This commode, formerly at Godmersham Park and latterly in the Upper East Side apartment of Carroll Petrie, was originally ordered for the Cabinet de Retraite of Louis XVI’s brother the Comte de Provence at Fontainebleau in 1771. It formed part of the elaborate furnishings of the Comte’s appartements at the château following his marriage to Marie-Josèphe de Savoie on 14 May 1771. Orders for furniture were given by the then aged ébéniste du roi Gilles Joubert who evidently subcontracted much of this quantity of new work to other makers in this capacity, including both Riesener and R.V.L.C.: as an example, a more elaborate version of the present commode was made by R.V.L.C. for the Comtesse de Provence at Fontainebleau in the same year (see Christie’s London, 9 December 1982, lot 64). The huge extent of this work is reflected through the fact that Joubert supplied no less than 169 pieces of furniture to the garde-meuble in 1771 alone.
The first mention of the present commode occurs in Joubert’s statement of accounts for 1771: “Pour Mgr. le comte de Provence…pour le cabinet de retraite…une seconde commode de 3 pieds ½ semblable a celles cy dessus en tout point. Vaut la some de 2400 livres” (reduced to 2340 livres). ‘Celles cy dessus’ were two identical but slightly larger commodes, also by or sub-contracted to Boudin, made for the Pièce des Nobles of the Comte’s appartements at Fontainebleau (see further below).
The first entry in the Journal de Garde-Meuble is dated 30 September 1771:
‘2631 – pour servir dans le cabinet de retraite de Mgr. le comte de Provence au dit château…Une commode à la Régence de bois violet et roze à placages en fleurs nuées de plusieurs couleurs ayant par devant deux grands tiroir fermans à clef avec entrées de serrures, boutons, rozettes, encoignures et guirlandes de feuilles de laurier, chutes, souspentes et pieds de bronze cizelé et dore d’or moulu avec son dessus de marbre seracolin, longue de 3 pieds ½ sur 23 pouces de profondeur et 30 pouces de haut’
By the time of the 1786 inventory the commode had been moved to the Comte’s Bedchamber and in the 1787 inventory it appears under the new number 82.
The description of the commode in the inventory taken in 1787 (which was not published in the Christie’s catalogue), is even more detailed, with a precise description of the bois de bout floral spray panels to the front and sides:
Château de Fontainebleau, summer 1787 … Appartement de Monsieur …. "N°82. Une commode à a régence de marqueterie ornée de bronze doré sur le devant de trois panneaux et un de chaque bout, encadrée d’une moulure de bronze, rosace dans les angles, ledit panneau d’une branche de fleurs de bois de violette sur fond de bois gris, les champs en bois rose et filets de bois de violette, boutons, chutes et sabots de bronze, deux grands tiroirs, dessus de marbre d’Italie; de 3 pieds 1/2 … 800 livres"
(Archives nationales de France, 01 3398)
The three bois de bout marquetry panels of the front (and the panels on the sides) are accurately described with their branches of flowers in kingwood on a ground of sycamore (bois gris), their ormolu borders and rosettes, their borders of tulipwood. The Sarancolin marble top from the original 1771 delivery had been changed for a ‘marbre Italie’ (which probably refers to rouge griotte) when the commode had been transferred from the cabinet intérieur to the bedroom of the Comte de Provence. This room was furnished with three Gobelins tapestries on the walls, a state bed of crimson velvet with red damask curtains and seats upholstered in matching crimson taffeta, the whole textile set being valued for the huge sum of 30 000 livres - the crimson colour of the textiles would perhaps have dictated the change of marble to a rouge griotte.
The question of attribution for the present commode is an interesting one. We know it was supplied by Gilles Joubert and that it was, as indicated by the presence of his stamp, handled by Boudin prior to its installment at Fontainebleau. As marchand-ébéniste Léonard Boudin was one of the sub-contractors employed by Joubert (appearing in a list of his creditors in 1774) and his stamp is found on several pieces that were also delivered for the comte de Provence by Joubert during the summer of 1771. These include the bureau-plat delivered for Compiègne in July 1771 (no. 2620) and the commode for the Pièce des Nobles of the comte de Provence in the same appartement at Fontainebleau (whose delivery with a companion commode, under no. 2630, immediately precedes that of the Godmersham-Petrie commode, sold Christie’s London, The Wildenstein Collection, 14-15 December 2005, lot 155- see also A. Pradère, Les Ebénistes Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1989, pp. 271-272).
Boudin, however, like Joubert, was also known to subcontract at this time and often sold the wares of his fellow ébénistes such as Denizot, Bayer, Evalde, Gilbert and Topino. It has been suggested that the present commode, with its bois de bout marquetry floral sprays and the delineation of the mounts, recalls the work of Nicolas Petit, maître in 1765.