A Tale Of Two Commodes

A Pair of Mahogany and Ormolu Mounted Commodes in the Russian Style


In these gender fluid times, starting off as one thing and ending up as something else is less of a headline, but the story of how this spectacular pair of commodes were part of a scandal that rocked the antique market in the late 1990s and early 2000s in a court case embroiling one of London’s top dealers, is still totally fascinating.

St. Emmeram Castle at Regensburg, Germany
(Photos by Josef Kuchlbauer and Schweigert, Thomas / Alamy

Originally part of the contents of Schloss St Emmeram in Regensburg, Germany, an opulent palace that was one of the seats of the Princely Thurn und Taxis family, they were sold in the massive Sotheby’s auction of the collection in 1993. Between the sale date and their appearance on the market in London in the early 2000s, they underwent an “extreme makeover” that transformed them from a polite pair of Viennese cabinets to a knockout pair of “Russian” commodes à vantaux, that is, with doors hiding the three long drawers within. Richly mounted with ormolu stars and mouldings in the manner of the celebrated maker Heinrich Gambs, they were sold to a noted Australian collector for a purported six figure pounds sterling amount.

A Thurn und Taxis collection stamp inside one of the commodes

Resurfacing in the Owston Collection auction in Sydney in 2010 where they were acquired by the current vendor, the Thurn und Taxis collection stamp was discovered and the mystery was unravelled. Now, they are returning to the market in our next Collector’s Auction in Sydney and not only will provide a lucky buyer with a magnificent pair of statement pieces, but also a history to provide after dinner conversation for years.

RONAN SULICH / Senior Adviser, Sydney

May 2021