Provenance & Patina: Important English Furniture from a West Coast Collection

Provenance & Patina: Important English Furniture from a West Coast Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 1071. A Pair of George III Mahogany Serpentine-Front Commodes, Circa 1760.

A Pair of George III Mahogany Serpentine-Front Commodes, Circa 1760

Live auction begins on:

June 18, 06:00 PM GMT


120,000 - 180,000 USD

Lot Details


each with a brushing slide above four graduated and cockbeaded drawers with lacquered brass handles, raised on shaped bracket feet with recessed castors; variations to design of relief carving

height 33 in.; width 50 in.; depth 25 in.

83.8 cm; 127 cm; 63.5 cm

By repute the Earls of Craven, probably Fulwar Craven, 4th Baron Craven (d.1764) or his nephew William Craven, 5th Baron Craven (1705–1769);

Acquired from Mallett, London;

Property from a Distinguished Southern Family, Sotheby’s New York, 20 October 2021, lot 115.

L. Synge, Mallett's Great English Furniture, London 1991, p.108, fig.119.

With the development of Rococo taste in mid-18th century England, mahogany chests of drawers with serpentine façades had become an established category of furniture by the 1750s, documented notably in the designs for 'French Commode Tables' that appeared as plates 45-48 in the First Edition of Thomas Chippendale's Gentleman and Cabinetmaker's Director (1754). One of the most accomplished practitioners of this new type was William Gomm (c.1698-1794), a cabinet-maker based at Newcastle House, Clerkenwell Close, London, whose documented work demonstrates the influence of published designs by Chippendale, Lock and Copland and Thomas Johnson. A surviving drawing by Gomm (Winterthur Library, Delaware) depicts a serpentine commode with four tiers of drawers with canted front corners in the form of scrolled pilasters, on carved bracket feet. Gomm supplied a series of four commodes of this model in c.1763 to his most important patron, Edward, 5th Lord Leigh at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire. One pair and a single commode from this commission were sold Christie’s, London, 3 May 1962 (lots 53 and 54), and numerous similar chests of drawers attributed to Gomm have appeared on the market in recent decades including a single commode sold anonymously at Christie's London, 23 May 2013, lot 200, and a near pair with Apter-Fredericks sold Christie’s London, 19 January 2021, lot 10.

A variant of the standard Gomm model replaces the scrolling pilasters at the front corners with flat canted surfaces, sometimes with blind fretwork carving, but the pair offered here is distinguished by the presence of masterfully carved applied C-scrolls, clasps and foliate elements in the manner of the royal cabinet-maker William Vile (c.1700-1767). Comparable relief carving is observed on several works Vile manufactured for the Court in the early 1760s still in the Royal Collection, among them Queen Charlotte's Jewel Cabinet and Library Bookcase (RCIN 35487, 252), and also the monumental medal cabinet commissioned by George III, portions of which are now in the Metropolitan Museum (64.79) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (W.11:1 to 135-1963). Interestingly, Vile also supplied a richly carved serpentine commode with a brushing slide above four tiers of drawers formerly at St James's Palace and now at Harewood House, Yorkshire, entering the collection there through the marriage of Princess Mary (d.1965), daughter of King George V, to Henry Lascelles, Viscount Lascelles and later 6th Earl of Harewood, in 1922.

Vile was one of the foremost cabinet-makers of mid-18th century England, part of the 'St Martin's Lane Syndicate' of furniture makers based in Central London along with William Hallett and John Cobb, with whom he entered into partnership in 1750. All were based in close proximity to Thomas Chippendale's premises in the same street. From 1761-1764 Vile and Cobb held a Royal Warrant as 'Cabinet makers and Upholsterers to His Majesty King George III' and supplied a large quantity of furniture to the King and Queen Charlotte at St James's Palace and the Queen's House (the future Buckingham Palace). Following his retirement in 1764 he was succeeded as supplier to the Great Wardrobe by his apprentice and workshop assistant John Bradburn (d.1781). 

The exceptional quality of design and execution of these commodes, with their panelled back carcases, recessed castors, and expertly matched mahogany veneers, particularly on the tops - suggesting the two were always intended as a pair - indicates they must emanate from a workshop of the calibre of Vile or another member of the Syndicate.

When published in Great English Furniture, the commodes' provenance was given as the Earl of Craven, presumably either Fulwar Craven, 4th Baron Craven (d.1764) or his nephew William Craven, 5th Baron Craven (1705–1769), whose great nephew, also called William, 7th Baron (1770–1825), was created 1st Earl of Craven, second creation, in 1801. Either or both the 4th and 5th Barons are known to have commissioned mahogany furniture of superlative quality from preeminent London cabinet-makers in the mid-18th century, and several important works with a Craven provenance have appeared at auction in the 20th century. These include a canopied bed at Christie's, 11 April 1923, lot 99; a pair of dining room urns and pedestals at Sotheby's London, 30 October 1964, lot 195; and a magnificent library table directly based on a design in Thomas Chippendale's Gentleman and Cabinetmaker's Director sold Sotheby's London, 1 December 1961, lot 162.