This commode, with its Roman-acanthus serpentined 'truss' pilasters and characteristic lacquered-brass metalwork, belongs to a distinctive group dating from the 1760s that can be confidently attributed to the Royal cabinet-makers William Vile and John Cobb. Discussed in depth by Lucy Wood in her Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp.43-53, this group is anchored by the 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).
This hypothesis is convincingly underlined by documentary evidence linking Vile and Cobb with other related commodes, as well as known working relationship between the cabinet-makers and the houses to which these commodes were supplied. Most notably, at Blickling there is a payment by the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire to 'Vile & Cobb cabinet-makers' in August 1762 for £86.5s.9d, which is sufficient to account for the four Régence pattern commodes and a further related example. The latter of these shares the same mounts and other distinguishable features with that supplied to Alscot. A further related group of five commodes, including two pairs, were supplied to the 9th Earl of Exeter for Burghley House, Lincolnshire. Whilst Vile and Cobb are not documented at Burghley, Wood presents the possibility that they may have been subcontracted by another firm such as Mayhew and Ince, and it is perhaps significant, therefore, that a former apprentice of Cobb's was employed at Burghley from at least 1772. A further suite of five commodes were supplied to John, 2nd Earl of Ashburnham (d.1812) for Ashburnham Place, Sussex (sold at the Sotheby's house sale of 7-9 July 1953, lots 135-136). Although the original bill does appear in the surviving - and post-1763 - bank accounts of the 2nd Earl, these commodes almost certainly predate the surviving bills and interestingly Cobb was employed by the Earl in 1772.
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.
RELATED COMMODES BY JOHN COBB
This elegantly bowed commode, veneered in beautifully figured mahogany and ormolu-mounted in the French manner with espagnolette masks and reed-gadrooned handles suspended from acanthus-flowered paterae, originally conceived with a pierced carved apron, belongs to a distinctive group within Cobb's oeuvre . These comprise:-
1-That retaining its original carved apron and identically mounted, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (61.242.1), illustrated in Wood, ibid., fig.37.
2- Another, with apron carving forming the bottom edge of the lower drawer, illustrated from the H. Percy Dean Collection 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 commode was subsequently published in the collection of Sir John Ward, K.C.V.O.
3-A third, also with carving forming the lower edge of the bottom drawer, offered by Sir Archibald Edmonstone, Bt., Christie's London, 27 March 1958, lot 82.
4-A fourth, lacking its original apron carving, sold at Neal Auction Company, New Orleans, November 2000 ($260,000 plus premium).
A further related group of commodes, but with carved angles instead of espagnolette masks, includes that sold anonymously in these Rooms, 19 April 2001, lot 148 ($446,000).
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 Victoria and 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 1999, 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.
The same escutcheons, handles, backplates and espagnolette mask mounts were also employed by Cobb on the less elaborate suite of Ashburnham commodes, of which one was sold anonymously at Christie's New York, 19 October 2000, lot 106 ($166,500), as well as on that supplied to the 5th Duke of Bolton for Hackwood Park, sold anonymously at Christie's London, 8 July 1999, lot 62 (£199,500).
Interestingly, a marble topped French commode dating to circa 1715 with precisely the same pattern mounts was sold anonymously at Christie's London, 7 December 1978, lot 109 (illustrated by L. Wood, op.cit, p .47, fig.26). The handle pattern also features on furniture attributed to the Parisian ébeniste/dealer Noel Gerard (d.1736) who was patronised by the English aristocracy, including James, Viscount Chewton and Earl Waldegrave, whose purchases in 1733 were made while he served as George II's ambassador to the Emperor of Germany (see A. Pradère, French Furniture Makers, London, 1989, pp.111-114).