This exceptional, and exceptionally large, chest in the full blown Chippendale Director style was sold at auction in 1962 by Mrs. J. A. Wolseley, who had inherited it from her father, Sir Walter John
Trevelyan, 8th Baronet, in 1931. This was one in a series of sales conducted by her trustees, which also featured a suite of neoclassical furniture supplied to the 4th Baronet, Sir John Trevelyan (1735-1828) for Nettlecombe Court as part of the alterations to the main reception rooms in the 1780s.
The ancient house of Nettlecombe in Somerset came to the present family in the mid-12th century, and has since descended through the Ralegh, Whalesborough, Trevelyan and Wolseley branches. Estates in Northumberland and Durham, including Wallington, however, did not come into the family until 1777, when Sir Walter Calverley Blackett died and they passed to his sister's son, Sir John Trevelyan, 4th Baronet. Sir John inherited Nettlecombe after the death of his father, Sir George Trevelyan, in 1768. Therefore, beginning in 1777, the Trevelyan baronets resided both at Wallington, now a National Trust property, and Nettlecombe. This would suggest that the commode was made after his succession, inspired by a style that was fashionable some years earlier.
Sir John, 4th Baronet, was succeeded in 1828 by his eldest son, another Sir John Trevelyan, who spent much of his life at Wallington because his wife, Maria, preferred it. His eldest son, Sir Walter Calverley Trevelyan, 6th Baronet, succeeded in 1846, and upon his death without issue in 1879, Nettlecombe and the title went to a nephew, Alfred Wilson Trevelyan, while the Wallington estate, which was not entailed, was passed on to a favorite nephew Charles Edward Trevelyan, 1st Baronet.
It is most likely that the commode was transferred to Nettlecombe after Sir Charles's death, as while he was free to dispose of the estate to whom he pleased, the furnishings were entailed to the Nettlecome estate and were dutifully returned. An intriguing pencil inscription to the underside of the commode reads 'John Codling Joiner Wallington', evidence that the piece was at Wallington when John Codling (1843-1898) was employed as a house joiner. Codling was a member of a large family that worked at Wallington as carpenters and stone masons, among other occupations. He most likely made repairs to the commode, as there is no record of furniture being produced at Wallington, only a record of the house joiners repairing furniture. John's father, Henry, is also recorded as having signed the furniture he repaired.
In 1931, Nettlecombe was left to Joan Alys Trevelyan, who married Garnet Ruskin Wolseley. Nettlecombe Court is still owned by the Wolseley family today.
The use of finely figured mahogany, ambitious carving, meticulous construction and idiosyncratic form, is certainly an ambitious undertaking by a cabinet-maker of notable skill. Less certain is the identity of this maker. The chest faithfully conforms to a Chippendale design of 1762, and published in the third edition of his Director, thereby showing a familiarity with London fashion.
WRIGHT AND ELWICK?
While the chest's origins remain unknown, the possibility of an accomplished provincial cabinet-maker such as Wright and Elwick in Wakefield, Yorkshire cannot be dismissed. Both partners subscribed separately to the first 1754 edition of the Director. In fact, few of Chippendale's contemporaries have imitated Director patterns so closely while incorporating their own particular idiosyncrasies. Wright and Elwick pieces share a number of other characteristics including the boldly carved edge, unusual handle-pattern, and idiosyncratic feet. Their prominent patrons were largely located in orkshire and northern counties.
In 1748-49, the partners were entrusted with an extensive commission for the Marquess of Rockingham at Wentworth. A commode from Wentworth (recorded in an 1782 inventory of the house), while more elaborately embellished, shares similar features such as richly carved front and back legs, exaggerated profile and fine timber (Christie's Wentworth sale, lot 65). Interestingly, the Duchess of Northumberland remarked on the 'French chairsby the famous Mr. Wright' upon her visit to Wentworth.
A pair of commodes from Studley Royal in Yorkshire, also attributed to Wright and Elwick, share the same deeply carved profile of the angles and voluted scroll feet (now cut down) as the Martin commode. It is likely this pair was commissioned by Thomas Robinson, later 1st Baron Brantham (d. 1770) either for Newby (Baldersby) Park or Studley Royal.
A further commode that warrants comparison was sold in these Rooms, 17 October 2008, lot 100 ($194,500, including buyer's premium). Its exaggerated bombe form, elaborately carved angles and distinctive handles are shared features. The handles also appear on a further commode illustrated in the Wentworth sale (sold Christie's, London, 19 November 1992, lot 54).
Perhaps the most celebrated commodes associated with the firm are those from the 'Raynham' group, three of which are in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This group was likely all supplied to Captain the Hon. George Townshend, later 4th Viscount Townshend (d. 1807), created 1st Marquess in 1787, for Raynham Hall, Norfolk at the time of his marriage in 1751. One of the Philadelphia commodes has a similar break-fronted serpentine outline and elaborately carved leg; both show a close relationship to Chippendale's design for a 'Commode Table' (1762 edition, pl. LXVII). The Philadelphia commode was sold at auction by the Townshends at Sotheby's London, 24 June 1921 described as "ONE OF THE FINEST CHIPPENDALE COMMODES EVER OFFERED FOR SALE". It was thereafter owned by H. H. Mulliner and William Randolph Hearst, two great collectors of the 20th century, before being acquired by the museum in 1941. Another commode in the 'Raynham' group, likely the pair to one at Philadelphia, was sold by French and Company, Christie's, New York, 24 November, 1998, lot 60 ($1,487,5900).
WADDINGHAM OF HARROGATE
The Waddingham family of furniture dealers established in Harrogate, Yorkshire, like that of its rivals in the same town Charles Lumb, flourished in the middle years of the 20th century. They were known to handle exceptional objects which coincidentally included not only this commode but two others already noted: the French and Company example, and the most recent 2008 example.
The commode features distinctive construction techniques used by premier makers in the 18th century. The drawers feature concave quarter fillets, a refinement that appears on a pair of black and gilt-lacquer commodes attributed to John Cobb and supplied to the 4th Earl of Shaftesbury (d 1771) for St. Giles's House, Dorset. A metallurgical examination of a handcut screw used to secure the carving at the angles is consistent with metals used from the mid-18th century through the mid-19th century. A full report is available upon request.
We would like to extend our thanks to Steve Dixon at the National Trust for his kind assistance on the cataloguing of this lot.