Etienne Levasseur, maître in 1766.
With its 'Etruscan' ebony veneer and laurel baguette fluted tapering 'term' legs, this bureau plat reflects the goût Grec style introduced in the mid-1750's by the architect Louis-Joseph Le Lorrain. Probably working in collaboration with a marchand-mercier such as Simon-Philippe Poirier, Le Lorrain's goût grec style was first realized in the designs for the celebrated suite of furniture supplied for the Parisian hôtel of the amateur Ange-Laurent Lalive de Jully circa 1755, which included the bureau plat and cartonnier now in the musée Condé at Chantilly, as well as the set of four meubles d'appui including that sold by the Marquess of Cholmondeley, Works of Art from Houghton, Christie's London, 8 December 1994, lot 80.
This magnificent bureau plat is almost identical to two others; the first was sold by Rory Cameron, Esq., from the Villa Fiorentina, Cap Ferat, Sotheby's Monaco, 17 June 1988, lot 741 ($425,000) and was subsequently with Galerie Yves Mikaeloff, Paris. Interestingly, this latter bureau plat (differing only in the end-mounts and the design of the sabots) was stamped not only by Montigny but also by Dubois, under the leather (not mentioned in the catalogue). The second, but with pieds en torse, was in the celebrated collection of Jacques Doucet, sold in Paris, 8 June 1927, lot 312. A further bureau plat, reputably of this same model and also stamped Montigny, is in the Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris, and another example stamped Montigny from a European collection sold Christie's, Paris, 15 September 2016, lot 51 (€517,500).
A further extremely closely related group of bureaux plats, but with a flowered entrelac frieze, all stamped by Montigny, are recorded: one is in the collection of the Dukes of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, Bedforshire (illustrated in A. Pradère, Les Ebénistes Français de Louis XIV à la Revolution, Paris, 1989, p.304); another, formerly in the collection of the duchesse de Mouchy, was sold at Sotheby's Monaco, 18 June 1999, lot 120 (FFr. 3,532,500; $532,800); and a third was sold from the collection of M. Norton in these Rooms, 30 April 1986, lot 204 ($352,000).
These bureaux belong to a well-documented group of bureaux à la grecque usuallly stamped by either IDubois (for René Dubois, (1734-1809), who employed his father's stamp) or Montigny. Executed in either ebony or amaranth and tulipwood, often displaying the same distinctive ormolu mounts and of very similar proportions and design, although usually of a much smaller scale than that offered here, this group reflects the close collaboration that existed between these two ébénistes - a link further underlined by the fact that Montigny and Dubois were not only cousins, but that the former even acted as a witness at the wedding of the latter in 1772.
In view of the fact that une table de bois d'amaranthe à la grecque, 60l. was recorded in the 1764 inventory taken following the death of Jacques Dubois, while Montigny himself was not elected maître until 1766, it seems fair to conclude that it was Dubois who initially devised this model, but in the face of excessive demand, he in turn - acting in the capacity of a marchand-ébéniste - subcontracted to Montigny (and perhaps also Levasseur) to supply him with bureaux of this form. This hypothesis is further supported by the number of pieces stamped by both ébénistes, both at Waddesdon Manor and in the Wallace Collection, London.
The importance of René Dubois' atelier in the rue de Charenton is revealed not only by the 1772 inventory, but also in the announcements in Les Tablettes de Renommée - which stated 'Dubois rue de Charenton tient fabrique et fameux magasin d'ébénisterie, fait des envois en province et chez l'Etranger'. This latter inventory also revealed the extent to which Dubois had almost exclusively become a marchand, as he subcontracted work to ébénistes including Ancellet, Sar, Bury, Fromageau, Séverin, Bon Durand and Petit.
That Poirier supplied George, 6th Earl of Coventry (1722-1809) with un Bureau à la grecque by Dubois on 12 March 1765 suggests that it was not until the late 1760s that Dubois' activities as a marchand were fully developed, but the mention of 'bureaux plats à l'antique' in the 1772 inventory certainly confirms the long-standing popularity of this model.