Louis XV Polychrome Commode Ca. 1730

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Above, the commode before treatment;
note the faux “drawers” on the front which are really hiding the door.
Below, the underside of the commode.

This well loved Venetian poly-chrome commode was created in the classical Louis XV Style.  It has been in service for three centuries and weathered multiple risings of the Adriatic tides (Aqua Alta), which filled courtyards, pathways, shops and homes of the citizens of Venice before receding back to the seas traditional elevations.  The Aqua Alta left the citizens homes and furnishings with brine and water-logged decorative objects.  Survival of the citizens prized possessions depended much upon the preparedness of the owners of the objects.

To that end, this cabinet supports that theme in that its owner introduced two iron eyelets early on in the cabinets journey into the upper cabinet outside back, shown right, securing the cabinet to hooks placed in the wall behind the commode which prevented the cabinet from floating away during these periodic floods.

Demure in stature. the commode sustained splits and selective losses from contraction of its wooden substrates in its legs and lower cabinet structure which was necessary to address.  As this post will show, several areas of internal loss from dry-rot required strategic fills in order the prevent the cabinets legs from structural failure and cracks in the solid plank front door required stabilization through the introduction of internal butterfly key-locks in order to prevent the door from separating and falling from the cabinet.

The historic cabinet contained was crafted from three distinct wood species: European Beech, Birch and Pine.  All fresh wood introduced during the restoration matched the original wood species within each amended and repaired component.

Hand painted classical elements adorned the cabinet front which was typical of its period while also reflecting the Venetian decorative mindset for that period in history.  What set this piece apart from many painted French pieces of this era was the painted faux marble top which we selectively infilled within badly worn faux mineral vein impressions and badly worn gold leaf edge molding which bordered three sides of the cabinet top.

The underside of the commode
was rough hewn wood with a large
knot in the center, above, which
contrasted with the once-beautiful painted exterior.

The entire carcass had serious splits
or cracks that went nearly through
various parts of the commode,
and the ones in the door were repaired.

However, the large cracks on the sides were in our opinion not repairable.  To try to repair these on this 300-year-old cabinet would have caused more damage.  We chose, instead, to allow this “old lady” to be able to be old, shown her cracks, and make her stable and beautiful again.

The first thing we discovered about
the commode was that it leaned
(shown first image in the slideshow top
and left, with the level).
The door wanted to slam shut when opened.

We was decided not to fix the lean.

To fix it a piece of wood would have
to be placed on the bottom of the legs to
lift the left-facing side, shown right.

  This was ill advised, because we
would have to drill into the slender legs
to attach the wooden lift, and as
you will see, the legs also had splits.

The commode was hand-carved and hand-made.  Evidence of this is easily seen in the chatter marks on the back of the legs, shown left.

The door hinge is an eyelet hinge, original to the commode, shown below.

On the back at the top of the commode are two eyelets on each side, shown below.
After researching these oddities, we discovered they were commonly installed to hold pieces like this in place during the Venetian Aqua Alta.


We began with the door, and it needed several reparations.


The lock was not operating properly.  The lock-box was hidden behind the wallpaper, which was not original to the commode but had been applied decades before.

The commode was turned on its side, and we began by removing
the wallpaper and removing the lock-box, shown above.

Because the lock-box did not work properly, Mitchell disassembled the lock-box.
He cleaned it, lubricated it, and made it operational again.

The walls of the cavity for the box were then repaired, rebuilt
and the lock was reinstalled, shown above.


The door splits were repaired using keylocks, shown above, strategically placed to stop the door from splitting.

Six keylock mortise were carefully excised to fit the keylocks.  The keylocks were glued in place with warm hide glue.  The second to the last image shows them painted.

We decided to save the wallpaper to the best of our ability.  We lifted a good deal of ink from the shelf, final image above.

The faux drawers were separating from the door, right, and these were glued, clamped to cure, then secured from the back to ensure they stayed put.


All the legs had issues, but the back legs had serious fissures that continued
up into the commode body and would eventually cause failure.

First, Mitchell created jigs to be used when gluing the repairs on the legs, above.


As an example, showing the rear right-facing leg reparation.
Above you can see the length of the crack,
and the knot-like fissure in the top of the leg.

Below, the reparation, including the fill for the knot,
which came close to penetrating the leg
but did not go through the painted front.

The second rear-facing leg was repaired in the
same manner, shown below during treatment.


The Left-facing front leg was cracked, shown above.

The crack was repaired using gap-filling glue,
shown below, using a thin shim to fill the void.

All repairs were glued, clamped, and set to cure for 48 hours.


Deep cuts under the body appeared to be original to the commode.
These were another weak link which we infilled with hard wood.


Each color had to be matched.  The tricky part was imagining the color correctly after it dried.  Further, the topcoat had to be taken into account when mixing paints.

I save my mixing sheets in a notebook because while not all my mixes are correct for a project, they are good references for other possible paint colors.

Note from Kate:  The more I mix and am familiar with a specific medium, in this case oils, the better I am at coming to the correct color quickly.  Even so, I have tubes of rejected paints that didn’t make the cut.  I sometimes use them in other projects or in my own experiments in oil painting.

Mason Monterey’s Smokey Maple glaze
was a base of asphaltum diluted
with ®Galkyd, and this is the same
glaze, though more diluted,
used as a topcoat on the commode.

Once the colors were properly mixed
to the right recipe, they were made
in a large amounts and placed
in a tube.

The tops of the tubes were
colored with the oil paint in them.

Note from Kate: I am beginning to find that pigments are often associated with an era, and this commode is very close to the Mason Monterey palette. Even the blues, which are rarely shown in Monterey, is a good match to the Mason Blue.

Notes were taken of all the mixes, both on the mix sheets, and then in a notebook, shown above left.  On cardboard strips (close to the color of wood) the paints colors are also kept in a string of all project colors mixed, above right.

Below, the palette created during painting.  Original colors were sometimes tweaked slightly, and these too are shown next to the tube colors.


Above the commode completed.

Above, details of the side before and after.

The top, above, before and after treatment; details shown below.

The interior of the door, before and after treatment.

 dkatiepowell@aol.com / mitchellrpowell@aol.com
503.970.2509 / 541.531.2383
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About dkatiepowellart

hollywood baby turned beach gurl turned steel&glass city gurl turned cowgurl turned herb gurl turned green city gurl. . . artist writer photographer. . . cat lover but misses our big dogs, gone to heaven. . . buddhist and interested in the study of spiritual traditions. . . foodie, organic, lover of all things mik, partner in conservation business mpfconservation, consummate blogger, making a dream happen, insomniac who is either reading buddhist teachings or not-so-bloody mysteries or autobio journal thangs early in the morning when i can't sleep
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