Lot 32
  • 32

A George III gilt-bronze and pietre dure mounted rosewood and marquetry commode attributed to Pierre Langlois, circa 1770

Estimate
70,000 - 100,000 GBP
Sold
bidding is closed

Description

  • rosewood, hard stone
  • 82.5cm. high, 103cm. wide, 51.5cm. deep; 2ft. 8½in., 3ft. 4½in., 1ft. 8in.
the crossbanded top centred by medallion of exotic timber bordered with a wreath of engraved boxwood husks and issuing scrolling foliate motifs with stylised fleurs-de-lys at the corners, above a single cupboard door flanked by an arrangement of nine short drawers, each mounted with 18th century Florentine pietre dure panels depicting a variety of flowers and birds, the shaped corners mounted with gilt-bronze rococo mounts, on splayed feet with conforming mounts, with an accompanying handwritten letter addressed to Miss Spenlove / 96 King's Road / Brighton and which reads This beautiful Florentine / mosaic cabinet was given me / by Sir George Bowyer in / January 1861 as a new / years gift / Mary Spenlove

Provenance

Reputedly from the collection of Sir George Bowyer, 7th Bt. (1811-1883) and gifted to Miss Mary Spenlove in 1861;
with Partridge, London, 1 April 1976.

Literature

William Rieder, 'More on Pierre Langlois', The Connoisseur, September 1974, pp. 11-12, pls. 3 and 4;
Partridge Fine Arts Ltd., Summer Exhibition, London, 1974, pp. 98-99.

RELATED LITERATURE

Peter Thornton and William Rieder, 'Pierre Langlois, Ebéniste', The Connoisseur, Pts. 1-5, December 1971 and February-May 1972;
Simon Swynfen Jervis and Dudley Dodd, Roman Splendour, English Arcadia: The English Taste for Pietre Dure and the Sixtus Cabinet at Stourhead, China, 2015, p. 19.

Catalogue Note

This remarkable commode epitomizes the taste of 18th century English Grand Tourists for unique pieces of furniture incorporating the treasures acquired on their travels in Italy. Mounted with perhaps the most prized of all the Italian decorative arts - pietre dure panels almost certainly manufactured in the world renowned Grand Ducal workshops of Florence - this commode displays a number of distinctive leitmotifs which allow us to confidently attribute it to leading London cabinet-maker Pierre Langlois (fl. 1759-81).

Langlois and the design

The Seven Years War (1754-1763) did little to stem the English appetite for French decorative arts and Langlois was a key proponent producing a wide range of furniture in the French taste. His fantastical trade card, designed and engraved by François-Antoine Aveline (1727-80), conveys a range of aesthetic styles from the picturesque and classical to the burgeoning taste for the Rococo (fig. 1). A fledgling style in France, the Parisian ebéniste Jean- François Oben (1721-1763) is credited with developing and refining the foliate marquetry so closely associated with Rococo decoration and Langlois’ debt to Oeben is much in evidence throughout his work.

Comparatively little was known of Langlois’ oeuvre before Peter Thornton and William Rieder's ground-breaking series of articles published in The Connoisseur throughout the early 1970s. In these essays Thornton and Rieder associate a body of previously unattributed pieces to Langlois, cautiously hanging their attributions around two documented commodes; one at Woburn Abbey supplied to the Duke of Bedford (1760) and another supplied to the Earl of Coventry for Croome Court (1764), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Accession Number 59.127). Langlois' name appears in the bills of several other noteworthy aristocratic patrons including the Duchess of Northumberland and Horace Walpole, and feature's in Thomas Mortimer’s trade directory The Universal Director (1763) where he is described as performing ‘all sorts of curious inlaid work, particularly commodes in the foreign taste’ (Thornton and Rieder, op. cit., 1971, Pt. 1, p. 285).

Commodes in the Louis XV and Louis XVI style, decorated with fine foliate marquetry panels and enriched with bold gilt-bronze mounts, were undoubtedly Langlois’ specialism. He was particularly adept at incorporating panels from other decorative art traditions and several examples attributed to him are mounted with oriental lacquer panels or Italian marquetry and hardstone plaques. Rieder’s ‘More on Pierre Langlois’ (1974), provides an in-depth discussion of the present commode, identifying it as an exciting addition to Langlois’ attributed output (Rieder, op. cit., pp. 11-12). In his article, Rieder places the present commode among a group dating to the late 1760s/early 1770s, identifiable from ‘the restrained bombe curve of the front corners, the use of diagonal linear striping to form pronounced geometric patterns on the front, sides and top’ and his characteristic choice of decorative motifs. These include Langlois’ penchant for the fleur-de-lys at the corners of marquetry panels which are often inlaid with scrolling chains of husks and leaves, and all of which are evident on present top (see opposite). A closely related example from this period of Langlois’ output, this time mounted with pietre paesina panels, is illustrated in The Connoisseur (1954) with H. Blairman & Sons and was subsequently sold Christie’s London, Important English Furniture, 8 July 1999, lot 110 (fig. 2). Other distinctive traits include the gilt-bronze mounts which are identical to several pieces attributed to Langlois. Whilst they also appear on contemporary case-furniture from other workshops, it is conceivable that they were supplied by his son-in-law, the bronzier Dominique Jean, with whom he shared premises at 39 Tottenham Court Road. (G. Beard and C. Gilbert, The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p. 526). Jean is known to have supplied mounts to other leading cabinet-makers including Christopher Fuhrlohg (active 1762 – 1787).

English Taste for Pietre Dure in the Eighteenth Century

The pervasive English taste for pietre dure is well-documented. John Evelyn’s purchase of nineteen pietre dure panels in 1644 for a cabinet provides a frequently cited example of early English taste-making for these items, but the majority of English acquisitions of Florentine pietre dure were made during the latter half of the eighteenth century at the height of the popularity of the Grand Tour. The distinctly English appetite for pietre dure furniture was summed up contemporarily by Foggini’s pupil at the Galleria dei Lavori in the Uffizi, Francesco Ginghi (1689-1762), who noted the discriminating good taste of his English clients. The confluence of English interest in Italian hardstone centred on the Florentine workshops, whose output is distinct from its Roman counterparts in its naturalistic designs of fruit, flora and fauna. The Grand Ducal workshop established by Ferdinando de’ Medici in the Uffizi in Florence lay the foundation for later workshops in Rome and Naples, and English collectors naturally flocked to purchase products of this workshop, the original source for the most luxurious of souvenirs. It would appear that the panels in the present lot were likely selected and removed from a pre-existing Italian cabinet perhaps in the patron’s collection. The removal and remounting of panels from outmoded cabinets became an increased practice in the decades after 1737, when the end of the Medici line of dukes contributed to the gradual demise of production at the Galleria’s Officina del travaglio di Pietre dure. A related example to the present lot is an earlier bombé commode attributed to Langlois, circa 1765, wherein thirteen seventeenth century hardstone panels had been reused, presumably removed from an earlier cabinet (Thornton and Rieder, op. cit., 1972, Pt. 2, p. 107, pl. 5). Perhaps the most famous example of this practice is Henry Somerset’s Badminton Cabinet, which also incorporates Florentine panels. This practice of not just acquiring but assembling cabinets incorporating these panels was evidently popular among English patrons throughout the 18th century but Langlois stands out as being uniquely adept at it.

A Gift from Sir George Bowyer to Mary Spenlove

Born in Radley Hall (now part of Radley College) in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), Bowyer was the son of Sir George Bowyer, 6th Baronet and Anne Hammond Douglas. A lifelong Italophile, in 1815 the Bowyer family moved to Italy due to his father’s mismanagement of the family fortune. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as Bowyer writes of his time in Italy, ‘I passed twenty years of my life with happiness and advantage’. Several tomes could be dedicated to Bowyer’s achievements in the Law and in Politics. Blessed with an astute legal mind, Bowyer published several important works on jurisprudence and was appointed Reader in Law at the Middle Temple. He was also an active member of Parliament for twenty-two years serving as MP for Dundalk from 1852 to 1868 and for Wexford County from 1874 to 1880. Having converted to Roman Catholicism in 1850, Bowyer’s faith played an important role in his life. He was made a Knight of Justice of the Order of Malta (fig. 3), a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great and a Grand Collar of the Constantian Order of St George of Naples. Bowyer also served as chamberlain to Pius IX, who appointed him a Knight of the Great Ribbon of the Order of Pius IX. The arts were also a passion as he even found the time to publish A Dissertation on the Statutes of the Cities of Italy.

Mary Spenlove’s connection to Sir George likely comes from the close working relationship their fathers shared. Mary appears to have been ten years Bowyer’s senior and was the daughter of a wealthy brewer and burgess from Abingdon in Berkshire, to which Bowyer had ties. Mary’s father, John F Spenlove, was not only a businessman but an active local politician. His signature and that of Sir George Bowyer’s father can both be found on Acts of Parliament in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Mary eventually took over the ‘Abbey Brewery’, running it until her death in the mid-1860s. Sir George Bowyer took over the baronetcy after his father’s death in 1860, when he may have come into possession of the commode before gifting it to Mary in 1861. The address included on the handwritten note, 96 Kings Road, was listed at that time as a lodging house Folthorpe’s Brighton Directory, 1856, so Mary’s connection to Brighton as indicated on the letter remains mysterious. However, Sir George Bowyer’s family links with Abingdon make a strong claim for a lifelong friendship with Mary Spenlove.

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