THE ORNAMENTThe elegantly serpentined commode, with fine marquetry inlaid in 'Roman' tablets and medallions, is conceived in the George III French/antique manner of the late 1760s. Its 'vase' ornament harmonised with the 'Etruscan' style that was introduced by architects such as Robert Adam (d. 1792) to the fashionable bedroom apartment. The commode top presents a trompe l'oeil bouquet of roses and other flowers, while a vase appears on the façade with beribboned trophies of musical instruments accompanied by palms and laurels in celebration of lyric poetry. The Grecian vase comprises a 'sacred urn' to evoke sacrifices at Love's altar in antiquity, and its poetic festoon of laurels is draped between 'arabesque' scrolling rainceaux of Roman foliage. Its laureled urn and foliage relate to ornament adopted in the 1760s by Thomas Chippendale Junior and later issued as Sketches of Ornament, 1779 to advertise his succession to his father's St. Martin's Lane workshops (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, figs 28-33). While the bouquet relates to those depicted on Gobelins seat tapestries, its 'ring'-handled and festive krater-shaped vase relates to a pattern invented by Maurice Jacques (d. 1784), the Gobelins' peintre et dessinateur, issued in Vases Nouveaux composes par M. Jacque published in the 1760s by M. Rousselet and F. Tardieu (S. Eriksen, Early Neo-classicism in France, London, 1974, fig. 393).
The musical instruments on the right door derive from a French source and are taken in part from a composition by the celebrated artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau (d. 1721). His work, engraved by Gabriel Huquier in 1735, reappeared in June 1769 in A Book of Different Trophies by Francois Vivares (d. 1780) that was engraved by A. Benoist (G. de Bellaigue, 'Engravings and the French Eighteenth-Century Marqueteur - 1', Burlington Magazine, June 1965, figs. 27 and 29). In addition, a comedy mask and tambourine taken from another of Watteau's 'attributs ... de Musique', are tied within this trophy as appears in combination on a commode formerly in the H. H. Mulliner collection (D. FitzGerald, Georgian Furniture, London, 1969, no. 104 and de Bellaigue, op. cit., p. 243, fig. 28).
The score shown on the right panel of the commode is written in the C clef, used in the 18th Century to obviate the use of ledger lines.
The commode's general form relates to one made in the 1760s for Thomas Villiers, Baron Hyde of Hindon, later 1st Earl of Clarendon (d. 1786), and attributed to the Court cabinet-maker, John Cobb of St. Martin's Lane (L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, pp. 88-90, figs. i-vii). The Clarendon commode, now in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, also features medallions of beribboned bouquets in hollow-cornered tablets, as well as the same sabots. It belongs to a group of related commodes which have all been attributed to Cobb on the basis of comparison with a commode by him at Corsham Court, supplied to Paul Methuen in 1772 (ibid., figs. 75-77). Several of the commodes in the group share the same distinctive reeded carrying-handles with oak-leaf backplates that are associated with the work of Cobb and seen on other commodes by him, including the Alscot Park commode, supplied by Cobb in 1766 (ibid., figs. 82, 83, 85, 91 and 35).
However, regarding the Clarendon commode it should be noted that in 1766 a payment of £11 was made to Thomas Chippendale's St. Martin's Lane firm and is entered in Lord Hyde's bank account under the name of Chippendale's partner 'Mr. Haig', but it is certainly not clear for what this payment was made (ibid., p. 90).
CAPTAIN H. H. WILSON
Captain Wilson of Lower Grove, Roehampton, was a collector of English furniture and sporting pictures and he shared Lord Leverhulme's passion for marquetry-inlaid satinwood. He almost certainly served in the Imperial Yeomanry in the Boer War. At the sale of his collection, Leverhulme acquired lots 63, 65, 66, 75, 87 and 110. Lots 65 and 66 are a pair of polescreens that are still in the Lady Lever Art Gallery. Perhaps his most spectacular piece of marquetry furniture was the majestic bookcase now in the Gerstenfeld Collection (E. Lennox-Boyd, ed., Masterpieces of English Furniture: The Gerstenfeld Collection, London, 1998, p. 197, cat. no. 11, and p. 47, pl. 34).