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Writing table

(bureau plat)

Artist or maker:
Beneman, Guillaume (d.c 1804)
Date:
1786
Place of production:
France
Medium:
oak carcass; veneered with purpleheart; with sycamore, ebony, boxwood and casuarina wood marquetry, gilt-bronze mounts and a leather top
Type of object:
writing tables
Accession number:
2575

Commentary

Made for Louis XVI’s private study, or cabinet intérieur, at the palace of Versailles, this writing table was commissioned as a companion piece to the famous cylinder-top desk made for his grandfather Louis XV, which can be seen today in its original setting (Versailles inv. no. OA 5444).

The cylinder-top desk had been commissioned from the cabinetmaker Jean-François Oeben (1721-1763) but was finished by Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) who took over Oeben’s workshop after his death. Riesener became the most renowned and fashionable cabinet-maker of his time and worked frequently for the court. By 1786 however, when this flat writing table was produced, Riesener had fallen out of official favour because of his high costs and had been succeeded as Ebéniste du Roi (cabinet-maker to the king) by Guillaume Beneman (d. after 1804), although he continued to supply members of the court including Queen Marie-Antoinette.

The writing table is not stamped but we know that Beneman was responsible for its construction and that its overall design was the responsibility of the sculptor Jean Hauré (active ca. 1774-1796) who was then in charge of royal furniture production. A memorandum written by Hauré gives fascinating insights into the many craftsmen involved in the production of such an elaborate piece, including the cabinet-maker Guillaume Kemp (master 1764) who was responsible for eight marquetry panels.

The various gilt-bronze mounts were chased by Denis Bardin (dates unknown) and gilded by Claude Galle (1757-1815). The myrtle branches which wrap around the frames surrounding the drawers were ‘mounted’ by the bronze caster and sculptor Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843), but it is not clear if he also cast them or who was responsible for the rest of the mounts.

The memorandum includes an intriguing payment to ‘Martin’, possibly the sculptor and model-maker Gilles François Martin (c. 1713-1795), for a reduction in wax of the existing cylinder-top desk to act as a model for the creation of the Waddesdon writing table. Although each element of the lower half of the first desk is recreated – the gilt-bronze lion pelts at the four corners, cornucopia of land and sea at each end, gilt-bronze mounts in the form of ribbons, leaves and branches – the dimensions and finish of each is substantially different. The desk does not seem to be a direct copy of the lower half of its predecessor, but rather was designed in a different spirit and to fit the proportions of a flat writing table.

Despite these adaptations, the writing table would have appeared quite conservative in style. It was the final piece in the evolution of the decoration of the King’s study under Louis XVI. The cylinder-top desk had been delivered to Louis XV in 1769 where it sat alongside a medal cabinet and pair of corner cupboards (Versailles inv. no. V 5054; V 5055) and a red lacquer flat writing table (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. 1973.315.1). In 1779 Louis XVI ordered a new pair of corner-cupboards from Riesener and moved a chest of drawers that had been supplied to the King’s bedroom in 1774, again by Riesener, to co-ordinate better with the cylinder-top desk (all now in the Royal Collection, inv. no. 21212; 21213). The Waddesdon table was the final stage in a furnishing scheme centred on Louis XV’s imposing desk.

The writing table was recorded as being in the King’s study in 1792 and was sold, along with the corner cupboards and chest of drawers by Riesener, in 1794. The Waddesdon writing table has retained the royal monogram of interlaced Ls in the marquetry ovals at each end. Louis XV’s cylinder-top desk, which was moved to the Louvre after the French Revolution, had its royal emblems replaced, with Riesener’s help, and now has Sèvres porcelain plaques where the Ls once were.

Emily Roy, 2016

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
790 x 1902 x 895
Inscriptions:
gebrochenes Ornament / mit Ring gehort fur hinten
Inscription
[in pencil on underside of left-hand lower drawer]

fehlt / für hinten
Inscription
[in pencil on underside of right-hand lower drawer]

fehlt / für hinten
Inscription
[in pencil on underside of right-hand lower drawer]
Labels:
Morning Room Opposite of Bookcase By Bay Window
Label
[in ink]

History

Provenance:
Made for use by Louis XVI (b.1754, d.1793) at the Palace of Versailles; purchased by Trouseet with chest of drawers and two corner cupboards now belonging to The Royal Collection in 1794; acquired by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898) by 1898; inherited by Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by to James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
Collection:
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957

Bibliography

Bibliography

Alfred de Champeaux; Le Meuble. II. XVIIe, XVIIIe et XIXe siècles.; Paris; L. Martinet; 1885; Vol. II, pp. 254, 256.
Émile Molinier; Histoire Générale des Arts Appliqués à L’Industrie du V à la fin du XVIII Siècle; Paris; E. Levy; 1896; Vol. III, p. 201, note 1.
Sir Francis Watson, French Eighteenth Century Furniture at Waddesdon, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 28-31; pp. 31-34.
Pierre Verlet, Some Versailles Furniture preserved at Waddesdon, The Burlington Magazine, 1959, 267-271; p. 267.
Frances Buckland, A group of bureaux plats and the royal inventories, Furniture History: The Journal of the Furniture History Society, 8, 1972, 41-46; p. 41.
Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Anthony Blunt; Furniture Clocks and Gilt Bronzes: The James A de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; 2 vols; Fribourg; Office du Livre; 1974; pp. 458-465, cat. no. 94, ill.
Alexandre Pradère; French Furniture Makers, The Art of the Ebéniste from Louis XIV to the Revolution; London; Sotheby's Publications; 1989; p. 406.
Pierre Verlet; Le Mobilier Royal Francais; III; Paris; Picard; 1994; pp. 10, 191-196.
Pierre Ramond; Chefs-d'Oeuvre des Marqueteurs; vol 3; Paris; Éditions Gallimard; 1999; p. 46.
Jeanne Faton, Waddesdon Manor: joyau des collections anglaises, L'Estampille. L' Objet d'Art, September 2002; p. 85.
Les collections exceptionnelles des Rothschild: Waddesdon Manor (Hors-série de l'Estampille/l'Objet d'Art, No. 14); Dijon; Éditions Faton; 2004; pp. 10-21.

Entry from (Bellaigue, 1974):

http://collection.waddesdon.org.uk/docs/2575.pdf

Indexed terms