A Marquetry Commode Attributed to Pierre Langlois

Height: 34" 86 .35cm
Width: 49.5" 126cm
Depth: 24" 61cm
Origination: English
Circa: 1765-70

This stylish marquetry commode, which had been in a private collection since its purchase from the dealer Moss Harris in 1968, was considered important enough to be included among the canon of work that Peter Thornton and William Rieder attributed to Pierre Langlois (1718–1767) in their ground-breaking articles published in 1971–72. Their analysis of his workshop repertoire remains fundamentally unchallenged, but latterly more evidence has come to light about Langlois himself and his family and friends, including new research not widely published hitherto. The long-held suspicion that he may have been born in London rather than France is confirmed by the discovery of his baptismal record on 28 September 1718. His parents, Daniel and Jeanne L’Anglois also had four other children between 1708 and 1723, likewise baptized in (various) Huguenot chapels in Westminster.

As discussed by Thornton and Rieder, Pierre Langlois was extraordinarily successful, working for some of the most distinguished patrons in the country. Examples of his work may still be seen in several great country houses, as well as at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. The quality and elaboration of this commode declares a client with no cause to spare expense.

Pierre Langlois’ training remains uncharted, but the distinctly French features of his furniture – in profile and marquetry – strongly suggest that he spent some formative years in Paris, most likely in the workshop of Jean-François Oeben. On establishing his practice in London, Langlois deliberately exploited his French credentials, most showily in his bilingual trade card. He presumably also supplied the account of himself for Thomas Mortimer’s Universal Director of 1763: ‘Langlois performs all sorts of curious inlaid work, particularly commodes in the foreign taste …’. Yet in some respects Langlois’ furniture is unmistakably English, notably in his use (more often than not) of marquetry rather than marble tops, and his articulation on the front of a commode of its component parts. Thus the doors are shown as separate both from each other and from the apron below, where on a French commode of this period the apron would be made integral with the doors or bottom drawer, and the whole façade would be veneered sans traverse. Another English characteristic is his preference for deal, not oak, as his principal carcase wood. The present commode, which in all these respects typifies Langlois’ practice, is likely to date from near the end of his life, or may even have been produced by the workshop after his death, under the direction of his widow Tracy – ‘Veuve Langlois’ as she was sometimes known.

In the last few years of his life Langlois’ career had been rapidly advancing. A measure of his success is the marked increase in his insurance cover between 1764 and 1766: in July 1764 he took out a policy for £400, the greater part of this for his stock. Exactly two years later this figure had risen to £1,100, of which his stock accounted for £1,000. At the same time we find him engaging in quite diverse activities, including lending support to a French quack trying his luck in London. ‘Dr Fernel’ advertised his services, seemingly on no-win no-fee terms, in July 1766:

‘A French Physician, lately arriv’d from Paris, by a particular Treatment, restores and augments the natural Beauty of Ladies: Women of Thirty, and even forty years old, in less than three Months, are restored to their primitive Youth; and young Ladies become more handsome and sprightly by his Method, which is founded on the best Physical Principles. – He takes no Money till after the Experiment, and the strictest Secrecy may be depended upon.
Letters directed for Dr. Fernel, at Mr. Peter Langlois, Cabinet-maker, in Tottenham Court Road, near Percy-street, shall be duly answered.’

So his death seven months later, at the age of 50, presumably took Langlois himself by surprise.