Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
These two commodes, which form part of a unique set of four in the Royal Collection, are of a model which is now generally attributed to the French émigré cabinet-maker Pierre Langlois. The speciality of this highly individual craftsman as a manufacturer of ‘Commodes . . . inlaid in the Politest manner with Brass & Tortoiseshell . . . touttes Sortes de Commodes . . . Inscrutez de fleurs en Bois et Marqueteries, garnies des Bronzes doreez’ is made clear in the text and decorative border of his trade card; and it is on his work in this category of furniture, mostly executed in an idiosyncratic ‘Louis XV’ manner, that his reputation rests. The lavish use of engraved brass inlay on the tops of these commodes, consisting of a finely drawn basket of summer flowers and detached sprays of narcissi, distinguishes them from others of this model and may provide an unexplored link with the circle of John Channon or Frederick Hintz, both known for their use of engraved brass. Intriguingly, all four commodes are inscribed on the tops: the brass inlay of one of the two not exhibited is clearly dated 1763 and of those exhibited one is signed J M Dutton and the other F M La Cave (in reverse). Dutton remains unidentified; François Morellon La Cave (fl.1723-65), evidently of Huguenot origin, is recorded as an etcher and engraver who collaborated with William Hogarth and is presumed to have joined Langlois for this apparently unprecedented commission. Among the émigrés working for Langlois was his son-in-law, the bronze founder and mount-maker Dominique Jean, who may have made the exceptional mounts on these commodes.
Viewed individually - and even more so as a group - the elaborate decoration and ponderous architectural form of these commodes represent a style markedly different from that favoured by George III and quite unlike the type of light-hearted French or French-inspired furniture admired by Queen Charlotte. Langlois never became an official supplier to the court but it seems that he may have attracted the patronage of the King’s unmarried aunt, Princess Amelia (1711-86), the second daughter of George II. This independent-minded Princess, who was close to both George III and her great-nephew, the Prince of Wales, owned a substantial house in Cavendish Square and in 1761 acquired Gunnersbury Park, Ealing. It seems likely that these commodes were made to stand under a set of four large gilt pier glasses in the Saloon at Gunnersbury and that they are referred to in the advertisement for the sale of the house and contents following her death as ‘FRENCH COMMODES of exquisite Workmanship, most elegantly decorated with chased and engraved Or Molu’. The sale of the contents was cancelled when the house failed to reach its reserve and the principal furniture, including the commodes, may then have been retained by Princess Amelia’s heirs, her nephews Prince Charles and Prince Frederick of Hesse. A sale of the residual contents of Gunnersburyin 1792, which was by then owned by Gilbert Ironsides, included the pier glasses but not the commodes. The link with Princess Amelia was noted only after they had been acquired at auction (without any stated provenance) in 1818 for the Prince Regent’s use.
Frederick Hintz (bronze maker)
? John Channon (bronze maker)
J.M. Dutton (engraver)
François Morellon La Cave (active 1726-66) (engraver)
London (place of production)