This spectacular commode was identified by Peter Thornton and William Rieder as part of a recognizable group executed in the early 1760's by the emigr London cabinet-maker Pierre Langlois (d.1781). These remarkable commodes are characterized by their rosewood veneers, similar exaggerated outline and virtually identical mounts. Discussed in a series of articles published by Thornton and Rieder entitled 'Pierre Langlois, Ebniste' in The Connoisseur in March 1972, the commodes in this group were identified as the following:
* The French & Company Lonsdale commode
* The pair to this commode in the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California (purchased by Henry Huntington in 1910) * The set of four commodes in the Royal Collection, identical but with engraved brass tops depicting flower-filled vases, one dated 1763 * A commode fitted with a pair of cabinet doors, with (later) marble top and of slightly broader proportions, sold from the Collection of Claus von Bulow, Sotheby's New York, 28-29 October 1988, lot 484. Previously with Mallett & Son (Antiques) Ltd., London and illustrated in L.Synge, Great English Furniture, London, 1991, p.135, fig.151
THE LONSDALE COMMODE
This commode can be traced to the London residence of the Earls of Lonsdale at nos. 14 and 15 Carlton House Terrace sometime after William, 2nd Earl of Lonsdale (d.1844), moved there from Cleveland Row in 1837. The commode bears the brand 'C.H.T.635', which conclusively identifies the piece to the Carlton House Terrace residence, although to date, it has not been traced in the Lowther archives at the Carlisle Record Office. The commode remained in the family's collection and was removed to Lowther Castle (built by the 2nd Earl in 1808), probably in 1946 when the Carlton House Terrace lease expired. It was sold from the Lowther Castle auction conducted on the premises the following year, 29 April-1 May 1947, as lot 35 and was described as 'A BOW-FRONTED COMMODE, of two long drawers of cross-grained kingwood inlaid parqueterie [sic.] top with vase of flowers, heavy ormolu mounted, width 4ft.6 in., height 2ft.9 in.'. The pair to this commode, now in the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California, was acquired by Henry Huntington in 1910, although the details of its sale and acquisition are unknown and this latter commode does not bear any identifying brands.
William Lowther, who succeeded his cousin James as 2nd Baron and Viscount Lowther in 1802, and inherited the title of the 2nd Earl of Lonsdale in 1807, was a childhood friend and close companion of George, Prince of Wales, later George IV. A highly respected Minister, he served under Lord Liverpool and was a colleague of both Wellington and Peel. Following the Napoleonic wars, Lonsdale, like his contemporaries the Duke of Devonshire and the Earl of Shelburne, brought home the spoils of Europe, including Greek and Roman sculpture, and the magnificence of the French ancien regime. 'Like his friend Lord Hertford, the fourth Marquess, he was an amateur of beauty in women, in horses, in art, and in music, so that Paris, then the centre of the world of celebrities and fashion, drew them both into its silken net' (Reginald, Viscount Esher, Cloud-Capp'd Towers London, 1927, p.4). Lord Lonsdale's passion for the French arts -exemplified, for instance, by the Oeben bonheur du jour sold anonymously at Christie's London, 23 June 1988, lot 133, as well as the version of Lalive de Jully's gut Grec bureau plat- was also shared by the Prince Regent, later George IV, whose reputation as a consummate collector is legendary.
Another common thread between these two friends is their working relationship with the renowned London dealer or marchand-mercier Edward Holmes Baldock (d. 1816), who was actively buying and selling furniture, porcelain, glass, bronzes and other objects of art on behalf of the King, and a select circle of the aristocracy including the 5th Duke of Buccleuch. Lonsdale's employment of Baldock is recorded in existing invoices which show that the dealer even acted as packer and remover during Lonsdale's move in 1837 (G.de Bellaigue, Edward Holmes Baldock, part 1, The Connoisseur, August 1975, p.292). Baldock's name appears as a buyer in many of the more spectacular public auctions which took place during the first few decades of the nineteenth century, buying on behalf of his clients. It is quite possible, therefore, that these commodes undoubtedly considered to be in the French taste, if not even 'Louis'- were purchased by Baldock on behalf of the 2nd Earl, perhaps in emulation of the set of four purchased by George, then Prince Regent, in 1818.
The houses at Carlton House Terrace on St. James's Park were built on the site of Carlton House, George IV's palatial mansion, upon the latter's demolition in 1827. Whilst number 14 Carlton House Terrace had been built for Lieutenant General Balfour in 1829-32 by the Royal architect John Nash, number 15 had been built for the Marquess of Tavistock, probably by Benjamin Dean Wyatt of the famous architectural dynasty. These two houses were adjoined for the 3rd Earl of Lonsdale in 1846 and were remodelled in the French manner. While the architect cannot be identified with certainty, plans were submitted by Sydney Smirke in 1844.
THE ROYAL COMMODES
In The Connoisseur articles of 1972, Peter Thornton and William
Rieder identify this commode within a group that includes a set of four commodes in the Royal Collection, now at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. The Royal commodes are of identical outline, and mounted virtually identically with the addition of an encadrement separating the two drawers. Their tops, although also depicting a floral motif, utilize another of Langlois's characteristic specialties, finely engraved brasswork depicting a central floral basket with outer spandrels filled with lily-sprays within a broad brass border. The brass floralwork on three of these commodes is indistinctly engraved, presumably by the individual artisans, 'M.Dutton', 'Focan','F.M.Le S(?)' The latter signature is dated 1763, and may possibly be identified as the bniste Franois Lesueur, who lived in the rue de Lappe, Paris, and was mitre in 1757 (P.Thornton and W.Rieder, 'Pierre Langlois, Ebniste, Part 3', The Connoisseur, March 1972, p.187).
The Royal commodes were purchased by Lord Yarmouth on behalf of George IV at a sale held at Squibb's auction rooms on 20-25 April 1818. Sold in two pairs, one pair on the third day of the sale (lot 86), the second on the fifth day (lot 83), they cost 243.12.0 in total and were acquired for Carlton House, although the Royal Archives of 1827 state that by that date they were intended for Windsor (J.Harris, Buckingham Palace and its Treasures, New York, 1968, p.224).
According to notations in a Carlton House inventory, these commodes had been previously owned by Princess Amelia (d.1786), the daughter of George II and aunt of George III, although there is no conclusive record of this and the commodes do not appear in the sale of Princess Amelia's London house conducted by Christie's in 1787. As such, if the assertion in the inventory is correct, there is a faint possibility that the Royal Commodes may have been originally supplied to Gunnersbury Park, her country estate in Middlesex.
Princess Amelia purchased Gunnersbury, a house designed by John Webb in 1663 and set in a landscaped park, in 1761. As Amelia was in close touch with her nephew residing at Kew, it is likely that the Royal architect Sir William Chambers was involved in any works commissioned for this villa (J.Harris, Sir William Chambers, London, 1970, p.209). Whilst this set of four 'commode tables', which display golden trompe l'oeil flower-baskets in celebration of the Spring goddess Flora, undoubtedly display ornament appropriate for a country estate, there is no known surviving inventory of Gunnersbury and no known sales from this residence to confirm the possibility.
The pre-eminent cabinet-maker Pierre Langlois (d.1781) was recorded working at 39 Tottenham Court Road in London from 1759. Supplying a wide range of newly fashionable French style furniture to his impressive clientele, which included the Dukes of Bedford and Northumberland, Sir Lawrence Dundas, Horace Walpole and the Earl of Coventry. His French background is revealed on his trade card, which incorporates various examples of furniture and objects in the French or 'modern' style within an elaborate rococo cartouche. The text appears in both French and English and while the English text advertises all Sorts of Fine Cabinets and Commodes, made & inlaid in the Politest manner with Brass & Tortoiseshell..., the corresponding text in French is actually more explicit in stating the various types of furniture produced by the workshop and lists floral marquetry and gilt-bronze mounts as a specialty of the workshop. This fantastically elaborate commode is a bold display of Langlois's skill in these two areas.
THE 'FRENCH' INSPIRED DESIGN OF THE PIECE
Langlois's marquetry patterns are derived from French examples dating to the 1750's and are most closely associated with the work of the Parisian bniste Jean-Francois Oeben, Langlois may have received his training from Oeben, who also employed other foreign cabinet-makers such as the Swedish maker Carl Petter Dahlstrom, who was his chef d'atelier until 1755 and specialized in this type of floral marquetry (Thornton and Rieder, op.cit, part 2, February 1972, pp.106 and 112). Certainly constructional features of the piece betray a continental training, with its pegged and framed back and top, and non-English lockplates. A distinctly English feature is the use of a veneered top rather than the marble top which is typical on contemporary French examples. While little is known about the organization of Langlois's workshop, it would appear that he employed several marqueteurs, which is indicated by minor variations in the technique of the inlay on many of his pieces and the existence of inscriptions by unknown makers, such as the signature Zurn on one of a pair of commodes at the Vyne, Hampshire. This may be likened to the brass inscriptions on the Royal commodes.
THE ORMOLU MOUNTS AND THE BRONZIER DOMINIQUE JEAN
This commode, and the others in the group, are lavishly embellished with a distinctive repertoire of ormolu mounts which derive from French prototypes. Many of these mounts appear on further examples from his workshop. The distinctive apron mount with Zephyr-mask and scrolling acanthus appears most frequently on the most elaborate Langlois commodes and derives from French Rgence prototypes. Apart from the identified group, this mount also appears on two documented marquetry commodes by Langlois. The first was supplied to the Duchess of Bedford for Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire in 1760 and appears in the accounts as a large Inlay'd Commode Table L78:8:0. The second was provided for the 6th Earl of Coventry at Croome Court, Worcestershire in 1764 and is listed on a bill dated 20 July 1764. It is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (G.Beard and C.Gilbert, eds. Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, pp. 526-527 and P.Thornton and W. Rieder, op.cit, Part 2, February 1972, pp. 105, figs. 1 and 2). Several other examples also exhibit this apron mount and these include one at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a pair at Powis Castle and another single one at the M.H.de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco (Thornton and Rieder, part 2, fig.6; part 3, figs.3 and 4). Interestingly, the apron mount and corner fleur-de-lys appear in a drawing attributed to Langlois in the collection of Sir Francis Dashwood at West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire, which shows a commode of similar form to a further pair attributed to Langlois in the Royal collection. The berried acanthus medallion is, moreover, found on several examples of early Louis XV furniture, including a commode stamped by Etienne Diorat (anonymous sale, Sotheby's London, 29 May 1970, lot 105). Some of the mounts, such as the berried acanthus medallions, are also thought to have been cast directly from French prototypes, and this theory is borne out by the mounts on a further pair of Royal commodes with figural angles, which bear the crowned 'C' stamp employed on French bronzes between 1745-1749, which indicates that they were either imported or cast from French examples.
Langlois employed the bronzier Dominique Jean who almost certainly provided these elaborate ormolu mounts. Also listed at the 39 Tottenham Court Road address, Dominique married Langlois's daughter, as is noted by Matthew Boulton in a diary entry of 1769. In 1771, he employed Daniel Langlois, thought to be Pierre's son, as apprentice in his workshop.
While Dominique was employed by Pierre Langlois, he evidently worked independently, and was employed through William Gaubert at Carlton House (1783-86), supplying chandeliers and mounts, chasing and gilding. He also worked as a primary gilder for the Duke of Northumberland, another Langlois client, and is known to have provided furniture mounts in the 1780's for the Swedish cabinet-maker Christian Furloh [later Christopher Furlogh, who worked at 24 Tottenham Court Road circa 1769-1785 (Thornton and Rieder, op. cit., part I, November 1971, p.286).
The use of ormolu mounts in the early 1760's was a relatively novel concept for English furniture design. Chippendale first introduces bronze mounts to two designs (pl.LXIII, LXXXIV) dated 1760 in the third edition of his Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director (1762) where he recommends that the brass-Work...should be modelled in Wax, and then cast from these Models, an indication that this was a less than familiar technique for cabinet-makers.
SIR WILLIAM CHAMBERS
There are many clues that suggest a possible link between Langlois and Sir William Chambers, architect to George III. In fact, it has been suggested that Chambers may have been involved with the design of this group of commodes. The bold voluted form recalls classical prototypes by Palladio and Inigo Jones and, subsequently, William Kent and relates to designs for chimneypieces and overmantels published in Kent's Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones and Mr. William Kent, London, 1744. Plate 35 in this publication relates to a chimneypiece Kent designed for Chiswick which exhibits the same pronounced volutes and egg-and-dart molding and swirling rosettes. The strong architectural design of this group stands apart from the rest of Langlois's works and suggests that this model was conceived by an architect for a specific commission. The Roman-trained Chambers, who prided himself as a connoisseur in the design of furnishings, may have been responsible for this design. Certainly, if the Royal commodes of this model were supplied by Langlois to Princess Amelia or another member of the Royal family in the early 1760's, Chambers would have played a vital role in their design.
There are further connections between Langlois and Chambers. In 1767, when Langlois was paid for a pair of commodes at Woburn Abbey, Chambers received 10 guineas for unspecified work which invites the question as to whether he was involved in their design (G.Beard and C.Gilbert, op.cit, p. 527). Chambers's Swedish origins and his close associations with immigrant cabinet-makers is well-documented. It is through these various relationships that the connection with Langlois is strengthened. For instance, some of Chambers later designs relate closely to neoclassical works attributed to Christopher Furlogh who later became Cabinet Maker Inlayer and Ebniste to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Most notably, a pair of commodes at Woburn Abbey is closely related to a clock case designed for George III (executed by Boulton and Fothergill and now at Windsor Castle) in their remarkably similar swagged rams' headed mounts and spiral-fluted legs. Dominique Jean, as previously mentioned, is known to have supplied mounts to Furlogh in 1783. Furthermore, Dominique was working at Carlton House and is recorded as early as 1783 which would have put him in contact with Chambers. Whether this working relationship was established as early as the 1760's remains to be proved.
POSSIBLE ROYAL CONNECTIONS
The complex relationships and related designs of various artisans including Chambers, Dominique Jean and Furlogh to Pierre Langlois and their respective connections with Royal commissions presents an intriguing query as to whether Langlois may have received patronage from the Royal family. Sadly, there is no information regarding the acquisition of any of the Langlois commodes in the Royal collection (which includes two further pairs, as well as this set of four), and no confirming documentation to confirm the Princess Amelia provenance for the set of four.
Certainly the close relationship of the Lonsdale family with the Royal Household also brings to mind the question of whether any Royal furniture might have passed into the Lonsdale collection. This relationship was established generations earlier when Henry, Viscount Londsale and Baron Lowther (d.1750) was Lord of the Bedchamber to George I from 1717-1727 and distinguished himself by raising 10,000 men to oppose a Jacobite rising in 1715. A Queen Anne giltwood torchere attributed to the Royal cabinet-maker Jean Pelletier, bearing the same C.H.T. stamp and numbered 842, identifies this as another Lonsdale piece which may have entered the collection in the form of a Royal perquisite or gift. This torchere was sold from the collection of Miss Sylvia Adams, Bonhams, London, 8 May 1996, lot 15.
While the eighteenth century history of this commode remains an open question, its presence as one of the masterpieces of English furniture design remains undisputed, and indeed when it was sold in 1979 established a world record for a piece of English furntiure.