Lady Lever Art Gallery, Artwork of the Month, September 2007
‘English Square Piano’, Instrument by Frederick Beck, outer case attributed to Christopher Fuhrlohg
About the artwork
The ‘Object of the Month’ is number 10 in the Lady Lever Art Gallery’s Catalogue of Commodes.
‘Commode’ is a French word meaning ‘easy’ or ‘convenient’, which perhaps explains why the generally accepted modern sense of the word is that of a discreet piece of furniture to be found in a sick room concealing a chamber pot. Commode is also French for chest-of-drawers. Highly decorative, and more to be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities than for its utility, this article of furniture became extremely fashionable in England during the latter half of the eighteenth century. It retained its French name in order to set it apart from the mundane native chest of drawers familiar here since the seventeenth century.
A common feature of the new English style of commode was the enclosure of the drawers in doors. Manufacturers would call this a ‘Commode a Vanteaux’ or even a ‘Commode a l’Anglais’. This is another reason why we now think of a commode as containing a chamber pot: it is a piece of furniture which conceals another function. What looks like a cupboard is in fact a chest of drawers. Catalogue number 10 deceives us further. It is neither a cupboard, nor a chest of drawers. It is a piano.
There are clues to musical function in its marquetry decoration. A seated Muse playing a tambourine occupies the round medallion in the central front panel, while another Muse plays the lyre and Bacchantes dance with tambourine and cymbals in the corner panels at either end. The central emblem of the frieze comprises a lyre, a bow and a quiver of arrows.
Free gallery talks Wednesday 5 and Thursday 20 September, 13.00, Room 14 with Dr Paul O’Keeffe.