A Pair of Commodes Attributed to Mayhew & Ince
Width: 54 ½ " 138cm
Depth: 27 ¼ " 69cm
Diameter: 27 ¼ " 69cm
This grand pair of commodes were made by one of the most important and longest running partnerships of the eighteenth century furniture trade. Responsible for many of the most important commissions of the period, Mayhew & Ince offered their clients a most comprehensive service. They carried out everything from the most expensive inlaid cabinet work to the plainest of tables. Rather impressively, and presumably a reflection of the quality of the work undertaken and the service provided, their clients were often very loyal. In the case of Lord Darnley for example, patronage continued for 42 years.
Their softly curving form gives these commodes an elegance rarely found in such large pieces, and prevents them from over- imposing. The unusual design, with lobed corners punctuating the trellis panels to the front and sides, is matched by the choice of some exceptional woods for the marquetry, including a remarkable ‘marbled’ wood in the gadroons of the central urn. This combination prompts us to speculate about the original context for which the commodes were commissioned. The predominant trellis motif suggests that they may have been for a garden room, and the uncommon woods could perhaps indicate a botanical enthusiast as the patron.
Above all, it is very important to point out the rarity of finding a pair of commodes of this scale by one of the most important cabinet making firms in London.
In this fine pair of commodes the viewer’s eye is naturally drawn to the tops – a reminder of the close relationship, in architectural usage, between commodes and pier tables. The central festooned urn within an oval medallion is surrounded by a rich trellis parquetry overlaid by luxuriant foliate scrolls and laurel swags; and the whole is bordered by vivacious trails of berried leaves, skilfully adjusted to turn around the lobed corners, which echo the ormolu-mounted outer profile. The façade below, by contrast, is highly unusual in having its principal decorative focus at the front corners. The marquetry ‘antique’ vases here punctuate otherwise uninterrupted trellis panels on the wide front and the end doors, which are bordered to match the top. The distinctive lobed and serpentine-fronted profile is accentuated by horizontal brass mouldings at the top, beneath the frieze and along the bottom edge.
The unusual design is matched by the choice of some exceptional woods for the marquetry, including a remarkable ‘marbled’ wood in the gadroons of the central urn. This combination of circumstances prompts us to speculate about the original context for which the commodes were commissioned. The predominant trellis motif suggests that they may have been for a garden room, and the unusual woods could perhaps indicate a botanical enthusiast as the patron.
While the identity of the original patron still eludes us, the makers declare themselves plainly – by the design, decoration and several technical features – as the leading partnership of John Mayhew and William Ince, established in Broad Street, Soho for forty-five years (1759–1804). The ‘antique’ urn is a constantly recurring motif in their marquetry repertoire, on which they rang innumerable changes. Rich scrolling foliage is also a highly characteristic idiom, as is the quasi-illusionistic fashion in which this is draped across the parquetry of the top. The gadrooned brass mount fitted to the top was also frequently favoured by this practice.
The form, serpentine in plan but strictly horizontal at the bottom edge (with no answering serpentine apron), is paralleled in a pair of commodes at Broadlands, Hampshire – again with comparable ‘antique’ vases – which were probably delivered by Mayhew & Ince in 1788. Evidently they promoted this design to their clients, to judge by other examples of similar type. The low-slung form, of a slightly ambivalent square-serpentine outline, finds other variations among commodes attributed to this firm, for instance a pa