As we continue our series through the ABC’s of decorative arts, it is tempting to focus today’s ‘B’ post on blue-john–but luckily we have already covered it in one of our first posts. So instead, we are focusing our attention on bombé, which is a basic yet defining feature of decorative arts in the eighteenth century. Simply put, bombé means having outward curving lines, resembling swelling, which often featured on either the fronts or the sides of apiece of furniture. This feature first appeared on seventeenth century furniture and became a prominent feature of eighteenth century design, particularly in France and subsequently in England.
Pictured above is a Louis XV bombé serpentine fronted commode by François Franc JME. It features three drawers with parquetry veneers of contrasting colours with decorative foliate gilt bronze handles and escutcheons in the Rococo style. The sides are similarly bombé in form decorated with parquetry inlay.
This commode is very much in keeping with contemporary Louis XV styles with its rococo ornament and curvilinear shape with its bombé front and sides.
Moving to England, we are now looking at a magnificent and important George III marquetry and parquetry serpentine fronted commode attributed to Pierre Langlois. The commode is bombé in shape both on the front and sides, with inlaid trellis pattern decoration to panels throughout. All aspects further decorated with diagonal cross-banding, that of the front doors further inlaid with ribbon decoration.
Langlois was a Huguenot craftsman who trained in France before moving to England where he made furniture in the French taste. His work was immensely popular, particularly during the Seven Years War which halted trade between England and France as he provided a link to French craft and design.
Shown above is a further George III sabicu and kingwood ormolu mounted serpentine commode, also in the French taste, attributed to Henry Hill of Marlborough. The front of this commode is bombé in form, while the sides are more restrained with its serpentine form.
Hill was active from 1740 until his death in 1778, and he based his workshop in the town of Marlborough in Wiltshire, conveniently situated between London and Bath. Hill established himself not only as a cabinetmaker, but also a coach-maker, an auctioneer, an estate agent, and an insurance company representative. Throughout his career Hill received important commissions from clients including the Duke of Somerset at Maiden Bradley, the Earl of Radnor at Longford Castle and Lord Methuen at Corsham Court, Wiltshire.
The bombé form was not reserved for large case pieces–it was also used on smaller decorative pieces as well. This fine pair of French Louis XVI style kingwood parquetry inlaid and ormolu mounted side tables feature subtle bombé curves on both the front and side panels, and decorated with inlaid kingwood of very good colour.
And last but not least, we finish with the smallest piece of all: this particularly fine large George III Chippendale period tea caddy. The bombé casket form of the caddy is decorated with an inlaid star motif and strung decoration, standing on four delicate bracket feet. It is a fantastic example of the range and variation of the incorporation of the bombe form across the decorative arts.
The bombé feature continued to be an important decorative feature throughout the eighteenth century and into the Regency period. The incorporation of the bombé form creates a sense of elegance and fluidity in a work, and also demonstrates the craftsman’s ability to work deftly and skilfully with his materials.