Harry Payne Bingham, New York (1887-1955). Mr. & Mrs. Charles B. Wrightsman. Sotheby's, London, 24 June 1988, lot 50
Charles Packer, "Paris Furniture by the Master Ébénistes", 1956, fig. 52A, illustrating a near identical commode of the same size, formerly owned by Harry Payne Bingham and then owned by Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Wrightsman. Jean Nicolay, "L'Art et la Manière des Maîtres Ébénistes Français au XVIIIe Siècle", 1956, vol. I, p. 181, pl. B, illustrating a similar commode by Pierre Fléchy, of the same overall design and with the same marble top but with heavier and more overt Rococo mounts, sold in Paris 1936. F. J. B. Watson, "The Wrightsman Collection", 1966, vol. I, no. 95, pp.160-161, describing and illustrating an almost identical commode by Pierre Fléchy also formerly owned by Harry Payne Bingham and now in the Wrightsman Collection, in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
An important and very beautiful Louis XV gilt bronze mounted amaranth, bois satiné floral marquetry bombé commode by Pierre Fléchy, stamped P FLECHY and also stamped with the monogram of the jurés JME, with a typed paper label inscribed 'signed P. Fléchy / Period Louis XV', the back edge of the marble with paper label inscribed 'South Wall' and in red paint '16D', the back of the commode inscribed in red paint '160' twice and 'L.2221.23', also with a paper label inscribed 'lot 302' and '50', the shaped and moulded serpentine-fronted brêche d'Alep marble top above two drawers inlaid sans traverse with flowering foliate sprays, the sides similarly inlaid, the drawers with a central cartouche-shaped mount enclosed by C-scrolled rocaille mounts centred above by an elaborate escutcheon, with a heart-shaped Rococo cartouche on the waved apron for the lower drawer pull, the cabriole angles hung with elaborately pierced and scrolled floral and foliate gilt bronze pendants linked by a narrow patterned gilt bronze mount running down the forecorner of each splayed leg to foliate scrolled sabot feet
Paris, date circa 1760
Height 89 cm, width 142 cm, depth 69 cm.
The importance of this commode not only relies on its beauty and its maker but also upon its illustrious provenance. By the early twentieth century it was owned by Harry Payne Bingham, the son of a wealthy Cleveland businessman and favoured nephew of the magnate Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne, who left him over two million dollars, his Esopus estate and many of his works of art. Where this commode was actually housed is not known for Bingham had many grand properties; in addition to the Esopus estate on the Hudson River, Payne lived in New York at 72nd Street, subsequently at 690 Park Avenue and later at 834 Fifth Avenue. Furnished with some of the greatest works of art, his interiors were a testament to his love of art. A noted collector, art patron, and philanthropist, he was also a keen sportsman and had a strong interest in science. Among numerous roles he was a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to whom he bequeathed many fine works of art including paintings by Goya, Rubens, Reynolds and Degas, many of which he had inherited from his uncle Col. Oliver H. Payne. It was therefore fitting that this commode was subsequently acquired by Charles and Jayne Wrightsman, who gave the majority of their collection of furniture, gilt bronzes, porcelain and other great works of art to the Metropolitan Museum.
Acquired during the post-war years theirs was to become one of the most important collections of furniture and decorations to rank alongside many a national collection. The three volume catalogue of their collection, published in 1966 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, details items with provenance from many great earlier generations of collectors, including Viscount Leverhulme, Baron Maurice de Rothschild, the 4th Marquess of Hertford, the Earl of Rosebery and Harry Payne Bingham.
Significantly among works that Mr. and Mrs. Wrightsman gave to the Metropolitan and documented in the extensive catalogue is a near identical commode by Pierre Fléchy (b. 1715 d. after 1769). That had also been acquired from Harry Payne Bingham, which possibly suggests that the two pieces were once a pair. In addition the Wrightsmans also gave an unattributed Louis XV commode, formerly owned by Bingham to the Metropolitan (Watson, op. cit, no. 96, pp. 162-3).
Like many of the leading eighteenth century Parisian ébénistes Pierre Fléchy worked from rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. He first worked there as an artisan privilégié, meaning that he was exempt of the guild regulations by a direct act of the King as titular head of all the craft guilds. Only a few received such an exemption but included such famous men as Oeben, Riesener, Molitor and A-C Boulle's sons. In 1756 Fléchy was received as a maître and continued to flourish until at least 1769. Relatively little is known of his personal life, neither the date of his death nor his relationship with a menuisier-ébéniste Pierre-Claude Fléchy who in 1786 was living close to the Tuileries in rue de la Sourdière, and may have been his son.
What is certain however is that his furniture, from commodes, secrétaires, encoignures and bureaux, were all beautifully constructed and were of the very finest quality, possessing considerable subtlety of design. While a few pieces were decorated with Chinese lacquer, as here Fléchy tended to specialize in marquetry portraying abundant flowing foliate and floral trails that covered the entire surface of his pieces. F. J. B. Watson notes that this particular marquetry style has sometimes been confused with the work of Vanrisamburgh and at the same time also compares closely with the work of other ébénistes at this period. For instance with a commode by Denis Genty which was shown at the exhibition of "Les Grands Ébénistes et Menuisiers Parisiens du XVIIIe Siècle", Paris 1955-56, no. 117, illustrated p. 7. In addition to the example in the Metropolitan Museum, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris also own a small Louis XV commode by Pierre Fléchy.