A pair of mid 18th century commodes on stands
Lot 50
A pair of George II carved mahogany serpentine Commodes,
Sold for £112,000 (US$ 180,537) inc. premium

Lot Details
A pair of George II carved mahogany  serpentine Commodes, A pair of George II carved mahogany  serpentine Commodes, A pair of George II carved mahogany  serpentine Commodes, A pair of mid 18th century commodes on stands A pair of mid 18th century commodes on stands A pair of mid 18th century commodes on stands A pair of mid 18th century commodes on stands A pair of mid 18th century commodes on stands
A pair of George II carved mahogany serpentine Commodes,
possibly attributable to Thomas Chippendale
each in two parts, the upper parts with shaped tops and gadrooned moulded edges with leaf clasped corners above three long graduated drawers and serpentine sides, the stands with aprons carved with 'C' scrolls and acanthus leaves, on cabriole legs and leaf carved scroll feet (2), each, 79cm wide, 52cm deep, 81cm high.

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Probably acquired by Sir David William Smith (1764-1837), Commissioner/Property Manager to the Dukes of Northumberland, and thence by descent to his wife:
    Dame Mary Smith (1803-1860) thence by descent to her son-in-law:
    Edward Tylee (1871-1885) and thence by descent to his wife:
    Constantia Amelia Tylee (1869-1904) and thence by descent to her son:
    Edward Tylee (1871-1950) and by whom gifted in 1936 to his niece:
    Dolly Lees (1901-1984) and thence by descent to her sister:
    Edwina Spencer (nee Lees, 1917-2005).

    This pair of commodes are part of a small group of known serpentine commodes raised on carved cabriole legs inspired by the French Rococo designs of Chippendale's Gentleman and Cabinetmakers Director, (1754). Three commodes from this group appeared in the sale of the collection of Samuel Messer (Christies, London, 5 December 1991, lots 104, 105 and 106). Another example formerly with Norman Adams Ltd and illustrated in C.Claxton Stevens and S.Whittington, 18th Century English Furniture: The Norman Adams Collection, Suffolk, 1983, pp.374-375. Another, the property of a Lady, was sold Christies, London, 15 May 1978, lot 101 and a further pair sold Christies, London, 1 April 1971, lot 104.

    The naturalism reflected in the carving of the stands reflects the influence of the St. Martin's Lane Academy, founded by William Hogarth in whose 1753 Publication The Line of Beauty the serpentine shape is praised as being the most appropriate for furniture. The upper part of the commodes offered here is most close to the pair of mahogany commodes from the Messer Collection (lot 104, formerly with E.B Moller and acquired for him through R.W Symonds in 1958) although with different fittings. They share the same outline and the the alternate concave and convex gadrooning with foliate carved corners. The pair of Messer Commodes have a more simplified French scroll handle with pierced escutcheon which feature on some documented Chippendale commodes, see C.Gilbert, The Life and Works of Thomas Chippendale, London 1978, vol II, fig. 270, and appears in an 18th century Trade book, see Furniture History Society Journal, 1975, nos. 1480 and 1483, p. 23. In the Messer sale, the pair of commodes (lot 104) were linked to the commode included in the same sale, lot 105, which was thought to have been commissioned by the francophile the 2nd Viscount Galway for his Green Damask Bed Chamber at Serlby Hall, Nottingham, (later with H.B Joel Esq at Childwickbury, St Albans, and sold Christies, London 15 May 1978, lot 102). It was suggested that the pair of commodes could have been 'One pair of mahogany drawers' listed in the 'Best Bed Chamber in the center part of the house' in the Serlby Hall inventory of 25 Dec 1774. It was suggested in the Messer catalogue that Lord Galway's architect James Paine (1717-1789), who was the dominant architect in London prior to Robert Adam, encouraged Chippendale to move to London and establish his workshop there and could therefore have introduced Chippendale to his client; and that both the single commode and the pair of commodes may have therefore been supplied by Chippendale. James Paine was the only architect who subscribed to the Director, and it has been suggested that he promoted Chippendale's interests. Although there is a certain cross-over in their careers, there is no documentary evidence to suggest that they regularly collaborated on projects. Certainly if one is to assume a connection between the two, the pair of commodes offered here with their possible connection to the Dukes of Northumberland fit into this category as Paine worked extensively for the Dukes at Alnwick and Syon and at Northumberland House after the death of Daniel Garrett in 1753.

    The relationship between Chippendale and the Duke of Northumberland remains unclear. In 1752 Thomas Chippendale moved to new premises in Somerset Court (sometimes known as Northumberland Court) off the Strand where his premises backed on to Northumberland House. It is thought that the move may have been motivated by the desire for a more prominent address from which to launch the Director and this also gave the perfect opportunity for the dedication to the Duke of Northumberland, one of the wealthiest and most influential patrons of the period. The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland certainly spent vast sums on their houses during the years of Chippendale's output and they are traditionally thought to be among his most affluent patrons. There were no existing records of any payments to Chippendale until 1969, when a payment of 1763 was discovered for a writing table (probably ordered for Alnwick) which cannot be definitely identified in the collection today. The lack of documentary evidence makes the assumption of any special relationship with the Duke hard to substantiate, despite the dedication of Chippendale's Director to the Duke (see C.Gilbert, The Life and Works of Thomas Chippendale, London 1978, p.153).

    The similar Messer commodes are all close in dimension to the pair of commodes offered here. The elaborate French style handles seen on the above lot also appear on the third commode from the group included in the Messer Collection sale (lot 106) and also on another closely related commode formerly with Norman Adams (op.cit.). The Norman Adams Commode has some very similar carving to that found on a further commode (formerly with Blairman and Sons Ltd and illustrated in M. Jourdain and F.Rose, English Furniture, The Georgian Period 1750-1830, London, 1953) which features the same handles as the pair of Messer commodes. The features of this group of commodes seem to be repeated in various combinations throughout the group making the attribution to one workshop almost certain and it would seem that this group could well represent undocumented 'Director style' pieces produced by Chippendale in the early years of his London workshop.


    The Tylee Commmodes

    These commodes were gifted to Dolly Lees and her four sisters by their uncle Edward Tylee (1871-1950). On Dolly's death in 1984 the commodes passed to her sister Edwina, the last surviving Lees sister. Edward Tylee lived at The Chantry, near Nunney, in Somerset between 1905-1936, after which The Chantry was rented out and he moved to a smaller property in the village of Chantry. The Chantry was later to become the home of the celebrated author Anthony Powell and was featured in Country Life, 1 June 1961 (A House built by an Ironmaster by Mark Girouard). Edward Tylee bought The Chantry after the death of his mother Constantia Tylee in 1904 and the sale of the family's London home in Oxford Square, Hyde Park. By the mid 1920's Edward Tylee's wife Maud, who was plagued by ill health, was being cared for in a nursing home. The Lees girls were related to Edward Tylee through Maud and as the couple had no children of their own they saw the Lees girls as surrogate children. In 1936, a year after his wife Maud had died, Edward Tylee made a gift of silver, china, glass, pictures and furniture which he listed by hand with one word descriptions and locations within The Chantry. Although the list makes no attempt to describe the items, listing household effects and more valuable items side by side, the list refers to the commodes as 2 Chippendale Cabinets in drawing room. Dolly, an enthusiastic diarist from 1917 until 1984, recording the exact details of day to day living, wrote to Edward Tylee to thank him for the gift, and received a reply dated May 27, 1936:

    My Darling Little Girl
    Thank you so much for your letter which I was very pleased to get today, I am very glad that you are all so pleased with the little family heirlooms that I have given to you. You all know what you are to me and how much I love you all, and of course I wanted you to have them, and I know how much you will value them. It is nice for me to know that there is still another bond between us....


    Prior to The Chantry, the commodes would have been in the Tylee family home at Oxford Square, Hyde Park. In the will of Edward Tylee's mother Constantia Tylee she bequeaths 'to my son Edward Tylee, all my jewels..., all my ornaments of person and all my plate and plated articles, furniture, linen, glass, china, pictures, prints, musical instruments, books and other items of household use...' (will proved, London, 28th June 1904). Edward Tylee's father Edward Tylee Senior who had acquired the house at 29 Oxford Square in the 1830s was the son of John Tylee of Devizes, Wiltshire. John Tylee was by the early 19th century, the town's richest man with numerous business interests including both brewing (Tylee and Rose) and banking (Sutton, Read and Tylee). In 1814 he built himself a handsome Regency house set within parkland which was known as Broadleaze (sold by the Tylee family in 1841), although prior to this the Tylee family do not seem to have been associated with any houses of particular note. Edward Tylee Senior relocated to London and is recorded as an 'Attorney and Solicitor', prior to his marriage to Constantia Gilbert he was married to Hannah Smith (1804- died circa 1855), with whom he had no children. Hannah's widowed mother Dame Mary Smith (died 1860) was living with the couple at Oxford Square after the death of her husband, Sir David William Smith, (1764-1837) and continued to do so after the death of her daughter. In her will (proved, London, 4 September 1860) it is recorded:

    ...whereas it having pleased God to take himself of our very dear and only daughter Hannah, late wife to Edward Tylee of Oxford Square with whom I have for many years lived in whole happiness, it has become necessary for me to make a new will and whereas being entitled to a life interest only in the provision made for me under a marriage settlement and having already given to my son in law the said Edward Tylee my books, linen and such part of the furniture and other effects in house in Oxford Square that belong to me except any plate....

    The Tylee family tree shows that Dame Mary Smith was herself a Tylee before her marriage to Sir David William Smith and this may have led to the bond between her and her son-in-law, even after the death of her daughter. The Tylee family furniture from Oxford Square, that was later moved to The Chantry, seems to have comprised of largely 19th century pieces and the presence of the commodes does point to them being amongst the pieces that Dame Mary Smith would have brought with her to Oxford Square from Alnwick, and that later formed part of her bequest to her son-in-law. This would also explain why in the diaries of Dolly Lees, where she mentions the commodes and records polishing them and is aware that they are valuable Tylee family heirlooms. She is also unsure of where they originated, although her uncle Edward Tylee would still have been alive, he was of course born after the death of Dame Mary Smith and his father's marriage to his mother, and one may surmise that he had little knowledge of her or Sir David William Smith and their Alnwick connections.

    Dame Mary's husband, Sir David William Smith, was a notable figure in both the early history of Canadian Government and later in the management of the estates of the Duke of Northumberland. The son of a career soldier, his father Colonel John Smith of Salisbury (who died at Fort Niagara) had served in the 5th Regiment of Foot (the forerunners of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers) with Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland (1742-1817) and had been in the unit that the Duke took from Cork to Boston. David William Smith's career is outlined in the obituary published in The Local Historians Table by Richardson, Historical Division, Vol.4, 1844.

    'Sir David entered the army early in life and accompanied his regiment to North America where his extraordinary aptitude for business in the civil department manifested itself, he was induced to leave the army, and to settle in upper Canada. He was there called to the bar, with precedence of deputy Judge advocate; he held the important situation of Surveyor of the executive council and a member of the commitee for administering the government in the governor's absence. He was elected a member of the first three Canadian Parliaments, and in two of them held the distinguished office of Speaker of the house of assembly. Sir David administered these offices so honourably and obediently that the highest honours awaited him; all of which, including Surveyor he was required to relinquish on the grounds of ill health. For his services he was created a baronet on August 30th 1821 and is described in the patent of creation as of Pickering in Upper Canada and of Preston in the County of Northumberland. Sir David was from a boy , known to, and honoured by the notice of the late Duke of Northumberland, who, on his being unable to return to Canada secured his valuable services as principal commissioner to his grace's princely estates in Northumberland. He was also executive magistrate in the County and a Deputy Lieutenant. The many excellences that combined to form Sir D.W Smith's character, were extensively appreciated. His high intelligence and talent for business earned for him in Canada the well merited recompense of government; and, more recently during a thirty years honourable and judicious administration of the affairs of the Northumberland estates, under the late and present dukes, he had the singular felicity of possessing at once the confidence of his employers, and the good will of their extensive tenantry. His funeral took place at Alnwick on Friday, May 19th. The bells were tolled at intervals during the day, and the shops in the town were closed during the afternoon. The rank and character of the deceased drew together a great concourse of persons to honour the closing rites, and witness the funeral procession, which vastly surpassed in solemn grandeur any ever witnessed in Alnwick.'

    David William Smith was articled to the Attorney General in Canada and was called to the bar in 1793. He sought to enter public office and after his father's death in 1795 and his own promotion to Captain, he gained his civil appointment and left the army. He was elected to the Canadian House of Assembly in 1792 and represented Essex (1792-1796), Lincoln (1796-1800) and Norfolk, Oxford, Middlesex (1800-1804). He also served a Speaker for various sessions of the Assembly. A posthumous portrait of Smith painted in 1859 by Theophile Hamel is in the Heritage Collection of the The Canadian House of Commons (cat no. 0-691).

    On his return to England and his appointment to the Duke of Northumberland, Sir David William Smith lived at the Commissioner's House at Alnwick Castle (built 1797, now the Duchess Community School, Alnwick). He was to play a vital role in the fortunes of Alnwick, which was, under his influence, run more successfully. His later attempts at leaving the employ of the Dukes was reputedly always met with resistance and he was alway persuaded to stay. He was a keen and enthusiatic antiquarian and put together the collection of Roman Stones at Alnwick which was to become the foundation of the Alnwick Castle Museum. His book Sir David Smith's Camps and Castles', which remains in the library at Alnwick Castle is still consulted by historians and archeologists today. The Commissioner's House at Alnwick was a furnished property,and although a man of some wealth, it seems likely that Sir David would have returned to England, after many years abroad, with only limited chattels and may have needed assistance from the Duke in furnishing his home. Inventories for the furnishing of the Commissioner's House are extant in the Northumberland archives at Alnwick but post-date the tenancy of the Smiths. It would seem possible that the pair of commodes may have been part of the furnishings of the Commissioners House, having been removed from one of the Percy residences (Alnwick, Syon House, Northumberland House) after the fall from fashion of the French Rococo style in favour of the neo-Classical style. The 1st Duke of Northumberland was a key advocate of the neo-Classical style and was one of the earliest patrons of Robert Adam, employing him for the redecoration of Syon in 1761, the commodes could after this point have been used to furnish lesser rooms. Alnwick was traditionally only a Summer residence of the Dukes, and as such often the venue chosen for the storage of items no longer in regular use at Syon or Northumberland House. There is some evidence to suggest items from the collection of the Duke remained with the Smiths and were passed down to the Tylees. Dolly and Edwina Lees were unaware of the Tylee connection to Alnwick but among items in Edward Tylee Jnr's gift of 1936, are 'Two green vases with views of Alnwick' but more significantly a watercolour view of Syon House. This watercolour, recently rediscoved in the collection of the late Edwina Spencer (nee Lees), is inscribed to the reverse 'This View of Sion House the seat of his Grace the Duke of Northumberland K.G., was drawn from Nature and Presented to His Grace on His Birthday in 1810 by His most Devoted and Most Obedient, very humble Servant Thomas Rosenburg''. Other items icluded in the Tylee gift of 1936, which could have shed light on this connection, included early silver and armorial china but it has not been possible to trace many of these items.
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