Claude-Charles Saunier, maître in 1752.
With their jewel-like ormolu mounts and sumptuous combination of Florentine pietra dura panels, Oriental lacquer and European Vernis Martin, these meubles d'appui reveal the creative genius of the Parisian marchands-merciers. Of the select few who dominated taste in Paris and subsequently London in the 1780s, they are stylistically closest to the work of Dominique Daguerre. Heir to Simon-Philippe Poirier's (d. 1785) atelier, Daguerre specialised in supplying objets de luxe to the French Court and, after the Revolution, to the English nobility. Based in the rue St. Honoré, as his trade label reveals he Tient Magafin de Porcelaines, Bronzes, Ebénisterie, Glaces, Curiosités, & autres Marchandifes. In 1786, Daguerre signed an exclusive agreement with Josiah Wedgwood to sell Wedgwood's jasperware in France, and in the following year he was commissioned to supply the furnishings for George, Prince of Wales at Carlton House under the direction of Henry Holland.
Opening a shop in Piccadilly, Daguerre was patronised by many of the Prince Regent's circle, including his brother the Duke of York, Lady Holderness, the 5th Duke of Bedford and Earl Spencer. This latter commission included a pair of console-dessertes also executed by Saunier, described in Daguerre's bill of 31 May 1791, which underline yet again the close working relationship that existed between these two (illustrated in F.J.B. Watson, Louis XVI Furniture, London, 1960, fig. 145).
THE DAGUERRE SALE, 1791
The incorporation of pietra dura panels within Louis XVI furniture is exceptionally rare: only a handful of examples are recorded in 18th and early 19th Century sale catalogues and inventories fewer still survive to this day. It is this rarity which points fairly conclusively to the fact that these cabinets are indeed those included in the sale of Daguerre's stock held by James Christie on 25-26 March 1791. Only three items were described as being enriched in pietra dura.
On the first day, lot 59 was described as: an elegant ebony cabinet, the front curiously and beautifully inlaid with gems, comprised of precious stones from Florence, brocadella marble top. superbly mounted in ormolu. This was sold for 110 gns., with an annotation in the auctioneer's book '110 GW'. The second day included another commode, identically described although interestingly not sold as a pair, this time as lot 42: an elegant ebony cabinet, the front curiously and beautifully inlaid with gems, comprised of precious stones from Florence and brocadella marble top superbly mounted in ormoulu. This was sold for an almost identical price, 105 gns., this time with annotation in the auctioneer's book '105 John' - the use of a christian name suggesting a sales clerk or agent. The final entry, this time described as a commode and, judging by the price and description, far larger and more elaborate, was sold as lot 44: A superb and singularly elegant ebony commode curiously inlaid with metals enriched with scarce valuable gems of fruits, flowers and statuary marble top and richly mounted in ormolu. The tout ensemble superlatively fine. . This was sold for 180 gns., with annotations in the auctioneer's book '180 G.(?)' and with an amended price in the right margin 225 gns., with 150 gns. struck through.
The buyer 'GW' has tentatively been identified by Colin Streeter as being George, Prince of Wales. Interestingly, 'GW' also bought other lots on the first day, including a pastille burner pan (lot 31), a pair of Wedgwood mounted candelabra (lot 45) and a pair of ormolu girandoles with arrows (lot 69), as well as a clock by Montjoye on the second day (lot 61) and a lantern, which may be identfiable with that still in the Royal Collection.
CARLTON HOUSE: A POSSIBLE ROYAL PROVENANCE?
The largest and most expensive commode in the Daguerre 1791 sale cited above, lot 44, with its incredibly unusual and distinctive combination of pietra dura and 'Buhl' brass-inlaid marquetry, is almost certainly the commode by Adam Weisweiler in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace. It is first recorded shortly after the Daguerre sale in the inventory drawn up by the Royal bankers Coutts on 14 January 1793, when it is described in the Council Chamber at Carlton House:
'A Superb Commode of Inlaid Marble imitating Fruits enrich'd with Or Molu Ornaments,
Companion to Ditto.
The Royal Collection Commode was certainly there by 1807, when its mounts were repaired and regilded by Benjamin Vulliamy at a cost of £85 5s. ('Carlton House, The past Glories of George IV's Palace', Exhibition Catalogue, 1991-2, no. 28, and H. Roberts, For the King's Pleasure, London, 2001, fig. 246, Acc. no 491). The 'companion' commode could possibly be the commode by both Weisweiler and Carlin, sold from the Akram Ojjeh Collection at Christie's Monaco, 11 December 1999, lot 30.
Even more importantly, the Royal Archives copy of the Coutts inventory, dating on or around 20 November 1792, also records in the Council Chamber: 'Two superb inlaid Marble Cabinets in the two Piers enrich'd with Or Moulu Ornaments Two elegant Candelabrums with Bronz'd Figures and Or Moulu Ornaments standing upon the Cabinets A superb Commode....'. These were therefore in the same room, placed in front of the window piers, as the other Royal Collection commode. These two are no longer in the Royal Collection, and are not recorded in any of the subsequent inventories. It is certainly conceivable, therefore, that the present meubles d'appui are indeed those acquired by George, Prince of Wales at the Daguerre sale in 1791. The fact that the commode in the Royal Collection now also carries a Spanish brocatelle marble top - thus matching these cabinets, as one would expect if all three were placed in the same room at Carlton House - presumably replaced at some point shortly after the Daguerre 1791 sale when it had a white 'statuary marble' top, would appear to further strengthen Streeter's hypothesis that the buyer 'GW' can be identified with George, Prince of Wales, or one of his agents. Interestingly, the 1792 inventory is initialled by the Prince 'GPW'.
The Council Chamber at Carlton House occupied the site of the former bedroom of the Prince in 1784, before being incorporated into the apartment of Caroline of Brunswick in 1794, when the rooms were again refurbished.
Jean-Louis Miéville (d. 1897) was born in Switzerland in 1808, but had come to England by 1830, when he married his wife Mary-Ann. He is listed in the 1881 census as the head of household at 30 Connaught Square, and by the time of his death lived at 103 Lancaster Gate. The sale at Christie's on 29 April 1899 of the "Highly Important Collection of Ancient and Modern Pictures formed by Jean-Louis Miéville, Esq." included a range of English, Dutch and French artists gathered together very much in the collecting style of the 1830s, as well as Oriental Porcelain sold in a sale on the previous day, and a collection of French Furniture which was subsequently inherited by his grandson. When these cabinets were sold by the latter at Christie's in July 1949, the collection was noted as "formerly in the well-known Collection of his grandfather", implying Miéville senior was a connoisseur of considerable distinction. It seems highly likely, therefore, that Miéville acquired these cabinets in the second quarter of the 19th Century as his mercantile career flourished; such buying activity was certainly mirrored in the formation of his Picture Collection. Interestingly, there were certainly sales from the Royal Collection during this period, although these cabinets do not appear in the sale at Buckingham Palace conducted by Phillips on 12 August 1836.
Only one other cabinet of this form, enriched with pietra dura plaques, is recorded; stamped by Claude-Charles Saunier, it was in the Keck Collection at La Lanterne, Bel Air, California, until sold Sotheby's New York, 5 December 1991, lot 50 ($572,000). The Keck cabinet differs from the present pair in the arrangement and decoration of the pietra dura panels to the door. There are nine small plaques all depicting birds on fruiting branches, surrounding the central sunflower plaque. Moreover, to each side of the cabinet, rather than a central pietra dura plaque between two small lacquer panels, the Keck cabinet has a large Japanese lacquer panel depicting birds. Furthermore the Keck cabinet's Rouge Royale marble rests atop the cabinet rather than sitting within an ormolu border as with the present pair.
Interestingly, like the Badminton Cabinet, the uppermost pietra dura panel on one cabinet is dated 1718 to the reverse.
These two cabinets, undoubtedly conceived as a matching pair around 1790-91, have minor technical and constructional differences between the two, as well as very subtly different turning of the toupie feet. All of the constructional and technical evidence of the carcases, ormolu mounts and techniques employed point to the fact that the cabinet with thinner drawer lining was executed very slightly earlier, around 1785; the second cabinet was made around 1790 as a matching pair to the other cabinet. Undoubtedly executed to Daguerre's orders, the ormolu mounts of both are chased in the same distinctive manner, suggesting that they were executed by the same bronzier or workshop.
The slightly earlier 'prototype' cabinet, dating from around 1785, has single-throw locks, thin drawer linings, a slightly thicker door, a shallower underside, a five-sectioned approach to corner-fluting, a straighter taper to the legs, a slightly thinner but more concentrated and redder tint to the Spanish brocatelle marble top and Vernis Martin panels to the sides. It is inscribed '1357' twice, 'Williamson' beneath the top, and with fragmentory paper label to the reverse ' ...ville'. Several of the wooden scooped panels to take the plaques are inscribed '1' in pencil, except for the plaques themselves to the sides, which are inscribed '2'. It is also inscribed 'Top 1' behind one of the panels in the same probably late 18th early 19th Century hand.
The second cabinet, dating from circa 1790, has double-throw locks, a thicker drawer lining, a deeper underside, a three-sectioned approach to corner-fluting, a concave taper to the legs, a slightly thicker and more yellow Spanish brocatelle marble top and Japanese lacquer panels to the sides. The pietra dura plaques are set into drilled scooped panels behind, and are frequently inscribed '2' and 'Bottom 2', whilst the plaques on the sides are inscribed '1' - suggesting that some of the panels have been swapped over from one cabinet to another at some point. The top middle pietra dura plaque is dated '1718'.
Descending from a family of ébénistes, Saunier was accepted into the community and the workshop of his father, Jean-Charles, in 1757. Located in the rue Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the premises had originally been occupied by his grandfather, Charles. Upon his succession to his father's workshop in 1765, Claude-Charles registered his letters patent and continued the business. He briefly continued to adopt the Louis XV style and then rapidly adopted the neo-classic designs of the Transitional and Louis XVI periods that he appears to have favoured, and for which he is now renowned. Perhaps most celebrated for his Neo-Classical oeuvre, this was largely supplied through the intervention of Dominique Daguerre. Interestingly, the same distinctive rinceaux frieze mount on these cabinets was employed on another Saunier/Daguerre commission - the celebrated Japanese lacquer commode à encoignures sold from the Champalimaud Collection in these Rooms, 6-7 July 2005, lot 70.
We are extremely grateful to Sir Hugh Roberts, K.C.V.O., Director of the Royal Collection, for his kind assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.