JOHN MAYHEW AND WILLIAM INCE
Theirs was one of the most successful and enduring cabinet-making partnerships, although perhaps the least well-documented of any of the major London cabinet-makers of the eighteenth century. They are first recorded as partners in December 1758, advertising from an address at Broad Street in January 1759. Earlier Mayhew had been apprenticed to William Bradshaw, and Ince to John West, before forming a brief partnership after West`s death in 1758 with Samuel Norman and James Whittle. In 1763 they were described as `cabinet-makers, carvers and upholders’, and in 1778 `manufacturers of plate glass’ appeared on their bill heading. One of their early ventures was to publish The Universal System of Household Furniture in 1762 which included eighty-nine numbered plates and six smaller ones dedicated to their great patron the 4th Duke of Marlborough.
THE DESIGN AND ATTRIBUTION
Two distinctive features of the present commodes can be confidently attributed to the firm. Chief among these traits is the use of yew-wood as a large-scale veneer, a characteristic which Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert consider ‘the wholly idiosyncratic veneer wood the firm used and possibly unique to Mayhew and Ince among London cabinet-makers of this date’1. Several documented examples give credence to this including a pair of yew-wood commodes supplied to Sir Brooke Bridges for Goodnestone Park, Kent in circa 17642 and a closely related commode supplied to the antiquarian James West for Alscot Park, Warwickshire in 17663.
The present commodes are almost identical in their design to a yew-wood commode formerly in the Moller collection and subsequently sold Christie’s London, Simon Sainsbury, The Creation of an English Arcadia, 18 June 2008, lot 65 (£167,259), the sole distinction being the gilt-bronze gadrooned border to the top (fig. 2)4. It is also worth referencing a pier table probably supplied by Mayhew and Ince to the Earl and Countess of Kerry in circa 1770, which incorporates a similar quarter veneered yew-wood top to the present commodes and which now forms part of the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery5.
A further hallmark of the Mayhew and Ince workshop is the employment of ebonised moulded borders, a recurrent feature found on many pieces from this period as evidenced by several documented neo-classical marquetry serpentine commodes - for which the firm are perhaps best known - including a pair of commodes supplied to 2nd Viscount Palmerston for Broadlands, Hampshire in circa 17886.
The corner-mounts on the present commodes derive from French models and were often employed by the ébéniste Joseph Baumhauer (maître 1749). The mount is frequently used in English cabinet-making and besides the Moller commode are found on numerous pieces associated with top London cabinet-makers such as John Cobb and Pierre Langlois, all of whom embraced le goût Français.
THE WESCOMB BROTHERS OF LANGFORD GROVE AND THRUMPTON HALL
Separated by over a hundred miles of English countryside, the estates of Langford Grove, Essex and Thrumpton Hall, Nottinghamshire were joined through the common ownership of two 18th century squires, brothers Nicholas Wescomb (Langford) and John Emerton Wescomb Emerton (1745-1823) (Thrumpton). Whilst no documentary evidence exists, it is highly probable the commodes were acquired by one of the Wescomb brothers, most likely Nicholas for Langford Grove.
Although the commodes were at Thrumpton Hall from at least 1916 until their sale by Thomas Seymour, Esq. in 1997, labels to the reverse of each commode - inscribed in ink ‘Langford’ - provide the first clue of their true origin. Further evidence comes in the form of an inventory of Thrumpton heirlooms listed in July 1918 for the then owner, Frederick Ernest Charles Byron, 10th Baron Byron (1861–1949), and which fails to include the present commodes (ref. NRA 5899 Wescomb, Nottinghamshire Archives). Lord Byron inherited Thrumpton from his aunt, Lucy Byron, née Wescomb, who died in 1912 and presumably moved to Thrumpton shortly after this date having inherited both estates. The commodes were likely moved from Langford Grove around this time.
Regrettably Langford Grove suffered a fate shared by many great estates in the 20th century and was almost entirely demolished in 1952. Thrumpton Hall was built early in the reign of James I by Gervase Pigot, who purchased the estate in the early 17th century. The house was ‘improved and adorned’ by his son Gervase Pigot (d. 1685) after the restoration. Further alterations were made by John Wescomb Emerton in the second half of the 18th century, however, the Jacobean character of the building was preserved. The present commodes are illustrated in the Saloon in Country Life in 1923 and 1959. The Saloon was an unusual mixture of the Carolean and Adamesque work and the present commodes can be seen flanking the ornately decorated pilasters and chimneypiece, above which used to hang Thomas Philips’ (1770 –1845) famous portrait of Lord Byron (now in the collection at Newstead Abbey, ref. NA 532) (fig. 1).
1 Beard, G. and Gilbert, C., Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986, p. 593
2 Treasures from Kent Houses, Exhibition Catalogue, 1984, Royal Museum, Canterbury, No. 57, p. 35, pl. 15.
3 Beard, G. and Gilbert, C., op. cit., p. 593
4 Symonds, R. W., Furniture Making in the 17th & 18th Century England, London, 1955, p. 112, fig. 166
5 Cator, C., ‘The Earl of Kery and Mayhew and Ince’, Furniture History, 1990, p. 32, figs, 1 and 2.
6 See Roberts, H., ‘The Derby House Commode’, The Burlington Magazine, Vol CXXVII, Number 986, May 1985, p. 275-283 for a discussion of this and related commodes.
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