The marriage of George, the 2nd Earl of Pomfret (1722-1785) to Anna Maria Draycott in 1764 acted as a catalyst in re-establishing his family's fortunes. As the sister of a nabob of Bombay, a Mr Delagard and heiress to Lady Wharton, it was rumoured she had a fortune of in excess of £100,000. Just over a decade earlier, George had inherited Easton Neston from his father Thomas and was mired in debt. This necessitated the sale of paintings and the renowned Arundel Marbles, now in the Ashmolean, Oxford which had been acquired by his grandfather. Little is known however of the original furnishing but it appears that the new Countess of Pomfret made a considerable impact not only to the family finances but also to the decoration of her grand new home which was sparsely decorated following these earlier sales. A fine portrait by Reynolds of the newly ennobled Countess was commissioned (Fig.1) and cabinet-makers were engaged.
Intriguingly, in the May 2005 sale held by Sotheby's at Easton Neston there was a long suite of seat furniture (lots 172-175) which is attributable to John Cobb. Later gilded they originally displayed a striking blue-painted scheme, now unfortunately lost, but one which would have been most fashionable at the time and a modern scheme for the historic seat. Furthermore, visible in the 1927 Country Life photograph of the Entrance Hall at Easton Neston is a pair of carved mahogany cabriole-legged side chairs, the form of which relates to other known Cobb commissions, such as those supplied to Hagley Hall, further suggesting a link with the Royal cabinet-maker. It is therefore feasible that the Earl and Countess commissioned John Cobb to fit out their new home. An introduction may have been established through the 1st Countess of Pomfret who commissioned William Hallett to assist with her celebrated Gothick castle at 18 Arlington Street, Hallett having been described as the 'Master of William Vile', Cobb's partner until his retirement in 1746. Substantial payments are recorded in bank records from the Vile and Cobb partnership to Hallett, suggesting that he may have retained a financial interest in the firm.
Unfortunately the limited late 19th century and early 20th century inventories of Easton Neston do not record this commode though it is possible that it had been moved to one of the London properties subsequent to the original commission. Certainly the date of this piece precisely matches the change in the 2nd Earl's fortunes and the refurnishing of his principle residence.
This elegant carved mahogany commode, conceived in the French taste and relating to the fashionable designs promoted by Thomas Chippendale (d.1779) in his Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers Director, may confidently be attributed to the Royal cabinet-maker John Cobb. Indeed the current commode may be compared in form to the pair of commodes supplied by Thomas Chippendale for Goldsborough Hall, Yorkshire circa 1770 (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, London, 1978, vol. II, fig. 226).
John Cobb (d. 1778) is first recorded in the London Directory in 1750. He formed a successful partnership with William Vile in 1751, with workshops in St. Martin's Lane, close to those of Chippendale himself and it is interesting to note that this commode follows Chippendale's 1753 pattern for a 'French Commode table' issued in The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director of 1754, pl. XLV (see fig.2). Following their appointment as cabinet-makers to George III in 1761, Messrs. Vile and Cobb became the principal suppliers of furniture to Queen Charlotte's Buckingham House, now Buckingham Palace where commissions included the celebrated jewel cabinet which remains in the Royal Collection (RCIN 35487).
The attribution to John Cobb is based on a similar but plainer commode supplied to James West of Alscot Park in 1766 and invoiced as an 'extra fine wood commode chest of drawers with large handsome wrought furniture, good brass locks, etc. £16' (H. Honour, Cabinet Makers and Furniture Designers, London, 1969, p.112 and illustrated by L. Wood, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, p.51, fig. 35). Whilst the Alscot Park commode displays the same elaborate gilt-lacquered brass handles, cock-beaded apron and well figured timbers it lacks the elaborate carving to the angles and feet that set the current example apart from many others. It is this superlative carving that differentiates the commode from its continental cousins that were also fashionable at this time, the carver's skill at enriching the form favoured over that of the bronzier's elaborate gilded mounts.
The current commode can be compared to a number of others which display the various characteristics such as ornate handles and cock-beaded aprons. These include;
1-a very similar but smaller commode sold by Mrs. Venetia Gairdner from Hingaston House, Somerset, Lawrence's Crewkerne, 19th February 1981, lot 215.
2-a commode probably originally supplied to the 2nd Earl of Coventry for Croome Court, Worcestershire, sold by the Earl of Craven from Coombe Abbey, Warwickshire, Sotheby's London, 8th October 1965, lot 139.
3-another sold by Earl Howe from Penn House, Buckinghamshire and now in the Untermyer Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Y. Hackenbroch, English Furniture in the Irwin Untermyer Collection, London, 1958, fig. 322).
4-a similarly carved commode, formerly with R.A. Lee and sold as the Property of a Gentleman, Christie's New York, 19th April 2001, lot 148.
Interestingly, the shaped sides, handle design and refined drawer construction with unusual concave quarter-fillets also appear on the pair of lacquer-veneered commodes attributed to Cobb, supplied to St. Giles's House, Dorset and sold by the Earl of Shaftesbury, Christie's London, 11 November 1999, lot 100.
Indicative of both Cobb's creative process and his awareness of printed designs, the distinctive pattern for the reeded handles and foliate backplates feature in a mid-eighteenth century metalworker's pattern book now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (nos. 1840 and 647) (N. Goodison, 'The Victoria and Albert Museum's Collection of Metalwork Pattern Books', Furniture History, 1975, figs. 22 and 42). This same design of handle was employed frequently in Cobb's oeuvre, including on the aforementioned pair of Chinese lacquer commodes supplied to St. Giles' House, Dorset as well as on the commode from the H. Percy Dean Collection, displaying a carved apron illustrated in Percy Macquoid's The Age of Mahogany, London, 1906, colour plate XL.
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