8023 A HIGHLY UNUSUAL COMMODE ATTRIBUTED TO CHRISTOPHER FUHRLOGH London. Circa 1770. Measurements: Height: 33 3/4″ (86cm) Width: 49 1/2″ (126cm) Depth: 19 1/2″ (49cm)
Of purplewood inlaid with kingwood and boxwood and inset with mirrored panels, the later shaped breche d’alep marble top, the front centred by a geometric pattern of mirrored triangles edged with boxwood stringing against a circular quarter-veneered panel edged with boxwood inlay, the central motif flanked by two shaped panels comprising a tessellated arrangement of triangular and shaped mirrored pieces, the panels mounted to the corners with gilt bronze triglyphs, the shaped apron centred with gilt bronze mount in the form of a fluted urn flanked by foliate decoration, the canted corners inlaid with a shaped panel filled with a lattice pattern in boxwood, the sides each decorated with a shaped panel filled with tessellated mirrored pieces, each above a shaped apron, each side opening to reveal an interior fitted with three drawers, the whole raised on four cabriole legs, each edged with a foliate gilt bronze mount and inlaid with shaped panels and circles to each side, each leg terminating a gilt bronze rococo sabot foot. Remounted to exterior.
This astonishing commode is a composition of striking originality and great sophistication, closely related to a group of transitional style pieces made by the celebrated Swedish-born cabinetmaker Christopher Fuhrlogh, furniture maker to the Prince of Wales.
The present piece represents an unprecedented departure from contemporary design in its decoration and the configuration of the drawers. Though of typical shape, the commode has abandoned the conventional arrangement with doors or drawers to the front, in favour of setting the drawers in the side of the commode, concealed behind hinged side panels. This innovation allows for the full and uninterrupted realization of a complex geometric design of almost abstract conception, with glass panels set in a lattice-work grid with a central ‘spiralling’ design of glass triangles.
Fuhrlogh’s skill as an inlayer and ingenuity as a cabinetmaker with experience of Parisian fashion is demonstrated by a group of his pieces to which the present commode is related.
At the centre of this group is the commode formerly in the collections of Mrs V.E. Triefus and Michael Knapp, inscribed to the reverse Angelica Kauffman, R.A. pinxent /C. Fuhrlogh fecit MDCCLXXII (figure 1).1 That commode shares much of the form to the present piece, with canted corners and cabriole legs and a shaped lower section to the centre of the apron carrying a foliate gilt mount.
The distinctive geometric lattice pattern to the glass panels of the present piece, and the marquetry to the corner panels, is paralleled in the geometric lattice marquetry of that commode. The panels of marquetry to the front and sides also share with the present piece re-entrant corners, though in that case they are square rather than curved.
In addition, the two commodes share the use of a reserve as the centrepiece of the composition, in the Triefus and Knapp commode carrying a figure after Angelica Kauffman rendered in marquetry. In the present piece this space is treated in a highly original manner with two ‘spirals’ of glass triangles interspersed with inlaid dots. The companion piece to the commode formerly in the Triefus and Knapp collections is in the collection of important English furniture in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight.2
A further radical characteristic of the present commode is the subtle use of plain inlaid circles in the decoration, a highly distinctive feature reflected in the group of Furhlogh pieces.
Inlaid circles appear in the re-entrant corners of the panels to the front and side of the commode and in the shaped inlaid panel beneath the central reserve. Smaller inlaid dots are seen in the reserve itself, curiously interspersed with quadrant circles, among the glass triangular spirals. The dots also appear in the junctions of the lattice work panels and between the gilt brass drop handles of the banks of three drawers concealed in each side of the commode.
Comparable plain inlaid circles also appear in a pair of commodes by Fuhrlogh in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (figure 2).3 As in the present piece these commodes are decorated with geometric patterns, though executed in marquetry, to the front and sides, with canted corner panels terminating in canted cabriole legs.
These commodes open by means of a single fall-front panel, to the reverse of which appear square re-entrant corners also seen in the decoration framing the drawers. Each of these re-entrant corners frames a plain inlaid circle much in the manner of those on the present piece.
The motif of a circular element framed by the re-entrant corners of panelling was often employed by Fuhrlogh. However, the use of this composition generally takes the more conventional form of a mount or paterae rather than that of the radical inlaid circles seen in the present commode and the examples in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. In this form these inlaid circles are not seen again in English furniture design until the work of George Bullock in the early part of the nineteenth century. For example, a pair of regency fire screens, made by Bullock for the Library at Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire feature a necklace of inlaid plain roundels.4
The inlaid circles found in the Metropolitan Museum commodes are an aspect of a more generally radical composition that parallels the design of the present piece. Like the present piece the Metropolitan Museum commodes constitute a virtually pure exercise in geometric design, with the marquetry to the front uninterrupted by drawers or centre-parted cupboard doors. The wavy inlaid lines of boxwood to the marquetry creates a sense of animation in the otherwise rigid geometry of the design, introducing a more adventurous tendency which parallels the animation imparted in the present commode by the spiralling central motif.
Significantly this group of Fuhrlogh pieces are further distinguished by their ingenious opening mechanism, recalling the unusual form of opening of the present commode with doors set unconventionally to the side concealing fitted drawers. The Triefus and Knapp commode and that in the Lady Lever Collection formerly opened by means of a mechanism whereby the doors to the front of the commode let down as panels which slid away underneath the case. However, at some point early in their history, both these commodes underwent the same alteration to this mechanism, suggesting that the two commodes must certainly have been companion pieces.5
The commodes from the Metropolitan Museum are also organised in this way, with a single panel to the front sliding away at the base. Such sophisticated mechanisms were a trademark of Fuhrlogh’s construction, allowing for large surfaces, uninterrupted by doors or drawers, on which Fuhrlogh could freely practice his complex marquetry.
A mechanism of similar sophistication is also found in a pair of marquetry commodes formerly in the collection of Lord Foley of Stoke Edith Park, Herefordshire (figure 3).6 In that piece the central panel slides away underneath the commode, thus releasing the side doors which are hinged at the corners in the usual way.7
These commodes share with the group of Fuhrlogh commodes both this sophistication in their construction and what Lucy Wood calls “a clear debt to the inspiration of French furniture style”.8 However, they are also closely related to the present piece by the canted cabriole legs to the corner and particularly by the fact that they make use of the unusual triple serpentine apron, a variation of which is found in the present piece.9
This group of pieces by Christopher Fuhrlogh is much influenced by the great cabinetmaker to the Swedish Court Georg Haupt, Fuhrlogh’s close friend and future brother-in-law who had accompanied him first to Paris and then to London in the 1760s.
Like Fuhrlogh, Haupt was a master of inlay and made subtle use of light and dark inlaid lines to trick the eye in plays of light and shade. Haupt makes extensive use of lattice-work marquetry, both to the front of a number of his commodes and in the tops, often centring these designs with a reserve. The form of these Fuhrlogh commodes, with their breakfront tripartite form with a shaped apron and polygonal cabriole legs, is also familiar from Haupt’s work.10
The advanced nature of the present commode’s design is emphasised by the fact that the pronounced geometric accent of the complex grid system of design, echoed in the marquetry of these Fuhrlogh pieces, finds a later parallel in the work of the celebrated French architects and designers of the Empire, Percier and Fontane. At the Chateau de Malmaison the architects executed for Napoleon Bonaparte an interior, published in their Recueil de Decorations Interieures of 1812, with a balustrade pierced by triangular panels in combination with a circular motif, much in the manner already essayed in the composition of the present commode.11
Christopher Fuhrlogh was one of the most prominent members of a small community of Swedish cabinetmakers who arrived in London in the 1760s. Fuhrlogh himself had been born in Stockholm, the son of a cabinetmaker, in 1740 and arrived in London in late 1766 or early 1767 from Paris, where he seems to have been employed in the workshop of the celebrated cabinetmaker Simon Oeben. His companion on his early travels was Georg Haupt, whom he had known in Sweden and who had been with him in Paris. Haupt accompanied Fuhrlogh to London in the 1760s where both men were in the employ of the celebrated cabinetmaker John Linnell. A commode at Castle Howard inscribed “Christoph Furlohg 1767” corresponds to a design amongst John Linnell’s drawings testifying to the closeness of the two men’s association.
Around 1769 Fuhrlogh set up premises of his own with his half brother Johann Christian Linning, himself a craftsmen of considerable achievements. In that year Haupt was recalled to Sweden as Royal cabinetmaker. Furhlohg himself clearly reached a position of considerable prominence, making pieces for members of the aristocracy, including the Duke of Portland and Lord Howard at Audley End and by 1783 becoming cabinetmaker to the Prince of Wales. In that year payments were made to the notable maker of bronze mounts, Dominique Jean for “Work done for His royal Highness the Prince of Wales.” Fuhrlogh’s trade card for this period is decorated with a dignified design headed by the Prince of Wales’ feathers and inscribed “Fuhrlohg Ebeniste to his Royal Highness the prince of Wales, 24 Tottenham Court Road.”12
1 Lucy Wood, The Lady Lever Art Gallery: Catalogue of Commodes (1994) Fig. 110. Sold at Christie’s 21 May 1970, lot 69, the property of the late Mrs V.E. Triefus; sold Sotheby’s, 11 April 1975, lot 140, the property of Michael Knapp.
2 ibid., No. 9 pp. 106-116.
3 ibid., p. 112-113, fig. 108, 109.
4 Christies, Great Tew Park, 27-29 May 1987, Lot. 10.
5 Wood, op. cit., p. 110 & p. 112.
6 Sold Christie’s, 28th May 1964, lot 94; Gerald Burdon, ‘Return of a pioneer: the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair’, Country Life, 9th June 1983, pp. 1536-7.
7 Wood, op.cit., p. 110.
8 ibid,, p. 110.
9 The curious stylized chinoiserie pagoda forms to the inlaid decoration on the front of the Stoke Edith commodes recall the description of Fuhrlogh as a “Cabinet Maker in the Modern, Grecian and Chinese Taste” (modern italics) – Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (eds.), Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, Furniture History Society (1986), p. 324.
10 Marshall Lagerquist, Georg Haupt, Ebéniste du Roi, Stockholm: Nordiska museet (1979), p. 166, 176, 188-191.
11 C. Percier and P.F.L. Fontaine, Recueil de Decorations Interieures (1812), Pl. 55.
12 Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (eds.), op. cit., pp. 323-5.