Decorated with a superb mid-17th Century Japanese lacquer panel, this elegant and precious table is a fine example of the most luxurious Viennese neo-classical furniture produced in the late 18th / early 19th Century. It was possibly executed by Benedict Holl (c. 1755 – c. 1831), one of the most talented and ground-breaking furniture-makers (Tischler Meister) active in the Austrian capital in this period. Characterised by highly original designs, elongated forms and excellent craftsmanship, his oeuvre is known to us through a number of signed pieces which are discussed by F. Windisch-Graetz, ‘Der rätselhafte Meister B. Holl und die Wiener Kleinmöbel des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts’, Alte und modern Kunst, 160/61/1978, pp 29-35. His most celebrated piece is Empress Elisabeth’s bejewelled Damensekreträr, signed and dated ‘1799’, which was photographed in the so-called Hermesvilla in 1882-’86 (E. Ottilinger, L. Hanzl, Kaiserliche Interieurs, Vienna, 1997, p. 387, fig. 250). Various other tables by Holl discussed by Windisch-Graetz all have a similar slender frieze drawers and small-scale, jewellike mounts; most variations are visible to the legs and supports. To the present table a delicate mount was conceived to frame the Japanese lacquer panel; for the drawer – recuperated from the interior of a Japanese lacquer cabinet and apparently unaltered for the use in this table – a delicate escutcheon mount was employed.
The Japanese lacquer panel employed as the top of this table is decorated in the ‘pictorial style’ of the third quarter of the 17th Century. Its’ proportions and horizontal scene suggest it was probably originally the top panel of a cabinet, of the type with two doors enclosing a fitted interior. The decoration is so fine that it also relates to the so-called ‘Fine group’ of exceptionally finely decorated Japanese lacquer pieces, including Mme de Pompadour’s Van Diemen box, subsequently in William Beckford’s Collection and now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London and the Buys Box, panels of which were re-used in a pair of cabinets also in Beckford’s collection and now at Elton Hall (O. Impey, C. Jörg, Japanese Export Lacquer, Amsterdam, 2005, pp. 84-86). Costly furniture mounted with panels of ‘antique’ exotic lacquer had been produced in Paris since the early 1730s – designed and sold by two generations of marchands-merciers – but would have been relatively unknown in Austria at this date. The present table is therefore – as an experimental piece – all the more fascinating and rare. The lacquer itself could have come from the Imperial collection or from one of Austria’s distinguished princely families, who generally all had significant holdings of Chinese and Japanese ceramics and works of art as well as intimate cabinet rooms inset with lacquer panels. Dr Christian Witt-Dörring has kindly suggested that this table may have been conceived for a member of the Esterhazy or Liechtenstein families, whose passion for this kind of exotic novelty c. 1800 was even greater than that of the Emperor and his immediate family.