This magnificent commode and its accompanying secrétaire à abattant, or writing cabinet (sold separately), are copies of two of the most famous pieces of French Royal furniture in collections outside of France. Together they faithfully capture the grandeur of their iconic originals -- two of three pieces commissioned by Marie Antoinette in 1783 for her Cabinet Intérieur at Versailles. Their lush, sculptural mounts burst off the furniture and center her delicate monogram, while acting as both a counterpoint and compliment to the prized 17th century Japanese lacquer panels in fashion throughout France at the time. These elaborate details capture the decadence and flamboyance characteristic of furniture from Louis XVI’s reign.
Now in the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the originals are considered to be among the best work of craftsman Jean-Henri Riesener. The German-born Riesener was somewhat of a darling of Marie Antoinette, and spent five years as the official ébéniste du roi (Cabinetmaker to the King). During this time he became known for his intricate floral marquetry, mahogany veneers, and ingenious mechanical fittings that allowed his pieces to adjust to the height of the user.
The commode and secrétaire are among a selection of works consigned by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Furniture expert Pierre Verlet, in his book Les Bronzes Dorés du XVIII Siècle, mentions the San Francisco Museums’ commode and secrétaire à abattant. Interestingly, he was slightly unnerved to have found these practically identical copies, almost as beautiful as the originals, with comparable quality mounts and materials, most probably made during the reign of Napoleon III. Verlet proposes that the spurious Riesener stamp was put on both pieces at the same time as the stamps for the apparently unrecorded maker, F. Lefranc. Though reproductions, like the originals they illustrate the highest quality craftsmanship of their era.
19th Century Furniture, Sculpture, Works of Art and Ceramics
21 Apr 2009
New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Furniture & Lighting