Nicolas Sageot, maître in 1706
This spectacular pair of bibliothèques was executed by Nicolas Sageot, who was, after André-Charles Boulle, arguably the most accomplished specialist in the intricate marquetry of cut tortoiseshell and brass, known as 'Boulle' marquetry during the latter part of Louis XIV’s reign and the Régence period.
Sageot was one of the few ébénistes of this period to employ a maker’s stamp (which was not a legal requirement of the guild until well into Louis XV’s reign), thus enabling us to establish a clearer picture of the corpus of his oeuvre.
Pierre Grand, in his ground-breaking article on cabinet-making workshops specializing in Boulle marquetry in L’Estampille in 1993 (op. cit., pp. 48-58), illustrates a series of sumptuously inlaid bibliothèques and armoires by Sageot, a small sub-group of which feature many of the same characteristics as the pair offered here: the relatively plain rectangular cornice above a bolection-molded frieze above partially glazed doors united by a central mask of Apollo; the lower panels of the doors with Bérainesque marquetry panels on bracket feet with very similar scroll inlay. Two armoires by Sageot feature the same heroic depiction of Hercules battling the Hydra: one sold Sotheby’s, London, 5 July 1985, and a further sold Paris, 4 December 1922 (op. cit., p. 55, figs. 7-8).
Recent research by Christie’s has revealed a possible source for this striking image of Hercules, an engraving by the French graveur Gilles Rousselet (1610-1686), after Guido Reni (illustrated here).
Pairs of bibliothèques or armoires are particularly rare in Sageot’s oeuvre and would certainly indicate a prestigious commission. The only other known pair which is stamped by Sageot is currently in a private collection (sold Christie’s, King Street, 17 June 1987, lot 65, £143,000). Another magnificent pair of armoires which has been associated with Sageot’s oeuvre, but is not stamped, is first recorded in the inventory of the marchand-ébéniste Noël Gérard in 1736- one of these armoires was later in the collection of the finance minister and celebrated collector Machault d’Arnouville (now in the château de Versailles), while the other was in the collection of the Russian Prince Beloselski-Belozersky in the 19th century, now in a private collection (see Grand op. cit., p. 56, fig. 13 and p. 68, fig. 30).
Nicolas Sageot’s life and career is remarkably well-documented. Born in 1666 to a wine-grower, he is first recorded working as an ébéniste in 1698 when he took on two employees, and established himself, like many of his confrères, in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, at the corner of the Grande-Rue and the rue de la Roquette. After receiving his maîtrise in 1706, his business evidently prospered as, when he married in 1711, he declared the considerable fortune of 12,000 livres, most of which was tied up in stock, making it one of the most important workshops in Paris after Boulle’s. He is known to have worked closely with the marqueteur Toussaint Devoye, and given the stylistic homogeneity of Sageot’s furniture, it is tempting to think that Devoye’s was one of his chief suppliers of marquetry. In 1720 he largely retired from the business, negotiating the sale of much of his furniture stock to the marchand-mercier Léonard Prieur and his remaining stock of woods to the marchand de bois Claude François Mainguet for the enormous sums of 16,000 and 12,000 livres respectively, giving a fascinating insight to the sophistication of the furniture trade in Paris at this early date. The most expensive pieces of all the furniture included in the sale to Prieur were armoires or bibliothèques, for between 400 and 1,000 livres, indicating the prestigious nature of this part of his production. Many of these were already fully executed, complete with their gilt-bronzes, a useful guide in dating the examples offered here.