With their rich ebony veneers and splendid pietre dura panels, these superb secrétaires à abattant perfectly evoke the sophisticated and eclectic taste of Restauration France, which simultaneously reflected the designs of generations past and imbued them with new life and functionality. Made by Alexandre-Louis Bellangé, they were probably acquired when new by Richard, 1st Duke of Buckingham & Chandos, and were in the collection of the 2nd Duke at Stowe House, Buckinghamshire until sold as part of Christie's 1848 landmark sale at Stowe. Evidently much prized by the family they were purchased back by the 3rd Duke when they reappeared on the market in 1865, and have since remained in the family.
RICHARD, 1ST DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM & CHANDOS
The demise of the family fortune, culminating in the sale of Stowe’s contents had no doubt commenced with the 2nd Duke’s father, also Richard (d. 1839), a prolific collector. The 1st Duke was among the ‘early and considerable purchasers’ at the Orléans sale of Italian and French paintings in 1798, and was also a buyer at the 1823 Beckford/Fonthill sale. In 1827, the 1st Duke was sent to the continent to curb his extravagant spending but managed in three years of exile to accumulate yet more pictures and artefacts in Italy. It is feasible he acquired these secrétaires on his return journey through the European capitals. Alternatively the secrétaires may have been acquired by the 2nd Duke, as he too developed a partiality for this style of furniture; the 1848 Stowe catalogue reveals that there was a significant amount of Florentine pietre dure furniture in the mansion by this date.
These elegant secrétaires can confidently be attributed to Alexandre-Louis Bellangé (d. 1863) and beautifully demonstrate the luxurious and expensive technique of embellishing furniture with semi-precious hard stones, a revival of the creations of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. Pictorial panels were re-used and new ones created in Florence; these were possibly supplied by one of the most significant marchands of the period, Philippe Claude Maëlrondt. The inspiration for both Alexandre-Louis, and his father, Louis-François (d. 1827), also an ébéniste, were undoubtedly two of the greatest ébénistes of the Ancien Régime, Adam Weisweiler and Martin Carlin who incorporated such panels into furniture to create masterpieces of incredible luxury and exuberance (A.M. Giusti, Hardstones in Furniture and Decorations, London, 1992 p. 210, pl. 107 & 108).