The Wallace Collection

A dragon commode attributed to Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus
Treasure of the Month - April 2004

A dragon commode attributed to Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus

This splendid commode (F85), dated to c.1735-40 and attributed to Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus, is one of the finest pieces of furniture in the Wallace Collection.

With its curvaceous front and splayed sides, stunning kingwood veneer and incredible gilt-bronze mounts, it is an extravagant example of the rococo style. The commode shares some similarities with the great commode executed by Gaudreaus and Jacques Caffiéri for the King's bedchamber at Versailles, on display in the Back State Room. However the fantastical gilt-bronze dragons that emerge from flower heads on the front of the commode create a particularly exotic effect, their wriggling tails forming handles for the two top drawers. Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus (c.1682-1746) was the son of a cobbler of Burgundian descent. He gained his mastership in 1708 and established himself in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the traditional residence of cabinet-makers in Paris. His name first appears in the Journal du Garde-Meuble in 1726 and during the next twenty years he produced more than 850 items of cabinet furniture for the French crown, 375 of which were commodes.

Until fairly recently, this commode was attributed to Charles Cressent (1685-1768), another very successful cabinet-maker whose work is characterised by an extensive use of sculptural decoration. More recently it has been suggested that the commode was probably designed by the Slodtz brothers, who liked to incorporate dragons in their designs, and produced by Gaudreaus. As with many items in the Wallace Collection, we do not know exactly when the commode was acquired. It is first recorded in the catalogue of items lent by the 4th Marquess of Hertford to the Musée Retrospectif in 1865. Close observation of the piece still reveals the amazing intricacy of the parquetry veneers and the way in which the giltbronze mounts have been carefully laid over them. When the commode was first made, the veneers would have been a rich violet colour, creating an even more striking background for the glittering mounts. The unfaded interiors of the mahogany drawers, inlaid on every surface with bandings of purpleheart and boxwood, are another indication of the high quality of this commode.