The Earl of Craven’s Russian Chinoiserie Commode
The Earl of Craven’s Russian Chinoiserie Commode
The Earl of Craven’s Russian Chinoiserie Commode
The Earl of Craven’s Russian Chinoiserie Commode
The Earl of Craven’s Russian Chinoiserie Commode

The Earl of Craven’s Russian Chinoiserie Commode

c. 1775 St Petersburg Russia

Offered by Thomas Coulborn & Sons


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A Russian neoclassical kingwood, sycamore, fruitwood and mother-of-pearl marquetry commode with original gilt-bronze mounts. Of serpentine outline, the top inlaid with a pair of Chinese pavilions with bell-hung roofs in a rocky landscape within a ribbon-tied oval wreath and floral spray surround, the gilt-bronze interlaced frieze above three drawers with round gilt-bronze wreath drawer pulls, the front and sides inlaid with an interlaced ribbon-bordered flowerhead and trellis marquetry pattern flanked by simulated fluted pilasters with applied gilt-bronze reeding, the wavy apron with applied gilt-bronze laurel swags joined by sunflower heads on three sides.
This sophisticated commode is a particularly refined example of the taste for highly ornate marquetry and exquisite ormolu mounts that characterized St Petersburg luxury furniture prior to the arrival of David Roentgen in the Russian capital in 1783.
Particularly noteworthy is the gilt-bronze apron mount of laurel swags and rosettes that extends along the entire length of the bottom edge of the façade and sides, a much more generous use of ormolu than that normally found on high quality English furniture in this taste at that period. The inlaid decoration is typical of Russian work in the second half of the 18th century, carried out by marquetry artists in St Petersburg often of German or Swedish origin who were heavily influenced by contemporary designs in London and Paris. The lightly serpentine front with three drawers and the modest scale derives from contemporary English models.
Trellis marquetry patterns had long enjoyed favour with Imperial court cabinetmakers, seen for example on a German rococo-inspired bombé commode of c.1760 in the Hermitage, probably made for the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (illustrated in Antoine Chenevière, Russian Furniture, The Golden Age 1780-1840, London 1988, p.19), and a similar example with the monogram of Catherine the Great formerly in the Demidoff Collecton and Paul-Louis Weiller collections (iParis Drouot, Gros et Delettrez,5 April 2011, lot 90). The development of a lozenge flowerhead motif, however, reflects the influence of Paris ébénistes of the 1770s such as RVLC and Boudin. The Chinese pavilion decoration, with its witty use of mother of pearl to evoke bells hanging from the roof eaves, reflects the growing fashion for chinoiserie that arrived later in Russia than it did in Western Europe. This taste for the exotic received an official seal of Tsarist court approval during the 1760s with the decoration of the East and West Chinese cabinets in the Peterhof Palace and the construction of the Chinese Palace at Oranienbaum by Rinaldi for Catherine the Great in the 1760s. At precisely the period in which this commode was made Catherine commissioned Rinaldi and Cameron to create the Chinese Village at Tsarskoe Selo which features among other structures a pagoda pavilion accessed by steep staircases similar to that depicted in the marquetry top of the commode.
This commode comes from the collections of the Earls of Craven, and it is possible that it may have a connection with the one of the most colorful figures in the family’s history, Elizabeth Craven (1750-1828), wife of the 6th Baron Craven. Daughter of the 4th Earl of Berkeley, Elizabeth Craven was a talented translator and playwright who frequented prominent literary figures of the day including James Boswell and Horace Walpole. A notable socialite, her private life was marked by scandal, as she had numerous liaisons including a long-term affair with the German prince Charles-Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach and Bayreuth, a nephew of Frederick the Great and cousin to King George III. After thirteen years of marriage and seven children, Elizabeth definitively separated from her husband in 1780 and moved to France, whence she began an extensive tour of the Continent and the Ottoman Empire, duly recorded in her travel writing, memoirs and correspondence with the Margrave. After the death of both the Margrave’s wife and the 6th Baron Craven within seven months of each other in 1791, the couple married in Lisbon in October 1791, and returned to live in England, where Elizabeth styled herself the ‘Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach’. They acquired the 6th Baron’s seat of Benham Park, Berkshire, and Craven Cottage, his hunting lodge on the banks of the Thames in Fulham (now the site of Fulham Football Club stadium). After the Margrave’s death in 1806, Lady Craven settled in Naples and resided at Craven Villa, Posillipo, where she died in 1828 and was buried in the English Cemetery.
As Lady Craven had no children with her second husband, who died without issue, her heirs would have been her six surviving children from her first marriage, including her eldest son William, who inherited the title as the 7th Baron and was created the 1st Earl Craven in 1801. He established the principal family seat at Coombe Abbey, Warwickshire, and further research in the family archives is necessary to establish to what extent any of his mother’s collections remained in the family’s possession. Although her writings do not refer to specific purchases of works of art, Lady Craven does remark during her February 1786 visit to St Petersburg that ‘here the houses are decorated with the most sumptuous furniture from every country’ – the only reference to furniture in any of her travel correspondence (A Journey Though the Crimea to Constantinople, London 1789, p.127). Indeed, it is unusual to find Russian furniture in English aristocratic collections unless there was a particular link with Russia in the family’s history, and it is certainly possible that Elizabeth Craven may have acquired this commode during her Continental Wanderjahre.
Possibly acquired by Elizabeth Craven, Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach, on her travels in Russia in the 1780s. Inherited by descent from the Earls of Craven of Hampstead Marshall, Berkshire.
Height 73.00 cm (28.74 inches)
Width 87.00 cm (34.25 inches)
Depth 48.00 cm (18.90 inches)
Stock Code
Kingwood, sycamore, fruitwood and mother-of-pearl marquetry
circa 1775
Thomas Coulborn & Sons

Thomas Coulborn & Sons
Vesey Manor
64 Birmingham Road
Sutton Coldfield
West Midlands
B72 1QP

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