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A German neoclassical brass-mounted cherrywood bureau-cabinet ‘Figuri-Schrank’. Late 18th century, Cologne, by Theodor Commer, the wax figures by Caspar Bernhard Hardy. Estimate 50,000 — 80,000 GBP. Photo Sotheby’s.

the banded double door upper section opening to reveal eight drawers with compartments for panels, and a collection of thirty one wax figural panels, above an actioned cylinder bureau with brass-inlay mahogany oval panel with JWN-monogram for Johann Wilhelm Neel, enclosing a fitted interior with three open compartments above hidden spring released drawers with stepped fronts, above six drawers on square tapering legs; 225cm. high, 145cm. wide, 62,5cm. deep; 7ft. 4½in, 4ft.9in, 2ft ½in.

PROVENANCE: Made for canon Johann Wilhelm Neel (1744-1819), Cologne,
Collection Jansen Family, Cologne;
Collection Sculptor Michael Lock, Cologne and Berlin;
Collection ‘Generalartzt’ Dr. Hanson, Berlin
Collection Baron von Gwinner, Haus im Dol 46-48, Berlin, acquired in 1926 and thence by descent

LITERATURE: Claudia McDaniel-Odendall, Die Wachsbossierungen des Caspar Bernhard Hardy (1726-1819), Phd. dissertation, Cologne University, 1990, ill. 2-3, pp. 45 ff.
Oliver Kase, Physiognomik für starke Nerven. Der sterbende Philosoph von Caspar Bernhard Hardy, in:Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst,
3. Folge Band LXI, 2010 (Sonderdruck), ill. 7, pp 146 ff.
Kurt Luthmer, Ein Schauschrank mit Wachsbossierungen der Kölner Domvikarius Kaspar Bernhard Hardy (1726-1819), in: Wallraf-Richartz Jahrbuch, tome 3 and 4, Cologne/Leipzig 1926/27, pp. 199-207.

NOTES: In 1799 the renowned art collector and Maecenas, Ferdinand Franz Wallraf (1748-1824) composed a 43-stanza ode to the sculptor and wax artist Caspar Bernhard Hardy (1726-1819). Similarly, Goethe was also full of praise for Hardy who he visited in Cologne during one of his art trips (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Kunst und Altertum am Rhein, Main und Neckar, 1814/15).  Hardy, who was vicar of the Cologne cathedral (Dom) around 1800, had specialized in the manufacturing of lifelike polychrome decorated wax reliefs neatly displayed in small glazed deep frames.

As a man of the Enlightenment, Hardy showed a strong interest in people and human nature and therefore most of his oeuvres consist of genre and portrait illustrations. Hardy found the inspiration for his subjects especially in contemporary genre painting, figurative porcelain and prints.

The present cupboard originally contained around 48 Hardy tableaux, of which apparently 33 original tableaux are lost or were sold and the 15 remaining tableaux were subsequently completed along with 16 other Hardy tableaux. It is obvious that with Hardy and Johann Wilhelm Neel – who commissioned the piece – both being Cologne clergyman, Hardy the cathedral’s vicar and Neel a canon, that they were in regular and close contact with each other. The iconography of the original composition of the 48 tableaux therefore surely also express their mutual philosophical thoughts and beliefs.

Little is known about the Cologne cabinetmaker Commer. According to the available literature the maker of this cupboard was the Kunsttischler’ Theodor Commer (1773–1853) mentioned in the archives as father of the composer and music scientist Franz Aloys Theodor Commer (1813-1887). Commer apparently was a pupil from the Roentgen workshop in Neuwied. The present cupboard does however present many of the characteristic Roentgen elements, such as the severe Neoclassical outline, the use of cherry wood and mahogany in combination with restrained brass inlay and even the use of the usually hidden mechanical devices such as the spring released hidden drawers in the interior of the present piece.


The present lot photographed in situ prior to 1926, possibly in the house of Dr. Hanson, Berlin.

Sotheby’s. Of Royal and Noble Descent, London, 24 Feb 2015, 10:30 AM