A highly important pair of George III gilt-metal-mounted Coromandel lacquer veneered and japanned commodes. Attributed to Pierre Langlois, circa 1765. Photo Sotheby's 

of serpentine form, the tops veneered with small coromandel panels variously decorated with rockwork with flowering plants and foliage within black-japanned borders decorated in gold with trailing leaves and flowers, and with a gilt-metal gadrooned molded edge, the two conforming doors below veneered with coromandel panels decorated in polychrome with incised oriental scenes depicting various figures of ladies and children within the courtyards of large pavilions within gilt-metal moldings framed by trellis and flowerhead pattern borders, opening to japanned interiors each fitted with six later drawers above shaped and molded corners continuing to splayed feet and a shaped apron all japanned in black with trailing flowers and foliage, the sides similarly veneered with coromandel lacquer panels variously decorated with pavilion scenes and rockwork with flowering trees and birds, formerly mounted with gilt-metal sabots and chutes. height 31 in.; width 55 in.; depth 24 in. 79 cm; 140 cm; 61 cm. Estimate 400,000-600,000 USD

PROVENANCE: Probably commissioned by Francis Seymour Conway, 1st Marquis of Hertford (1719–94), for Ragley Hall,Warwickshire

Thence by descent to the Trustees of the 5th Marquess of Hertford, offered Christie's, London, June 30, 1921, lot 26

Frank Partridge Ltd.

Captain the Hon. Francis Cecil Brownlow (d. 1932)

Thence by descent to his son, Lt. Col. John Desmond Cavendish Brownlow, 5th Baron Lurgan (d. 1991)

Thence by descent and sold anonymously, Christie's, London, July 4, 1996, lot 300

The Collection of Lily and Edmond Safra. Sold in these rooms, Property from the Collections of Lily & Edmond Safra, November 3, 2005, lot 135

LITERATURE: P. Macquoid and R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, London, 1924, vol. II, p. 134, fig. 10

P. Macquoid and R. Edwards, The Dictionary of English Furniture, London, rev. ed. 1954, vol. II, p. 115, fig. 13

R. Edwards, The Shorter Dictionary of English Furniture, London, 1964, p. 248, fig. 10

L. Wood, The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Catalogue of Commodes, London, 1994, p. 77, note 4

NOTE: Ragley Hall owes its origins to the 2nd Viscount Conway, Governor of three of the counties of Ulster in 1674 and one time Secretary of State to Charles II who commenced building 'the most ambitious house in late 17th century Warwickshire.....on a hilltop sight to "command the prospect", well away from the nearest village' (Tyack, op. cit.). On his death in 1683, the house was left an empty shell for more than fifty years until 1749 when the 2nd Lord Conway of the second creation, and later Earl of Hertford, decided to revive the interiors. The main achievement of the 1750s was the decoration of the Great Hall to the designs of James Gibbs with superb plasterwork by Giuseppe Artari, who also appears to have worked on several other rooms at the same time. These rooms, on the east side of the house, and those on the south side which were decorated in a simpler manner were completed by the mid 1760s. Work on the west side of the house was finally started under the direction of James Wyatt, the exuberance of the earlier rococo decoration being superseded by a more chaste neo-classical style. The present commodes were obviously commissioned by the Earl of Hertford during the decoration of Ragley in the late 1750s and early 1760s. Designed in the French style as practiced by such émigrés as Pierre Langlois, and popularized by contemporary English and French pattern books, they can be compared to a commode by the French cabinet-maker Jacques-Philippe Carel (Wolversperges, op. cit., pl. 48). Of almost the same profile, this too is veneered in coromandel lacquer, although the over-lavish ormolu mounts and marble top are purely French and are rarely found on English pieces.

Coromandel lacquer is one of the rarest forms of decoration to be found on English furniture dating from the mid 18th century, possibly because of the difficulties in applying its brittle form to the subtle curves of the French inspired rococo. This pair of commodes belongs to a small group of similarly coromandel-lacquered commodes, including one from Ribston Hall, Knaresborough, possibly supplied to Sir John Goodricke, 5th Bt., (1708–1789), (sold, Sotheby's, London, November 29, 2002, lot 53), and another from the collection of Sir Anthony Compton-Thornhill, Bt. (sold, Sotheby's, New York, January 23, 1993, lot 255). A single commode from Ragley, also sold at Christie's in 1921, of slightly smaller size, retained its original ormolu mounts, which are missing from the present pair. These, together with the previously mentioned pair, are closely related to various mounts found on a series of both marquetry and black and gold lacquer commodes which have been attributed to Pierre Langlois. Langlois (fl. 1759–81) was one of the most prolific and well known émigré French cabinet-makers working in London in the latter part of the 18th century, Thomas Mortimer noting in the Universal Director, 1763, that he made 'all sorts of curious inlaid work, particularly commodes in the foreign taste, inlaid with tortoiseshell brass etc.' The style and execution of his marquetry and carcase work has many similarities to the work of the Parisian &b&niste Jean-François Oeben, and it is possible that he trained in his workshop. Although it is obvious that he must have had a number of wealthy and prominent patrons, only two pieces survive which are fully documented – a commode supplied to the Duke of Bedford, Woburn Abbey in 1760, and another supplied to the 6th Earl of Coventry, Croome Court in 1764. Other patrons include Lady Louisa Connolly at Castletown, the Duchess of Northumberland, and Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill. Langlois' elaborate gilt-metal mounts which were also closely related to contemporary French ormolu, were almost certainly supplied by his fellow émigéré Dominique Jean who shared his premises at 39 Tottenham Court Road until 1781. The name Coromandel is taken from an area on the east coast of India between the Godava River and Nagapatnam which during the late 17th century and the 18th century was occupied by a number of European trading posts. This form of cut and colored lacquer was actually the product of an area in South China called Wenzhou (Zhejiang province) where it was called kuan cai. It was much sought after by Dutch and French traders, and also the English, being known to them as bantam work. The actual technique appears to date from the 16th century, its application being described in a book called Xui Shi Lu, or Notes on the Lacquer Industry and Lacquerware dating from the 16th century. Written by Huang Chen, a well known lacquer artist (1557–1572), which was adapted in 1625 by Yang Ming. Its main use was for screens, large screens of twelve panels being recorded as early as the Northern Song dynasty (960–1126), and remaining as major pieces of household furniture through the 19th century. They were commonly decorated with terrace and riverside scenes, fantastic mythological beasts and birds amidst exotic flowers and trees. Very rarely did these scenes contain European figures; the less elaborately decorated reverse-sides being inscribed with poems of dedication. 

The screens were made from vertical panels of softwood which were thoroughly smoothed. Any cracks or imperfections were then filled with a mixture of unpurified lacquer, glue, and bone ash, with the occasional addition of silk and hemp fibres. This was then covered with a textile fabric applied to the base with a paste of lacquer and glue. Further layers of a ground coat containing lacquer and burnt bones were then applied. Final coats of lacquer were then laid onto this surface, each application being carefully rubbed down until a lustrous surface was obtained. It was at this stage that the surfaces were cut with sharp knives to provide the detailed decoration which was then colored with oil-based paints. 

See: H. Avray Tipping, English Homes, Period VI – Vol. I Late Georgian, 1760-1820, London, 1926, fig. 517

Geoffrey Wills, English Furniture 1760–1900, London, 1979, p. 11, fig 8

Ragley Hall, Guide Book, Derby, 1972 

P. Thornton & W. Rieder, 'Pierre Langlois, Ébéniste, parts 1, 2, 3, 4', The Connoisseur, December 1971, March, April, May, 1972 

T. Wolversperges, Le Meuble Français en Lacque au XVIII Siecle, Paris, 2000, p. 57, fig. 48, for a commode of this profile by Jacques-Phillipe Carel, circa 1750. Similarly veneered with coromandel lacquer, it is more richly mounted in the rococo manner with ormolu mounts and has a marble top 

W. De Kesel and G. Dhont, Coromandel Lacquer Screens, Ghent, 2002, pp. 97–105

Sotheby's. Masterworks. New York | 27 Jan 2012