A George III coromandel lacquer and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode circa 1770, attributed to Pierre Langlois, the mounts attributed to Dominique Jean, THE LACQUER KANGXI, LATE 17TH / EARLY 18TH CENTURY
- Coromandel lacquer and gilt brass
- 84cm. high, 137cm. wide, 56cm. deep; 2ft. 9in., 4ft. 6in., 1ft. 10in.;
Probably supplied to Sir John Goodricke, 5th Bt. (1708-1789) of Ribston Hall, Nr. Knaresborough, Yorkshire;
Sir Henry Goodricke, 6th Bt. (1765-1802)
Then to his wife Charlotte Fortesque (d.1842) of The Manor House, Hampton, Middlesex;
Then to her brother-in-law, George Francis Barlow (1776-1847) of Bryanston Square, London
Then to his wife Maria Barlow (d.1853)
Then through his maternal grandmother Cecilia Arabella Barlow to
George James Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle (1843-1911), of Castle Howard
Then to his wife Rosalind Frances Carlisle (1845-1921)
Then to their daughter Cecilia Maude Roberts (1869-1947)
and thence by descent and on loan to Castle Howard from the 1950's, in the Gold Library until sold, Sotheby's London, 29 November 2002, lot 53.
A Private English Collection of a Noble family.
The magnificent Kangxi period lacquer from which this commode is constructed associates it with rare group of English furniture created during the 18th century, reusing panels from 17th or early 18th century Chinese Coromandel lacquer screens. Its scarcity possibly arises from the material's brittle nature which was not ideal for adaptation to cabinet-work. The name Coromandel is taken from an area on the east coast of India between the Godava River and Nagapatnam which during the late 17th century and the 18th century was occupied by a number of European trading posts which linked with the Far East. This form of cut and coloured lacquer was actually the product of an area in South China called Wenzhou (Zhejiang province) where it was called kuan cai. It was much sought after by Dutch and French traders, and also the English, being known to them as bantam work. The actual technique appears to date from the 16th century, its application being described in a book called Xui Shi Lu, or Notes on the Lacquer Industry and Lacquerware dating from the 16th century. Written by Huang Chen, a well known lacquer artist (1557–1572), which was adapted in 1625 by Yang Ming. Its main use was for large screens of twelve panels being recorded as early as the Northern Song dynasty (960–1126), and remaining as major pieces of household furniture through the 19th century. They were commonly decorated with terrace and riverside scenes, fantastic mythological beasts and birds amidst exotic flowers and trees.
From the mid to late 17th century onwards, Europe was struck with a fascination for the Orient which was to continue arguably to the present day. The passion for such pieces, propagated by the East India Companies, fuelled demand across Europe for these magnificent and exotic wares. The re-using of such panels in the 18th century was not confined to England. Lacquer panels were highly prized in the low countries and in France where the powerful marchand-merciers instructed the finest cabinet-makers to re-use this precious commodity in both the reigns of Louis XV and XVI. Given the propensity in England for the French taste in the second half of the 18th century, it is no wonder that Pierre Langlois, seized his opportunity and with his natural ability to produce pieces in the French taste, chose on several known occasions to fashion commodes from this magical and prized material along with many of the other preeminent English cabinet maker's of the day.
SIR JOHN GOODRICKE, 5th BART. (1708-1789) OF RIBSTON HALL
In 1738 Sir John Goodricke succeeded to Ribston Hall, North Yorkshire, as 5th Baronet. Since the family did not have a large fortune he worked as a diplomat serving in Northern Europe, however in 1773 he inherited a considerable fortune through his wife's father, the 2nd Lord Bingley. At this point Sir John relinquished his job and returned to Yorkshire where he embarked on an ambitious scheme of alterations and additions to his 17th century family home, Ribston Hall. In the absence of any surviving papers it is widely believed that the splendid neo-classical additions, notably in the saloon and stables were carried out under the direction of the architect John Carr of York (see Gervase Jackson-stops, 'Ribston Hall, Yorkshire-II, Country Life, 18 October, 1973, p.1142). It was at this moment that the offered lot was likely to have been commissioned as part of the huge refurbishment project. The absence of household papers and inventories for this period means that no furnishing accounts have so far come to light to confirm this.
Sir John died in 1788 and Ribston passed to his grandson Sir Henry, a parson with a passion for horses and racing. Sir Henry married Charlotte, fourth daughter of the Right Hon. James Fortesque, of Ravensdale Park, Ireland and sister to William Charles Viscount Clermont. Upon his death in 1802, the title passed to his son Harry, who was only four years old and Sir Henry's property and estates were placed under the guardianship of his widow Dame Charlotte Goodricke. At this point the commode must have become the personal property of Dame Charlotte and thus no longer a part of the Goodricke collection. After the death of Sir Harry Goodricke in 1833, the title became extinct and Ribston was acquired by Sir Joseph Dent, head of an old Lincolnshire family.
GEORGE HOWARD 9th EARL OF CARLISLE (1843-1911) OF CASTLE HOWARD
The present commode first came into the collection of the Dukes of Howard in 1853. The label to the underside confirms that it was part of a large bequest of painting and furniture which was left to George Howard, 9th Duke of Carlisle by George Francis Barlow (1776-1847). Barlow was related to the Duke through his maternal grandmother Cecelia Arabella Barlow and had in turn inherited the commode and the rest of the collection in 1842 from Sir Henry Goodricke's widow, Charlotte, who was his sister-in-law. The collection was known to the Howards as the 'Hampton Bequest' after the manor house at Hampton in Middlesex where Dame Charlotte had lived for the last ten years of her life.
The commode is first recorded in the Howard collection in 1853, in the Garden Room at Ampthill Park House, the family home in Berkshire; it is described in a group of papers entitled 'Things brought from Hampton in 1853' and is noted as '1 Indian worked commode with doors and drawers'. (Castle Howard archives NRA24681 Howard 'Inventories of effects belonging to the Barlows 1853' H2/8). The commode next appears in 1872 , in a small booklet, written by the 9th Duke's wife, Rosalind Carlisle- entitled, 'Furniture and China belonging to Mr Barlow at Hampton House, left to George Howard 1853, & kept at 56 Park Street or Ampthill under the care of Baron Parke, Ld Wensleydale 'till Geo. Howard married'. The coromandel commode is listed as '1 japanese commode, 3 inside drawers, brass corner mounts'. It appears with a number of other exotic pieces of furniture including an ebony and tortoiseshell cabinet; two lacquered cabinets; an inlaid satinwood commode; a cabinet decorated with inlaid mosaics; a large folding screen; a Chinese box; a 16th century marquetry cabinet; two corner etageres and a chess table, together with a large collection of Chinese porcelain and paintings. (Castle Howard Archives op.ct. 'Things from Hampton' H2/6/1)
In 1898 the commode moved from Ampthill to Naworth Castle in Brampton, near Carlisle, the home in which the Howards spent most of their married life, where it is listed in the Oak Parlour (Castle Howard Archives op.cit. 'List of furniture from Naworth Castle' H2/6/11). Naworth was damaged by fire in the 1840's and the Castle was reconstructed during the 1850's under the direction of Anthony Salvin, with the interiors restored by the artist Philip Webb. George Howard died in 1911, leaving Naworth and a small entail of his land to his eldest son Charles. His wife Rosalind moved out at this point and divided her time in between Castle Howard and Boothby, a house on the Naworth estate. The commode is mentioned in an inventory of Boothby in 1914, listed in the Tudor Room as 'a Japanese commode, 3 inside drawers, old, from Hampton, 2'9 high' (Castle Howard Archives op.cit. 'An Inventory Illustrated of things brought from Naworth to Boothby' H2/6/12 and H2/6/14). Upon Rosalind Howard's death in 1922, the commode was left to her second eldest daughter Cecilia Maude Roberts from whom it was passed by descent until sold in the 2002 sale. In the early 1950's the commode was returned on loan to Castle Howard where it was placed in the Gold Library of the private apartments.
Little is known of Langlois' early life and origins, but he was almost certainly French and probably settled in London some time before the commencement of the Seven Years War in 1756. It is possible he descended from a family of furniture-makers of the same name who were established in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris in the late 17th century and were said at the time to specialise in furniture in the oriental style, imitating '... fort bien les meubles de la Chine'. A connection may also exist with another cabinet-maker of the same name, Pierre-Eloi Langlois (1738-1805), who worked at this period in Paris and was made maitre menuisier in 1774. A further possibility is that Langlois trained in the Paris workshop of Jean-Francois Oeben, his early marquetry bearing a strong resemblance to the work of this ebeniste.
What is certain is that by 1759 Langlois was working from premises at 39 Tottenham Court Road, London, where he continued to trade until 1781, and that during this period he established himself as one of the leading cabinet-makers in London. The highpoint of his career was the 1760s and 1770s, when his popularity reached its peak. It was at this time that he produced his finest work, including the present commode. It was during this period also that he attracted the patronage of some of England's foremost patrons, among them the 4th Duke of Bedford, the 6th Earl of Coventry, and Horace Walpole, as well as other members of fashionable society, including the 4th Earl of Cardigan, later Duke of Montagu, Lady Louisa Connolly of Castletown, County Kildare, and her sister, Caroline, Lady Holland.
Much useful information can be gleaned from Langlois' own trade card, a copy of which is preserved in the Heal collection at the British Museum. Here the cabinet-maker announces himself in the following terms, the text printed both in English and in French:
Peter Langlois / CABINET MAKER / in Tottenham Court Road near Windmill Str. / Makes all sorts of Fine Cabinets and / Commodes, made & inlaid in the politest manner / with Brass & Tortoiseshell, and Likewise all rich Orna- / mental Clock Cases, and Inlaid work mended / with great Care, Branch Chandelier, & Lanthorns / in Brass, at the Lowest Prices.
Pierre Langlois Ebeniste. / Dans Tottenham Court Road Proche Windmill Str. / Fait touttes Sortes de Commodes, Secretaires / Encoignures, et autre Meubles, Incrustez de / fleurs en Bois et Marqueteries garnies / de Bronzes, doreez. Boetes, de Pendulles / en Vert en Ecaille et Marqueteries / garnies de Bronzes. Bras Lustres / Lanternes, raccomode les / Vieilles Ouverages, / de Marqueteries et / les remet a neuf / le tout a juste / Prix.
The French text is in some ways more helpful than the English, providing additional information as to the type of furniture which Langlois produced, as well as the style of workmanship. The trade card makes it clear that Langlois specialised in commodes, an example of which is illustrated, and it is surely significant that Langlois' own workshop was at the 'sign of commode tables'' as recorded in the diaries of Matthew Boulton (Boulton Diaries, 1769, Birmingham Assay Office, quoted in Nicholas Goodison, 'Langlois and Dominique'' Furniture History, vol.IV, 1968, pp.105-6).
Langlois developed a highly distinctive style of workmanship and design, which was markedly French in character and enjoyed particular success at a time when war with France placed an obvious limit on the importation of French furniture and other luxury goods into England. Langlois' commodes were especially close to the French, although generally with wooden tops rather than marble, an apparent concession to English tradition. As indicated in his trade card, Langlois also specialised in marquetry, particularly floral marquetry, which was of a style not seen in English cabinet-making since the days of William and Mary, but which had earlier been revived in France, notably by Oeben, with whom Langlois possibly trained, and another leading ebeniste, Jean-Pierre Latz. In addition to wood marquetry, and sometimes in combination with it, Langlois made use of brass inlay, reviving a technique which had earlier been used by John Channon and his circle, and which in France was chiefly associated with the great ebeniste of the reign of Louis XIV, Andre-Charles Boulle. In another clear homage to Boulle, Langlois also revived the use of tortoiseshell inlay, and he likewise made use of oriental lacquer, japanned decoration, and pietra dura, also producing furniture with broad sections of plain veneer. Another distinctive feature of Langlois' work was the emphatic use of large and often elaborate gilt-metal mounts, which again were of a pattern used by Oeben and other French furniture-makers. Mounts of this type appear on most of the pieces with which Langlois is associated, but are believed to have been made not by Langlois himself but by his close friend and associate, Dominique Jean. .
Dominique Jean is first recorded in 1764 and like Langlois himself was almost certainly a Frenchman. For over forty years he practised as a bronze caster and gilder, specialising in the production of bronzes d'ameumblement, or gilt-metal mounts for furniture. Among his clients were the Duke of Northumberland, for whom he worked at Syon House and Northumberland House in 1775; Lord Howard de Walden, who employed him at Audley End, Essex, in 1786 and 1790; and the Prince of Wales, for whom he worked at Carlton House in 1783-6 and again in 1807. In addition to private clients, Jean also worked for fellow members of the furniture trade, including, it is thought, John Linnell, as well as the Swedish cabinet-maker Christopher Fuhrlohg, like Langlois a specialist in marquetry furniture, with premises in the same part of London. Jean had particularly close ties to Langlois, whose daughter he married in 1764 and whose premises he took over in 1781, having perhaps worked here earlier. Moreover, in 1771 Jean took on Langlois' son Daniel as his apprentice. He is generally believed to have supplied the gilt-metal mounts for most, if not all, of Langlois' furniture, and it is likely that he supplied the mounts for the present commodes, which closely relate to others with which he is associated.
A pair of marquetry commodes, commissioned by William 6th Baron Craven and attributed to Langlois with virtually identical corner mounts and sabots sold in these rooms 30 November 2001, lot 96 (£400,000). Another commode of identical shape and dimensions, also mounted with coromandel panels, with provenance from the collection of Sir Anthony Compton-Thornhill, Bart, sold Sotheby's, New York, 23 January 1993, lot 255. Another pair of coromandel commodes supplied to the 1st Marquess of Hertford for Ragley Hall, Warwickshire sold Christie's, London, 4 July 1996, lot 300.