PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF JOHN M. SEABROOK
each crossbanded demilune top inlaid with a flame-figured mahogany panel within a ribbon-tied flowerhead and leaf-inlaid border at the back, the crossbanded edge with a ribbon-tied scrolling vine-inlaid border, above a conforming case with a pair of similarly inlaid doors with oval mahogany panels within similarly inlaid borders, one commode opening to four graduated oak-lined drawers with quarter moldings, the surrounds appearing to retain traces of ebonizing, the other commode fitted with a drawer opening to a baize-lined panel fitted with a hinged panel on a ratchet support, sliding back to a well, formerly fitted with compartments, all over two sliding shelves, the doors flanked by stiles inlaid with flowerheads and pendent husks, further flanked by similarly inlaid cupboard doors opening to shelves, raised on cuffed tapering square feet. Losses, restorations, sunfading, handles later, lacking a sliding shelf.
Arthur S. Vernay, New York
Sold, Parke-Bernet Galleries, The Art Collection of the Late Mrs. John E. Rovensky, January 15-19, 1957, lots 614-615
Sold, Parke-Bernet Galleries, The James Donahue Collection, November 2-4, 1967, lot 550
J. J. Wolff (Antiques), Ltd.
Acquired from the above, September 1973 ($35,000)
F. Lewis Hinckley, Metropolitan Furniture of the Georgian Years, New York, 1988, p. 166, pl. 132
The form of these fine commodes is based on a design found in Robert and James Adam's Works in Architecture, 1777, pl. VIII from vol. II, for a commode for the Countess of Derby's Dressing Room; the form was later illustrated in A. Hepplewhite & Co's Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide, 1788, pl. 78, where its use is described as 'adapted for a drawing-room: within are shelves which answer the use of a closet or cupboard. It may have one principal door in the front, or one at each end ... and being used in principal rooms, require considerable elegance, the panels may be of satin wood, plain, or inlaid; the top and also the border round the front, should be inlaid.' Although Sheraton declares that 'these pieces of furniture are never intended for use but for ornament', the present pair of commodes, one with a writing slide above sliding shelves, the other with drawers, would have been placed in window-piers in a bedroom apartment and an adjacent dressing-room.
The use of fine satinwood, mahogany and tulipwood, together with laurel leaf marquetry wreaths, husk pendants suspended from flowerheads and ebonized borders are decorative motifs found in the work of the London firm of John Mayhew and William Ince, whose partnership is described in Gilbert and Beard, The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, 1986, pp. 589-598, as 'one of the most significant, probably the longest lived but, as far as identified furniture is concerned, the least well documented of any of the major London cabinetmakers of the 18th century'. The firm is recorded as working with the architect Robert Adam on several notable commissions, including Coventry House, Piccadilly and, Croome Court for the 6th Earl of Coventry, Shelburne House, Audley End, Derby House and Sherborne Castle. Adam's influence is seen in 'their ability to produce very early on furniture in the most startling advanced Neo-classical taste is beyond doubt...and certainly owed much to their early collaboration with the country's leading Neo-classical architects'. (Beard and Gilbert, op. cit.). A related George III inlaid satinwood commode in the manner of Mayhew and Ince, fitted with four drawers, the stiles similarly inlaid with laurel leaf pendants, with flanking cupboard doors and ribbon-tied foliate sprays and oval panels, was sold Christie's, London, May 28, 1964, lot 116.
A similar commode is found in the Gillow Estimate Sketch Books, Westminster City Archives, reproduced, L. Boynton, Gillow Furniture Designs 1760-1800, 1995, col. ill. 12, 'a commode, satinwood and purpleheart, with inlaid and painted ornament; supplied to John Christian for Workington Hall in 1788.'
Mrs. John E. Rovensky
Mrs. John E. Rovensky (c.1883-1956) was described in her New York Times obituary as a 'Social Figure who inherited $50,000,000 Owned block of 5th Avenue property'. She was first married to Selden Manwaring, from whom she was divorced in 1914. She then married Morton F. Plant, the shipping and railroad tycoon, whose house is now the headquarters of Cartier, New York, which was supposedly traded by Plant for an important strand of pearls. Plant reportedly gave his new wife $8,000,000 as a wedding present and built a new house for her designed by the Boston architect, Guy Lowell, at 1051 Fifth Avenue, on the northeast corner of 86th Street. When he died four years later in 1918, Plant left her $50,000,000 in his will. She then married Colonel William Hayward, who left her Clarendon Court, Newport, Rhode Island, when he died in 1944. Her last husband was Mr. Rovensky, an industrialist, banker and economist. Her collection was sold in these rooms, January 15-17, 1957, and achieved the highest price for any sale at that time in this country, $2.4 million. Her 213-carat diamond necklace which had its own catalogue was sold for $385,000, supposedly bought by Mr. Plant for $750,000 in 1917.
Mr. James Donahue
Mr. James Donahue (1913-1966) was the son of the Woolworth heiress Jessie Donahue and a cousin of Barbara Hutton. Described in his New York Times obituary as a 'high-living bachelor who, during the 1930s, got his name in the papers almost as often as his famous cousin,' his life was examined in the book by Christopher Wilson, Dancing with the Devil: The Windsors and Jimmy Donahue, 2001. A former president of the New York Foundling Hospital and a patron of the arts, he donated $100,000 in 1960 to the construction of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.
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