François Lieutaud was born in Marseille into a family of sculptors. He probably became a master ébéniste there in the late 17th century, before relocating to Paris to join his son Charles, who had settled there in c.1709. He was the grandfather of the better-known cabinetmaker Balthazar Lieutaud, maître in 1749, who specialized in producing cases for long-case clocks. Few biographical details about his life have emerged, but he was obviously acquainted with André-Charles Boulle who cited him as an expert witness in legal proceedings in 1719, and it is clear he was a leading member of the generation of cabinetmakers immediately after Boulle working in Paris during the Régence period, along with Etienne Doirat, Antoine Gaudreaus and Charles Cressent. He was unusual in sometimes stamping his pieces FL at a time when the use of the estampille was neither widespread nor legally required.
The majority of his identifiable surviving oeuvre consists of richly mounted commodes of typically early 18th-century form with two tiers of drawers raised on high legs. Examples of commodes either stamped by or attributed to Lieutaud include:
- Paris, Louvre, OA 9305, illustrated in Alcouffe 1993, Vol.I, no.33 p.107
- Ansbach, Germany, Residenz, illustrated in von Pfeil, no.7, p.70-72 [Fig.1]
- Collection of the Comte de Vogüé, Dijon, illustrated in Verlet, p.36
- Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire, sold Sotheby's, May 18-20, 1977, lot 450
- Christie's London, June 10, 1993, Lot 44, stamped FL
- Sotheby's London, June 10, 1998, lot 3
- Christie's Paris, June 24, 2002, lot 162, stamped FL, ex-Akram Ojjeh Collection
Like Boulle and Cressent, Lieutaud circumvented guild regulations by creating his own models for bronzes, many of which appear only on his work and are an aid to attribution. These include in particular the distinctive winged masks in the centre of the front which also appear on the Ansbach and Ojjeh commodes, as well as the acanthus clasps at the corners of the drawers that occur on the Louvre, Vogüé, and Sotheby's 1998 examples. The female masks with trailing floral chutes on the corners also appear on a bureau plat stamped FL sent from Paris to the Ansbach Residenz in 1729 (von Pfeil, no.10 p.76-78), and on a similar desk and a pair of commodes attributed to Lieutaud from the Munich Residenz (the desk transferred to the Bamberg Residenz in 1924; ill. Langer, nos.3-4, p.46-520). Another distinguishing characteristic of Lieutaud's technique is the kingwood oyster-cut veener on the drawer fronts, also used on the Christie's London 1993 commode, but seldom found in the work of other French 18th-century ébénistes.
The defining attribute of this work however is undoubtedly its monumental size - at nearly two metres in length, it is on a scale rarely encountered in French commodes of any era. It is the same width as the celebrated commode supplied by Gaudreaus for Louis XV's bedchamber at Versailles (London, Wallace Collection), though not as large as the Princess de Conti's commode double à armoires in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, variously attributed to Doirat, Gaudreaus and Cressent (ill. Château de Versailles, exhibition catalgoue, 18e, Aux sources du design, 2014, no.14, p.102-3). This piece's total width is an extraordinary 2.82 metres (9 ft. 3 in.), but this includes two corner cabinets at either end, and the main body is composed of two tiers of double drawers, with each drawer just under one metre (3 ft. 3 in.) in length. Whereas on the present lot, the two lower tiers are formed by a much longer single drawer extending virtually the entire width of the façade, measuring 165 cm (65.5 in.) across. Such a constructional tour de force underlines Lieutaud's enormous technical as well as design skills, and this commode must surely rank as his masterpiece.
THE FOLEY PROVENANCE
An old label on the back of the commode indicates it was placed in storage with Waring and Gillow, 180 Oxford Street by Lady Foley in 1947. According to family sources, Lady Foley was not known to have bought antique furniture during her lifetime, and it is therefore most likely that the commode was in her possession through her marriage to Gerald, 7th Baron Foley.
The Foleys were a Worcestershire family who made a fortune in iron and steel in the 17th century and were created Barons first in 1712 and again in 1776. They were very active in political life and their seat was Witley Court outside Worcester. In 1837 the 4th Baron Thomas Henry, burdened with his late father’s gambling debts, sold Witley to William Ward, later First Earl of Dudley, and the Foleys gradually established a new base at Ruxley Lodge, later Towers, at Claygate, Surrey during the second half of the 19th century. When the 6th Baron died without issue in 1918, the title and Ruxley Towers passed to his first cousin once removed Gerald Foley, just a few months shy of his eighteenth birthday. Gerald had run away from Eton to join the Royal Flying Corps (the precursor to the RAF), during the Great War and was gravely wounded in action, spending three years in a nursing home to recover. He never resided at Ruxley and in 1919 ordered the sale of its contents, which took place in a six-day auction on the premises by Castiglione & Scott of Hanover Square from 14-20 October. The estate was then leased and later sold in the 1920s.
It is possible the commode was at some point in Ruxley and potentially Witley and removed before their respective sales. Witley was apparently sold furnished, though detailed inventories from that period are lacking. The Foleys certainly did retain some important items of furniture, notably the enormous piano reputedly commissioned for Witley sometime in the 1830s from Erard in Paris with a marquetry case inlaid with the Foley coat of arms supplied by George Blake of London, which was sold by the family in the 1950s and subsequently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (59.76 https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/503046). The monumental scale and taste of this piano and the present lot are also consistent with the imposing floral marquetry cabinet supported by Herucles and Hippolyta by André-Charles Boulle now in the Getty Museum (77.DA.1; G. Wilson, French Furniture and Gilt Bronzes: Baroque and Régence: Catalogue of the J. Paul Getty Museum Collection, Los Angeles 2008, no.3 p.22-49). This was sold at the 1938 auction of the remaining contents of Witley Hall following a disastrous fire, and is highly likely to have been in the house since at least the early 19th century.
Minoru Foley, née Greenstone (c.1888-1968) was a colourful character of a type that England excelled in producing in the first half of the 20th century. Born in South Africa, her Jewish father and aristocratic mother were Russians who had fled the pogroms of the late 19th century and settled in Johannesburg. In 1922 Minoru was in London and met Gerald Foley whilst riding in Hyde Park, and within weeks they were married. His family were opposed to the match, not least because she was older than he and already had a son born out of wedlock, but by all accounts the marriage was a happy one, and their son Adrian, later 8th Baron, was born in 1923. After Gerald’s tragic death from meningitis in 1927, Minoru became fiercely protective of Adrian and refused to send him to school for fear of his catching an illness. He was educated at home in Eastbourne, and among his tutors was the White Russian Princess Vavara Magaloff, mother of the classical pianist Nikita Magaloff, who taught Adrian how to play the piano and speak Russian. The Foleys also traveled, staying in London at Claridge’s where their suite was decorated with Fabergé clocks, and making annual trips to South Africa where they regularly took tea with the Prime Minister Jan Smuts. After the Second World War Minoru lived in Hampstead, and Adrian became a successful composer and pianist, accompanying Gracie Fields and appearing on television and radio, and writing popular songs for films and stage productions. In 1958 he performed in an adaptation of Jane Eyre on Broadway, where he met his first wife Patricia Meek, née Zoellner, of Pasadena, California. In several auctions at Christie’s London in 1959-1960, furniture and works of art designated as property of both Lord Foley and the Dowager Lady Foley were sold, but this commode does not appear among the lots, and had probably already left the family by this time.
By an extraordinary coincidence Minoru, like Kathy Field, was an important patron of Paris couture (see introduction), and made frequent trips to Paris where she acquired creations by many leading designers, notably Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975). A group of four Vionnet gowns made for Lady Foley was recently acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/four-haute-couture-dresses-by-madeleine-vionnet/). Thus in the 20th century this commode was owned by two connoisseurs of French decorative arts and fashion, whose purchases would later greatly enrich two important museum collections of French couture. In yet another remarkable case of serendipity, lot 41 in the 17 March 1960 Christie’s sale of Lady Foley’s furniture was a pair of gilt bronze candelabra of the same model as lot 1150 in the present sale. The Fields always displayed their pair on the Lieutaud commode, and it is tempting to speculate that at some point Lady Foley did the same thing, wholly unaware that an identical arrangement would be recreated over forty years later on the other side of the Atlantic - demonstrating an astonishing synergy among collectors of French furniture and decorative arts across multiple generations and geographical locations.
We are extremely grateful to Patricia, Lady Foley, and the Hon. Alexandra Foley for their assistance in compiling this entry.