National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Chest of Drawers (commode) Jean-Mathieu Chevallier (artist)
French, 1696 - 1768
Chest of Drawers (commode), mid-18th century, possibly 1743/1744
veneered on oak stained black with tulipwood, kingwood, sycamore, purplewood, boxwood, and other woods, some showing traces of having been colored by staining; gilded bronze mounts; marble top
overall: 85 x 139.2 x 64.6 cm (33 7/16 x 54 13/16 x 25 7/16 in.)
Widener Collection
1942.9.414
On View
From the Tour: Production of French Decorative Arts in the 1700s
Object 2 of 5

This two-drawer commode, with its sides undulating in bombé swellings, defines the rococo style at its most opulent. Like the Chinese porcelains and the furniture with Japanese lacquer in these rooms, it is an escapist fantasy based on exotic cultures. As trade with the Far East increased, importing Oriental materials and customs such as wearing silk and drinking tea became fads in eighteenth-century Europe.

In the commode's veneer, peonies, which are Oriental blossoms, emerge from horns of plenty to create large oval shapes. This bold, spotted effect continues in the choice of a splotchy marble, called breccia, for the top. Jean-Mathieu Chevallier, who stamped this piece, was a furniture dealer as well as a cabinetmaker specializing in complex, colored veneers. Although very faded now, the pinks and greens of the peonies and leaves were stained into the woods with dyes.

The lively gilt-bronze mounts include cattails as well as Chinese men holding dragons, parrots, and parasols. Two fighting dragons guard the lower keyhole. Two more dragons, with serpentine tails and arrowhead tongues, fly upside-down across the bottom edge near the front legs. In a rococo whimsy, they are contrasted to each other. The one at the left has feathered bird wings, but the dragon on the right flies on membraned bat wings.

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