A beautiful sycamore and marquetry serpentine commode has come up for sale which has only recently been attributed to Ince & Mayhew.
Lucy Wood, the author of Catalogue of Commodes, has carried out a detailed study and has identified a number of Ince & Mayhew characteristics. For example the commode has an unusual frieze of sunflowers which is identical to a frieze on a pair of tables formerly at Mersham-le-Hatch in Kent and the marquetry of the medallions on the doors uses a three-dimensional ornament of a string of beads looped over and under the urn, which can be found on a dressing table from the Bute collection. Overall there are nine other items of furniture linked to this commode by various marquetry motifs.
Most of these pieces have been ascribed to Chippendale, as he was originally thought to be the maker of the Mersham-le-Hatch tables. However, Lucy Wood has checked and there are no accounts for Mersham for 1773-78 for Chippendale. She also reminds us that the furniture he supplied to Mersham was much more sober than the tables. (C. Gilbert, The Life and Works of Thomas Chippendale (1978) Vol 1, p222) Looking at the other linked items, she confidently attributes them all to Ince & Mayhew and suggests that stylistic comparisons support this claim.
Lucy Wood reports another unusual aspect in that expensive veneer has been put on faces that would not have been seen, eg on three sides of the stiles and the fourth side of the legs, as well as on the back face of the end panels which were only converted to doors later.
The top of the commode has wonderful marquetry which was presumably requested by the client and may give some clues as to his or her interests and profession. There is a caduceus, which is a winged staff with two snakes entwined. This was an ancient symbol of commerce and negotiation and is associated with Hermes. It was also used as a symbol of printing, from the attributes of Hermes as Mercury the messenger. There is a triangle with rings, an instrument which had recently been accepted into the eighteenth century orchestra and another implement. If you would like to hazard a guess as to what it is, please do so, using a comment. These three items are interlinked with a chain of husks. Either side of the top of the triangle lie a dragonfly and a scallop shell. The latter is a symbol of a pilgrim to the Holy Land or one who has walked the Camino de Santiago. The dragonfly may just represent an interest in nature.
Who was this person with so many different interests, and sufficiently wealthy to have this commode made for them? Presumably a pilgrim who was engaged in commerce or printing and interested in music and nature, but their identity is likely to remain unknown.
It is very pleasing to see Ince & Mayhew described by the antique dealer as one of the finest cabinet-makers of the mid-late eighteenth century and for items previously attributed to Chippendale to be attributed to them.
Sarah Ingle is the great great great great grand-daughter of William Ince and has been researching her family history for a number of years. She thoroughly enjoyed the detective work involved in tracing William’s lineage.