The elegantly serpentined and bronze-enriched 'commode' chest-of-drawers was intended for the window pier of a bedroom apartment and is conceived in the 'Picturesque' French antique manner that became fashionable in the 1760s. The angled pilasters are ormolu-enriched with Arcadian nymph heads in French-fashioned ruffles emerging from reeded and Venus-pearled cartouches, whose reeded 'truss' brackets are wrapped by Roman acanthus and imbricated with pearls and scallops. The ormolu escutcheons serve to celebrate the triumphal birth of Venus: water-deity heads accompany her shell-badge displayed on these antique-stippled and acanthus-wrapped cartouches, while the reeded and flowered handles are suspended from acanthus-flowered paterae. The French-patterned angle bronzes are inspired by a pattern that is thought to have been invented by the Parisian ébéniste Pierre Daneau (d. 1735) of the rue St. Honoré. A pair of serpentine marble-topped and ormolu-mounted commodes bear his stamp and the date 1733, and are now at Firle Place, Sussex. A related pair of commodes, also stamped by Daneau, was sold by the late Mrs. Vernon Sangster, in these Rooms, 4 July 1996, lot 360.
This commode belongs to a small and distinguished group dating to the early 1760s attributed to the London cabinet-makers, William Vile and John Cobb, and discussed in depth by Lucy Wood in her Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp. 43-53. The commodes are characterised by their serpentined form, good quality timbers and rich ormolu embellishments which copy French Régence patterns produced some fifty years earlier. This model corresponds to a commode with four graduated drawers, identical handles and corner mounts, at Blickling, Norfolk (ibid., p. 50, fig. 34). The closest comparable example is the commode now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession no. 61.242.1) (ibid., p. 51, fig. 37). The latter's lower edge of the bottom drawer is fixed with pierced carving and the side panels are straight-edged at the bottom. The present commode is likely to have had similar decoration which has since been replaced with a shaped element closely relating to that on the lower drawer of the Blickling commode.
Other closely related commodes from this group include a pair sold anonymously, in these Rooms, 14 June 2001, lot 140 [formerly at Ashburnham Place, Sussex]; two pairs from Blickling Hall in Norfolk (one pair sold in 1933); and a pair purchased in 1914 by Lord Lever, later Viscount Leverhulme and now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight. Another commode from this group is illustrated in R. W. Symonds, 'English Commodes in the French taste', Connoisseur, January 1957, p. 17, fig. 1. A further example almost certainly supplied to the 5th Duke of Bolton (d. 1765), for Hackwood Park, Hampshire, was sold in these Rooms, 8 July 1999, lot 62 (£199,500), and a further, single commode from the Ashburnham group was sold anonymously, Christie's New York, 19 October 2000, lot 106 ($171,000). Some of the commodes in this group differ slightly in their less pronounced serpentine front, straight-sided rather than moulded tops and employment of ormolu lifting-handles to the sides of the case.
The commode can be attributed to the acclaimed Royal cabinet-makers William Vile and John Cobb based on their association with other related models recorded by the firm and a known working relationship between the cabinet-makers and the houses to which these various commodes were supplied. Principally, at Blickling there is a payment from 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 the commode similar to the present lot (Wood, op. cit., p. 50). Furthermore, this single commode at Blickling shares the same mounts and other distinctive features with a documented example supplied by Cobb to James West at Alscot Park in 1766 for £16.
18TH CENTURY ENGLISH TASTE FOR THE PICTURESQUE
Although this commode was executed circa 1760-61, it is conceived in the earlier French 'Régence' style, popularised by artists such as Nicolas Pineau and Gilles-Marie Oppenordt in the 1720s and 1730s. In the first half of the 18th Century, most Englishmen accepted the cultural and fashionable primacy of France. By 1735, the St Martin's Lane Academy had introduced Régence and early Louis XV designs to artists and craftsmen and until 1744, England was at peace with France, traditionally her arch-rival. This important and long period of peace facilitated England's initial acceptance of French, and specifically rococo, designs. Despite the political and cultural obstacles between England and France of the mid-18th Century, notably the Seven Years War of 1756-1763, the enthusiasm for French fashions in England continued unabated. Most craftsmen seem to have been oblivious to the contradiction between patriotism and their work, despite the efforts of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (d. 1753) and William Kent (d. 1748) to introduce a specifically 'English' style, based on a robust interpretation of Palladio's designs. The Rococo, on the other hand, besides its fashionable 'French-ness', held a more practical attraction for designers and craftsmen, in that its nature was more labour-intensive than the sober English 'Kentian' style: designers were often able to charge more for their work. Somewhat ironically, defense for the French style is found in The Anti-Gallican, a novel of 1757, which noted 'let us endeavour at raising ourselves to an equal if not superior Pitch of Excellence, in every Science and Profession, to all Nations of the Globe'.