Designed in the French 'pittoresque' style first introduced by Thomas Chippendale (d.1779), this sumptuous serpentine commode - a newly rediscovered masterpiece by the Royal cabinet-maker John Cobb - epitomizes the integration of English and French forms in George III case-furniture.
John Cobb (d. 1778), 'one of the proudest men in England' who strutted 'through his workshops giving orders to his men in full dress of the most superb and costly kind' is first recorded in the London Directory in 1750. Entering into partnership with William Vile in 1751, he became a close neighbour of Chippendale's in St. Martin's Lane, and it is interesting to note that this commode follows Chippendale's 1753 pattern for a 'French Commode table' issued in The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director of 1754, pl. LXVI. Following their appointment as cabinet-makers to George III in 1761, Messrs. Vile and Cobb became the principal suppliers of furniture to Queen Charlotte's Buckingham House, now Palace.
Recent scholarship has shown that this commode, with its Roman-acanthus serpentined 'truss' pilasters, characteristic lacquered-brass metalwork, lambrequined-sides and richly carved foliate drawer-apron belongs to a distinctive group dating from the late 1760s that can be confidently attributed to Cobb (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp.43-53). This group is anchored by the celebrated, but simpler Alscot Park commode, which was supplied by Cobb to James West in 1766 and invoiced as an 'extra fine wood commode chest of drawers with large handsome wrought furniture, good brass locks, etc. £16' (H. Honour, Cabinet Makers and Furniture Designers, London, 1969, p.112). Somewhat more elaborate than the Alscot example, which has a plain cockbeaded serpentine apron, this commode reflects the extraordinary integration of cabinet-making and sculptural carving achieved in Cobb's workshop around the time of Vile's retirement in 1765.
In fact, this is precisely what comprehensively distinguishes the very finest English commodes in the French taste from their Continental prototypes. The elaborate sculptural enrichments on this commode, far more readily translated from published patterns as ormolu mounts applied onto the carcass, are instead here carved from solid mahogany. Just as Cobb was influenced in the design of the commode from Chippendale's Director, he too subscribed to Chippendale's assertion that the sculptural elements 'could be carv'd or executed in brass'.
RELATED COMMODES BY JOHN COBB
This elegantly bowed commode, veneered in beautifully figured mahogany and ormolu-mounted in the French manner with fretted escutcheons of Roman acanthus and reed-gadrooned handles suspended from acanthus-flowered paterae, belongs to a distinct group executed in Cobb's workshop. These comprise:-
1-a very similar but smaller commode sold by Mrs. Venetia Gairdner from Hingaston House, Somerset, Lawrence's Crewkerne, 19 February 1981, lot 215 (35in. x 38in. x 24in.).
2-another probably originally supplied to the 2nd Earl of Coventry for Croome Court, Worcestershire, which displays the same lambrequined sides and carved apron pattern, sold by the Earl of Craven from Coombe Abbey, Warwickshire, Sotheby's London, 8 October 1965, lot 139.
3-another with incurved scrolled feet, sold by Earl Howe from Penn House, Buckinghamshire and now in the Untermyer Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (64.101.1142 - Y. Hackenbroch, English Furniture in the Irwin Untermyer Collection, London, 1958, fig. 322).
4-another, displaying the same patterned mounts and carved apron but with ormolu-enriched 'herm' trusses of nymphs and satyr-hoofed feet from the H. Percy Dean Collection is illustrated in P. Macquoid, A History of English Furniture, The Age of Mahogany, London, 1908, col. pl.X and in P. Macquoid and R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, rev. edn., 1954, vol. 1, p. 155 fig. 10. This was sold by Sir Archibald Edmonstone, Bt., Christie's London, 27 March 1958, lot 82.
5-and a final commode similar to the latter, recorded in the collection of Sir John Ward, which was exhibited at Donnington Priory, Berkshire, in 1982.
Interestingly, the lambrequined sides, reeded handles and refined drawer construction with unusual concave quarter-fillets also featured on the pair of lacquer-veneered commodes attributed to Cobb with satyr-hoofed feet, supplied to St. Giles's House, Dorset and sold by the Earl of Shaftesbury, Christie's London, 11 November 1999, lot 100.
The pervasive influence of Thomas Chippendale can, however, be clearly seen in the distinctive acanthus-carved trusses, which closely relate to those on the pair of commodes supplied by Thomas Chippendale for Goldsborough Hall, Yorkshire circa 1770 (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, fig. 226). It is interesting to note, therefore, that the key has a serpentined head appropriate to the S-shaped key-holes found on a number of pieces of furniture supplied by Chippendale (see C. Gilbert, ibid., fig. 267).
Indicative of both Cobb's creative process and his awareness of printed designs, the distinctive pattern for the 'handsome wrought furniture' - i.e.: the reeded handles and paterae backplate - feature in a mid-eighteenth century metalworker's pattern book now in the Victorian & Albert Museum, London (nos. 1840 and 647) (N. Goodison, 'The Victoria and Albert Museum's Collection of Metalwork Pattern Books', Furniture History, 1975, figs. 22 and 42). This same hardware was employed elsewhere in Cobb's oeuvre, including on the pair of Chinese lacquer commodes supplied to St. Giles' House, Dorset (sold Christie's London, 11 November 99, lot 100) as well as on the commode from the H. Percy Dean Collection, displaying a closely related carved apron illustrated in Percy Macquoid's The Age of Mahogany, London, 1906, color plate X.