Lost and Found

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on December 7, 2009

From the website of Sue Bond, Public Relations: Specializing in Fine Art, Antiques, and Cultural Events:

Burlington House Commodes Return after 150 Years
Royal Academy of Art, Burlington House, London, 27 July — 31 December 2009

John Mayhew and William Ince, attributed

Securely recorded in the collection of the Hon. Charles Compton Cavendish (1793-1863), later 1st Lord Chesham, who inherited Burlington House in 1834, the commodes were almost certainly made for his father, Lord George Cavendish (1754-1834), later 1st Earl of Burlington, who moved to Burlington House following his marriage in 1782 and who is known to have commissioned a quantity of related satinwood and marquetry furniture at this period. There is also evidence that the commodes were specifically altered as part of the remodelling of the state apartments at Burlington House for Lord George Cavendish in the early 19th century, having added side panels of that date which are shaped to match the re-configured profile of the walls and skirting in these interiors.

Removed from Burlington House when it was sold in 1854, the commodes remained in the Cavendish family at Latimer, the family seat in Buckinghamshire, until they were sold by John Compton Cavendish (1894-1952), 4th Baron Chesham, at Sotheby’s in 1945 when it was clearly stated in the catalogue that they came from Burlington House. The commodes then entered the collection of the 2nd Lord Glenconner who sold them at Christie’s in 1957 (£5,040) when the Burlington House provenance was overlooked and the connection was lost and not recovered when they were sold again at Christie’s in 1984 (£59,400). It is only thanks to Joseph Friedman who spotted a label on the reverse of one of the commodes that their history has again come to light.

The label indicates that in 1854 they belonged to Lord Burlington’s younger son, the Hon. Charles Compton Cavendish (1793-1863), later 1st Baron Chesham, who had inherited Burlington House following his father’s death twenty years earlier. The date of the label coincides with the sale of Burlington House by Lord Chesham to the Government as the eventual home for the Royal Academy and other cultural institutions. Friedman concluded that the label must have referred to a lost inventory compiled when the house was sold and further research led him first to the 1945 Sotheby’s catalogue and then to the 1957 and 1984 Christie’s catalogues.

The commodes represent the highest standards of Neo-classical design and craftsmanship, having almost certainly been produced by the leading London cabinet-makers John Mayhew and William Ince (fl. 1758-1804) who also worked extensively for Lord George Cavendish’s elder brother, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, from whom Lord George originally leased Burlington House before acquiring the property outright.

These important commodes are constructed of deal, mahogany and oak, veneered with figured West Indian satinwood and holly with rosewood bandings, hare-wood and burr-yew marquetry and ormolu mounts. Their presence in Burlington House will significantly enhance both the recent restoration of the state apartments and the public’s understanding of these interiors as well as being the first time in over 150 years that any of the historic furnishings from the house can be seen in their original context. . .

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