A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode
Lot 137Y
A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode
£80,000 - 120,000
US$ 140,000 - 210,000
Auction Details
A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode
Lot Details
A George III sabicu, rosewood and gilt-brass mounted serpentine commode
Inlaid throughout with engraved cartouche shaped bandings, decorated with shading, scrolls and foliage united by bobbin-shaped clasp motifs, the top with 'book-matched' veneers within a broad crossbanding, the three similarly veneered long graduated drawers with foliate-cast handles and keyholes within inlaid cartouche shaped motifs, the projecting canted corners with rococo mounts extending to sabots, the front apron applied with a pierced cartouche mount, the sides with oval veneers framed by conforming engraved bandings, the inside back of the top drawer bearing the ink manuscript label 'Chest of Drawers/ formerly belonging to King/ George IV. Brighton.'; the lower drawer with a similar label beneath 'Chest of Drawers. Purchased/ by J. Cocum Esq. at the sale/ of effects at the Royal Pavilion/ Brighton./, 122cm wide, 60cm deep, 85cm high (48" wide, 23.5" deep, 33" high).

Footnotes

  • Provenance: Probably George IV at The Royal Pavilion, Brighton and thence acquired by:
    John Cocum (1786-1860) Clerk of the Royal Stables, Royal Mews, Windsor and Grand Parade, Brighton thence by descent to his daughter:
    Alphina Amelia Keen (1816-1889) later acquired by:
    Frederick David Sassoon (1853-1917)and thence by descent to his daughter:
    Mrs Paul Wallraf, formerly Muriel Ezra of Foxwarren Park, Cobham, Surrey and thence by descent to her daughter:
    Mrs Raymond Sawyer (née Ruth Ezra)of Chestnut Lodge, Cobham, Surrey

    John Cocum, Clerk of the Royal Stables (1786-1860)

    Although biographical details of John Cocum (1786-1860) are relatively scant it is clear that he held various positions within the Royal Stables commencing in 1815 and culminating in his appointment as the Clerk of the Royal Stables. Although based largely at Windsor it appears that Cocum had connections to Brighton and the Royal Pavilion, serving under George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria.
    The Privy Purse Establishment Book preserved in the Royal Archives do show Cocum as involved in some form of transaction regarding acquiring furniture in 1844, under 'Salaries and Allowances in 1844', the entry for John Cocum shows no amount but the words 'in lieu of a table', perhaps indicating that Cocum received furniture in lieu of a salary or pension. Although this points to him acquiring a 'table' it raises the question of whether he acquired more furniture or if the use of the word could relate to the antiquated term 'Commode Table' which was certainly used by Thomas Chippendale to describe French style commodes in the third edition of his 'Director' (1762). A note in Matthew Boulton's diary for 1769 in the Birmingham Assay Office Library also makes use of the term referring to Pierre Langlois '..who sells inld wood cabinets on the same side as Percy Street Tottenham Court you see a sign of commode tables &c.' (see Furniture History, 1968, p.106.)

    John Cocum may well have been looking to acquire furniture at this point for his re-modelled grace and favour house at Windsor. Works had commenced on a new Royal Stable and Riding House at Windsor around 1842 and it would seem that Cocum's house was part of this project. The Bucks Herald of 29 October 1842 reported:
    'The official residence of John Cocum Esq., the Clerk of the Stabling, resident at Windsor, will shortly undergo very extensive alterations and improvements'
    There are frequent references to John Cocum's role within the Royal household; In reports of the lying in state of George IV's brother, the Duke of York in 1827, Cocum is described as one of 'the Gentleman of Arms who are in fact the Kings bodyguard' who were in attendance in military uniform at the ceremony. It was reported in The Windsor and Eton Express on 9th January 1836 that John Cocum, Clerk of the Royal Stables, was amongst nineteen members of the Royal Household who came up to Windsor from Brighton to vote in a local election. On the census returns for 1841 and 1851 he is recorded living at the Royal Mews in Windsor but it seems likely that his role involved duties at Brighton where he appears on the electoral roles in the late 1830s and early 40s with a house on Grand Parade. The role of Clerk of the Royal Stables was the principle clerical officer of the stables and in 1782 the role was defined as follows:
    Superintend and to direct the Servants and the Business of the Stables under him; to execute all Orders relative to the same; and to control and pay the Tradesmen's Bills, small Salaries and to keep the Accounts thereof, and Pensions
    The clerk was responsible for paying all salaries, bills and creditors at the 'Cofferers' office and the role of clerk was appointed by Royal Warrant.
    When Cocum died in 1860, aged seventy four at Castle Hill, Windsor he was still holding the position of Clerk of the Royal Stables, his funeral was reported in the Reading Mercury on March 10, 1860 'stating that '...the remains of John Cocum Esq., whose death is so much regretted in the Royal Establishment, were buried in the family vault at Kingston, Surrey'. Cocum left all of his personal effects in his will of 23 March 1860 to his then unmarried eldest daughter Alphina Cocum (1816-1889)

    The Sassoons and Brighton

    It is not certain how the commode came into the collection of Frederick David Sassoon (1853) who lived at 17 Knightsbridge, London, but whose family did have very strong connections with Brighton. The Sassoon family's Mausoleum in the town notably reflects the Indo-Sarcenic style of the Pavillion. The Sassoon family were descended from Sheikh Sason ben Saleh (1750-1830) head of the Jewish banking community in Baghdad whose son David Sassoon (1792-1864) was instrumental in developing the families trading businesses. By 1858 the Sassoons had begun to take up opportunities in England under the direction of Sassoon David Sassoon (d.1864). Three of Sassoon David Sassoon's brother's Albert, Arthur and Reuben continued the business in England acquiring mansions in London, country houses, shoots in Scotland, studs at Newmarket, and seaside places at Brighton. Their presence in Brighton was noted by the M.P Henry Labouchere was said that Brighton was ' sea-coast town, three miles long and three yards broad, with a Sassoon at each end and one in the middle'.

    The Royal Pavillion - The end of a Royal Residence

    After the death of George IV, William IV continued to use the Pavilion but Queen Victoria disliked the lack of privacy and with the building of Osborne House the Pavilion fell from royal favour, her last visit to Brighton being in 1845. The Government planned to sell the building and grounds but after public outcry, The Brighton Commissioners and the Brighton Vestry successfully petitioned the Government to sell the Pavilion to the town of Brighton for £53,000 in 1850 under the Brighton Improvement Act. In 1860 The Royal Stables were converted into a concert hall and was used as assembly rooms.
    The interiors of the Pavilion were completely stripped out by The Lord Chamberlain's Department and The Office of Woods and Forests and all of the Pavilion's original fixtures and fittings were removed, ending up at Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace, the transport work keeping a local Brighton carrier busy for two years. The dispersal seems to have been far from straightforward and it was reported in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle that:

    ...The walls, have been stripped of their beautiful covering-medallions of Chinese subjects, painted in the first style of art ; the beautiful marble chimney-pieces have been torn down, though, as if a doubt arose in the performance of the work, a portion of the marble still remains, and this also is the case with the white marble bath of George the Fourth. All the grates have been removed-not a stick of furniture remains; in fact, the Palace is a wilderness, only inhabited by mice. By whose orders, it may be asked, was all this done? To answer this, eve must disclose a little of the beautifully complicated machinery by which Royal Palaces are managed. Three different powers have been at work upon the poor Palace-all distinct from, and very jealous too, as will be seen by and by, of each other, viz., firstly, the Lord Chamberlain, who claims as his peculiar domain the interior of the Palace; secondly, the Lord Steward, who claims the stables, gardens, &c.; and thirdly, the Woods and Forests, to whom, as the representative of the Government, all the land belongs, but nothing erected upon it. It was the duty, however, of the Woods and Forests to keep the fabric in perfect repair-to mend the windows, paint the exterior, &c; but not to step over the threshold. Ex. grd.; A few days ago a man wished to repair some broken windows, and thought that he might get at them in the usual way, by the stairs; but to do that he must enter the interior, and the Woods and Forests, had no business in the interior -so the man had to get his ladder and mend the broken windows on the outside! A beautiful instance, this, of State etiquette."This division of power even extended, it seems, to the "moveables." One portion of the Royal property, as the wine, plate, glass, &c., fell under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain ; another portion, embracing, we believe, the most humble but indispensable articles of crockery, belonged to the Lord Steward ; and it was nothing short of desecration for the employees of one functionary to lay hands upon the property of another. The Lord Chamberlain sent down his men and orders; the Lord Stewart sent down his men and orders; and the Woods and Forests sent down their men and orders. At first, indeed, this latter power had no locus standi its the Palace; it could only keep up a surveillance on the outside; but, in the end, it will most probably swallow up all. On the day following the sale of the plants, Woods and Forests entered upon possession of the stables ; the grounds followed ; and, if the Bill to be brought in be passed, the Palace will complete the tale, and Woods and Forests be the Auctioneer to put it up and knock it down. Last week, the workmen who have been employed the dismantlement of the Pavilion had something like a jollification in the garden, and warehouses, and out-places-the last jollification probably which the Brighton Pavilion will ever behold - Brighton Herald.

    Although there is no evidence or record of any kind of public auction of residual contents of the Royal Pavilion, it has not been established whether there was some form of sale once the building had been cleared. Rumours of a sale persist and the Office of Woods and Forests could have arranged some kind of dispersal. There was a dispersal sale in 1851 which followed the demolition of the Service Wing and Royal Chapel after the Pavilion was acquired by the Municipality. The sale was held by Messrs Webb on Wednesday the 4th June 1851 under the Royal Pavilion Dome and comprised largely of building materials although the advertisement in The Sussex Advertiser does mention 'cupboards, dressers and plate racks' but the nature of the sale would imply these were more utilitarian items.
    In the late 1860's Queen Victoria returned surplus fittings that had not been employed elsewhere and more were returned by George V and Queen Mary after World War 1. Queen Elizabeth II has loaned over one hundred items of the original furniture back to the Pavilion.

    Design and Attribution

    Thomas Chippendale, in his third edition of 'The Gentleman and Cabinet maker's Director', introduces a commode in the French manner of entirely bombé form in 1761, described as a 'Commode Table'. He also explains two of the designs dated 1760 are to be furnished with 'brass work mounts' modelled in wax, then cast. From the fact that he felt that he had to explain this technique, we can infer that few English cabinet makers were familiar with the manufacture of ormolu mounts. In Ince and Mayhew's, The Universal System of Household Furniture, (1762) a commode dressing table is included for which the ornaments can be brass or wood gilt. Pierre Langlois, the London cabinet-maker most synonymous with French style furniture in this period is thought to have introduced the fashion for this style of serpentine commode, enriched with golden acanthus-scroll mounts. Langlois had established himself in England by 1759 and his clientele included John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford, and George William, 6th Earl of Coventry.

    French style commodes are associated with several London cabinets makers or workshops known to have produced furniture in the French manner. The furniture historian Ralph Edwards highlighted some of the problems involved in attributing furniture to individual makers, 'Attributions based on style alone are hazardous and unwarrantable...Leading makers often changed partners... a distinctive ornament now associated with one firm might be expected to figure...in the work of another' (Thornton, P. and Rieder, W.,'Pierre Langlois, Ebéniste', Parts II, Connoisseur, February 1972, p. 108).
    The group of commodes of the low slung bombe form similar to that of the commode offered here is relatively small. Lucy Wood discusses a comparable group of painted commodes (No.6) in The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Catalogue of Commodes, A gilt and painted commode supplied by John Carrack and John Cobb and purchased by John Hussey Delaval, 1st Lord Delaval for Seaton Delaval Hall (1728-1808). It remains unclear as to whom was responsible for the manufacture and decoration of this commode. The Delaval commode is linked to the japanned commode (en-suite with a pair of corner cupboards RCIN 21220) in the Royal Collection which are believed to have been acquired by Queen Charlotte and in a modified rococo style in line with the style that the Queen is thought to have favoured.

    In construction the commode offered here differs from the painted examples but shares parallels with the commode disussed in L.Wood, op.cit., No.7 which was made for Thomas Villiers (1709-1786) and is attributed to John Cobb on the strength of similarities with the documented commode (with en-suite pedestals) supplied by Cobb to Paul Methuen in 1772. The commode offered here also displays the double panelled backboard with no constructional crossrail and the use of a reddish brown stain to the back and underside.
    A pair of George III mahogany commodes with identical handles and angle mounts and reputedly from Stowe, Buckinghamshire, possibly commissioned by Richard Grenville-Temple, Earl Temple, Viscount Cobham (1711-1779) were offered Sotheby's London, 22 November 1991, lot 73. A further commode of this period with identical handles from the collection of the Hon. John Murray of Edinburgh was sold Christie's, London, 24 June 1982, lot 115. The angle mounts appear again with the identical apron mount on a George III ormolu mounted black and gold chinoiserie decorated lacquer commode which was sold Christie's London 19 November 1987, lot 86.

    John Cobb

    John Cobb (1715-1778) worked in premises at 72 St Martin's Lane, London. Little documentation exists regarding his early life. He completed his apprenticeship in 1736 entering into partnership with William Vile in 1751 and taking over the firm upon Vile's retirement in 1764. In 1755 the firm had expanded taking over the neighbouring St Martin's Lane premises of William Hallett (d.1781). By this time Cobb himself held very much a managerial role and was primarily concerned with design and quality control. In 1761 Cobb was granted a royal warrant to supply furniture to the crown under the direction of the Great Wardrobe. In 1755 he married Sukey Grendey, the daughter of the prominent cabinet-maker Giles Grendey. He took the firm in a new direction specialising in marquetry and introducing new woods for inlay such as harewood, burr-yew and fruitwoods, often applied to the bombé form seen here in the 'French manner' of the 1750s which was introduced to London by Pierre Langlois and popularised by Chippendale's Director.

    The Royal Pavilion Brighton

    The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, the famed Indo-Sarcenic building with opulent Chinoiserie interiors was built in three stages for George IV while Prince Regent. The Resort town of Brighton had become fashionable through the residence of George's uncle The Duke of Cumberland who shared a similar excessive lifestyle to that of the young prince. The Prince also favoured Brighton as a location for his liaisons with his long term companion Mrs Fitzpatrick. He initially rented a modest farmhouse overlooking the Steine, a grassy area used as a promenade for visitors. Building began in 1787, Henry Holland (1745-1806) who has worked with the Prince on Carlton House in London was employed to enlarge the existing building and this became one wing of what was to become known as the Marine Pavilion and was decorated in Holland's French influenced neo-classical style. The Prince commenced works at the Pavilion in the wake of a scandal over the overspending and excess involved in the building and decoration of Carlton House (1783-1796). In 1795, the Prince was in debt to the tune of the enormous sum of £640,000 and it was only his marriage to Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821) that provided the financial solution. A grand riding school was built in the Indo-Sarcenic style in 1803 to the designs of William Pordern (c.1755-1822) providing stabling for sixty horses, and dwarfing the Pavilion itself. In 1801 Holland was commissioned to design substantial extensions and to further alter the Pavilion.
    John Nash (1752-1835) remodelled the Pavilion between 1815-1822, during which time the interiors continued to develop their considered and extraordinary character. The interiors were the work of Frederick Crace and the little known decorative painter Robert Jones and were heavily influenced by the Indian and Chinese styles. While Carlton House was furnished in a grand Louis Seize style it is not clear why the Prince had been so inspired by the Chinese style for the interiors produced at the Pavilion in the early 19th century. Although the Chinese taste had been widely employed by the English aristocracy in interior decoration during the mid to late 18th century it was no longer at the forefront of fashion. This restrospection from the Prince, normally a man of contemporary fashions, has been attributed to both a nostalgia for his youth as he approached middle age but also through a desire to distance himself, post Revolution, from the taste of the French Court but the 1820's the French influence began to re-emerge at the Pavilion. The largest expenditure on the interiors during the Nash development was with the firm of Bailey and Saunders successors through Tatham and Bailey of Elward Marsh and Tatham who figured strongly in earlier schemes created for the Pavilion. Older or re-used furniture certainly played a part in the furnishing of the Pavilion. By the 1820s more focus was being given over to 18th century French furniture, some of which had been acquired for the Chinese Drawing Room at Carlton House around 1790; there were also a pair of narrow Louis Seize cabinets incorporating Japanese lacquer in The Red Drawing Room and two cabinets by Weisweiler for the South Drawing Room. The suite of Indian ivory veneered sandalwood furniture which was bought by George III for Queen Charlotte in 1781 was then purchased back by George IV for the Royal Pavilion at his mother Queen Charlotte's sale at Christie's in 1819 (now at Buckingham Palace).

    Our thanks to Kate Elms of The Brighton History Centre for some of the research relating to this note.
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