COMPARABLE COBB COMMODES
This commode can be securely attributed to the Royal cabinet-maker John Cobb on the basis of a virtually identical commode supplied in 1766 to James West for Alscot Park, Warwickshire and described 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, 1972, p. 112). Besides this important corroborating fact, there are aspects of this commode which suggest the manufacture of John Cobb: the presence of cedar-lined drawers secured with cedar concave quarter-fillets, the serpentine apron fitted as part of the bottom drawer rather than the carcase and the distinctive handles, which are discussed below. Each of these distinctive elements also feature on a pair of Chinese lacquered commodes of closely related pattern supplied to the 4th Earl of Shaftesbury (d. 1771) for St. Giles's House, Dorset and sold by the Earl of Shaftesbury, Christie's, London, 11 November 1999, lot 100. The only differences that can be ascertained between this and the Alscot commode is first, the profile of the side aprons which, on the Alscot commode are 'pelta' shaped and on the present commode are serpentined and second, the rear legs of the Alscot commode have a 'hock' whilst the present commode features tapering back legs. A commode veneered in rosewood or padouk, as in the present example, was sold by the late Sir James Williams-Drummond of Hawthornden, Bt., Sotheby's, London, 5 March 1971, lot 165. Like the Alscot commode, the latter features 'pelta'-shaped side aprons and a 'hock' on the back legs. Another commode of the same model featuring 'oyster' cut rosewood veneered drawer-fronts, was formerly in the collection of Captain Donald MacBarnet of Ballochoan, Kingussie (d. 1840), and was sold by a descendant, Sotheby's, London, 5 July 1996, lot 61. Another was sold anonymously, Christie's, London, 21 May 1970, lot 110.
JOHN COBB: ROYAL CABINET-MAKER
John Cobb (d. 1778) was the son-in-law of the renowned early 18th Century cabinet-maker Giles Grendey (d. 1780), a leading manufacturer of furniture for export during the reign of George II. In 1751 he established his partnership with William Vile (d. 1767) and expanded four years later to absorb the neighbouring St. Martin's Lane premises of William Hallett (d. 1781). The latter had been employed at St. Giles's House, Dorset in the 1740s and early 1750s.
On the accession of George III, Vile and Cobb were granted a royal warrant in 1761 to supply furniture to the Crown under the direction of the Master of the Great Wardrobe. Some of their most celebrated Royal commissions are discussed by Geoffrey Beard, 'Vile and Cobb, eighteenth-century London furniture makers', Antiques, June 1990, pp. 1394-1405.
The same pattern of handles and escutcheons found on this and the Alscot commode also feature on a pair of Chinese lacquered commodes of closely related pattern supplied to the 4th Earl of Shaftesbury (d. 1771) for St. Giles's House, Dorset and sold by the Earl of Shaftesbury, Christie's, London, 11 November 1999, lot 100 (£276,500). This pattern of 'wrought furniture' appears on other mahogany commodes supplied in the 1760s for Blickling Hall, Norfolk and Burghley, Lincolnshire. The mounts also appear on a closely related mahogany commode that was presented in 1964 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Irwin Untermyer (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp. 48, 51, no. 36 and p. 53, no. 40).
Arthur Byram Gowan was a Clyde shipbuilder and lived at Maxwell Park, Glasgow. By repute, the commode was acquired around 1910, at the time when Gowan became Managing Director of Palmers Shipyard on the Tyne. Their home at Brandling Park, Newcastle was richly furnished with items from dealers in Harrogate and London, including Bainbridge & Co of Newcastle, from whom they purchased a satinwood commode in 1918; W. F. Greenwood and Sons, Harrogate; Leonard Partridge and Charles Sneyens, London.