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Commode

Robert Adam (Kirkcaldy 1728 - London 1792)

Category

Furniture

Date

circa 1773

Materials

Harewood, satinwood, rosewood, deal, ormolu, brass, paint

Measurements

90.5 x 158 x 60 cm

Place of origin

London

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Collection

Osterley Park and House, London

NT 771768

Summary

An ormolu-mounted harewood, satinwood and rosewood semi-elliptical commode, one of a pair (the other NT 771769), designed by Robert Adam (1728-92) in 1773, and made either by William Ince (1737-1804) & John Mayhew (1736-1811) or John Linnell (1729-96). Some of the marquetry almost certainly executed by Christopher Fuhrlohg (c. 1740-87). The commode is hollow, and not fitted with either drawers or doors. The inlaid and partly painted top mounted to its upright front edge with an ormolu mount cast with repeating rosettes within a guilloche border. The top itself inlaid with a band of acanthus, in a wider band of water leaf and tongue, and a still wider band inlaid with arabesques of rinceau and tubular flowers centred by flowerheads and issuing from a central urn emerging from a calyx and with ram’s head handles. Edged with a slender dividing border of beading. The widest, outer band inlaid with enclosed rosettes embellished with alternating anthemia and calyx at the cardinal points, and within an inner concave-sided lozenge formed from leafy festoons, and an outer oval border of garlands of flowers. The voids between the ovals decorated with anthemia supported by calyx. All within a outer border of intertwined ribbons and flowers, and edges of reed and ribbon and beading. The façade of the commode proper divided into three compartments articulated by four tapering, projecting pilaster stiles. Its ormolu surbase moulding a continuation of the dado rail on the walls against which it sits, and cast as a row of flutes, embellished at the capitals of the pilasters with acanthus leaves, above a slender border of beading. The central compartment with a frieze centred by a tablet mounted with a cameo of a male portrait bust - probably Antinous - in a beaded oval frame atop a low pedestal and between a pair of seated (sejant) griffons, each with one foreleg raised, and in a rectangular border cast with water leaves. A small run of (possibly later?) guilloche ormolu in a simple brass or ormolu fillet surround at each end of the tablet. To either side the frieze inlaid with urns atop double calyx flowers between scrolling arabesques formed from foliage, tubular flowers and rosettes. This compartment's main panel inlaid with a figural medallion of the huntress Diana with her hounds, within a beaded ormolu inner border, an inlaid border of flutes and anthemia, and a cable- or guilloche-cast octagonal ormolu border. Anthemia atop arabesques inlaid just outside the slanted angles of the octagonal border. To either side of the medallion an inlaid stand, topped by an anthemion atop a double calyx, an urn with two ram's head handles, both issuing a floral drop mounted with a cameo, the stem of the stand turned, fluted and spiral-fluted, and on a spreading square base mounted at each visible corner with a satyr mark, adorned to the sides with cameos and on a plinth moulded with water leaves. The two outer panels also each inlaid with a figural medallion, that on the left-hand side of a woman holding a basket of fruit and leaves, that on the right-hand side a woman holding a staff and a floral wreath, both medallions within an inner border of beaded ormolu and an outer border of cable- or guilloche-cast ormolu. Inlaid around the medallions three ribbon bows issuing bell-flower festoons, the two outer bows issuing drops of calyx, further bows and cameos, and each terminating in a hanging bowl mounted to its rim with masks. The bottom edge of the commode mounted with rosette-centred guilloche-cast ormolu, all above an ormolu apron formed as an arcade of crockets tipped with pine cones. The commode's pilasters or stiles mounted with ormolu designed as alternating anthemia and palmettes within concave-side lozenges spaced by rosette-centred rinceaux, and with simple fillet outer border or casing. The stiles extending to block feet mounted with a band of cavetto ormolu cast with flutes and with an acanthus leaf at each corner.

Full description

The pair of commodes in the Drawing Room at Osterley Park are celebrated examples of 18th century cabinet-making and marquetry. They are completely hollow - fitted with neither drawers nor doors - as they were intended to be wholly ornamental rather than useful. The pier mirrors [NT 771767.1 & .2] under which the commodes sit have very slender bottom rails so that as much as possible of the commodes' marquetry tops is reflected in the mirror glass. Several designs and working drawings - one dated 20 January 1773 - for the marquetry decoration of the commodes survive in the Soane Museum (see, for instance, SM Adam volume 18/63 for a beautifully coloured drawing of the commode tops and SM Adam volume 18/58 for a coloured elevation of the centre and left-hand commode panels). They were drawn up in the office of celebrated architect and designer Robert Adam (1728-92) who had begun work to redesign and refurbish Osterley Park for the Child family in the 1760s. Some elements of the Drawing Room - the seat furniture, for instance - date from that decade, but the room was updated by Adam around 1773 in the latest neo-Classical style. The Drawing Room is a very fine example of the importance that Adam placed on the idea of the ensemble, that is a room in which all of the features - ceilings, cornices, wall decoration, dado rails, furniture and carpets - harmonise by the use of repeated motifs. Thus, the decorative tablets to the friezes of the commodes are repeated in the room's overdoors, the central medallions to the commodes are echoed in the octagonal medallions in the ceiling and the commodes' crocketed and arcaded aprons are, in effect, reversals of the crestings of the window cornices [NT 771766.1 - .3]. Robert Adam designed the commodes, but there is no surviving documentation to shed any light on which cabinet-maker executed Adan's designs. Furniture historians Helena Hayward and Pat Kirkham have tentatively attributed them to John Linnell (1729-96), writing 'there is, of course, no certainty that Linnell was the cabinet-maker but since he was extensively patronised by the Child family and had also frequently worked with Robert Adam, he would have been the most likely person to receive the commission.' Both Hugh Roberts and Colin Streeter think it more likely that the commodes were made by the cabinet-making firm of William Ince (1737–1804) and John Mayhew (1736–1811), largely on the basis of the Osterley commodes' similarity to the Derby House commode, made by Ince & Mayhew for Lord Stanley (later the 12th Earl of Derby) in 1775. The marquetry medallions themselves are thought to have been the work of the Swedish inlayer and cabinet-maker Christopher Fuhrlogh (fl. 1740-87) who joined Linnell's Berkeley Sq. workshop in 1766-7 and set up his own workshop in 1771. Fuhrlogh and Linnell are thought to have worked together on other pieces of furniture, such as a bonheur-du-jour at Stourhead (NT 731586), so it is not inconceivable that Linnell used Fuhrlogh to create the marquetry medallions for the Osterley commodes. However, since the marquetry panels are fixed by screws into the reverse of the commodes' curving panels, it is just as conceivable that Ince & Mayhew made the commodes and commissioned Fuhrlogh to make the marquetry medallions in his own workshop. The medallions were not actually executed as drawn: Adam's design for the medallions (SM Adam volume 18/58) is inscribed 'Figures painted / on a dark Green Ground...' but the actual medallions are inlaid rather than painted. In addition, the subject of the medallions - Diana with her Hounds and Venus and Cupid - were not the subjects of the medallions drawn by Adam's office. It is thought that the maker, presumably Fuhrlogh, drew inspiration for the medallions from the work of Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807).

Provenance

Osterley Park Heirloom. Listed in the inventory taken at Osterley Park in 1782 as 'Two very Elegant Eliptic Commodes with brass Ornaments gilt in Gold and very curiously inlaid and leather covers', and in the inventory taken there in 1871 as 'Two 5ft Circular Satinwood Marquetry and Ormoly pier Tables and loose leather covers.'

Makers and roles

Robert Adam (Kirkcaldy 1728 - London 1792), designer possibly William Ince (1737–1804) and John Mayhew (1736–1811), cabinetmaker possibly John Linnell (1729 - 96), cabinetmaker probably Christopher Fuhrlohg (c.1740 - c.1787), inlayer

References

Hayward and Kirkham (1980): Helena Hayward and Pat Kirkham, William and John Linnell: Eighteenth Century Cabinet-Makers (Studio Vista: London, 1980), 2 vols., Vol. I, pp. 66, 118-9 and Vol. II, pp. 55-7, Figures 113-116 Roberts, 1985: Hugh Roberts, 'The Derby House Commode', in The Burlington Magazine (May, 1985), 275-82 Streeter, 1971: Colin Streeter. “Marquetry Furniture by a Brilliant London Master.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin New Series, Vol. 29, No. 10, Part 1 (Jun. 1971), pp.418-429 Wood, 2007: Lucy Wood. “A bonheur-du-jour at Stourhead: the work of John Linnell and Christopher Fuhrlohg.” Furniture History 43 2007: pp.55-68. Hayward, 1969: John Hayward, 'Christopher Fuhrlogh, an Anglo-Swedish Cabinet-Maker', in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 111, No. 800 (Nov, 1969), 648-53, 655

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