is therefore pertinent that a suite of seat-furniture of similar character was supplied to Hagley by Paul Saunders between 1758-60 (J. Cornforth, 'Hagley Hall, Warwickshire - II', Country Life, 4 May 1989, pl.1550), for Saunders is closely identified with Richard Wright. Finally, a serpentine-fronted bomb commode from another Yorkshire house, Serlby Hall - a house for which 'Mr. Elwick's Valuation of Furniture' of 1755 still remains - which displays identical handles to the Chandos commode and was commissioned before 1755 by the 2nd Viscount Galway (d.1772) and later sold from the collection of Samuel Messer, Esq., at Christie's London, 5 December 1991, lot 105, displays related carved embellishment of the apron to the Raynham commodes.
Interestingly, the elaborately carved mahogany side table also originally from Raynham and now at Athelhampton, Dorset (illustrated in Coleridge, op. cit., fig.364) was almost certainly executed as part of the same commission as the Raynham commodes.