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The late 17th century Japanese lacquer panels decorated overall with court ladies playing Koto amongst pavilions within a mountainous landscape, inset with soapstone flowerheads and gold flecks with gold hiramaki-e and gold takamaki on a roiro ground, the serpentine shaped top, slightly bombé sides and fall-front framed with borders of trailing foliage, rockwork, acanthus and shell-clasps, the fall-front with embossed brown leather writing-surface enclosing a fitted tulipwood-veneered interior with bois de boût marquetry and three spring-activated slides revealing walnut-lined wells and three drawers, one fitted with white-metal inkwells, the frieze with central shell clasp and similar surrounds, on cabriole legs headed by acanthus-cast angle-mounts with flowerheads, cabochons and acanthus-cast trailing foliate ornament terminating in scrolling sabots
34¾ in. (88.5 cm.) high; 36¾ in. (93.5 cm.) wide; 18¾ in. (47.5 cm.) deep
Almost certainly the 'secrétaire d'ancien lacq noir à pagodes, garni en bronze doré d'or moulu, l'abattant en velours, les tiroirs doublés d'étoffe, 1800 L.' supplied by Lazare Duvaux to Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) on 22 December 1756.
French & Company, New York; sold Christie's New York, 24 November 1998, lot 20.
D. Langeois, et al., Quelques Chefs d'Oeuvres de la Collection Djahanguir Riahi, Milan, 1999, pp. 152-5.
T. Wolvesperges, Le Meuble Français en Laque au XVIIIème Siècle, Paris, 1999, pp. 196-7, ill. 90.
X. Salmon, ed., Madame de Pompadour et les Arts, Paris, 2002, pp. 346-348, no. 149.
Paris, Musée des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Madame de Pompadour et les Arts, 14 February - 19 May 2002, no. 149
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VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Lot Essay

A rare masterpiece executed by Bernard II van Risen Burgh (BVRB) at the height of his powers, this elegant bureau is a superb example of his most precious and sophisticated lacquer furniture of the late 1740s and early 1750s, conceived in collaboration with the marchand-mercier Lazare Duvaux. It represents a moment of perfection achieved in the French decorative arts during the middle of the reign of Louis XV, which was particularly admired by M. Riahi, and is almost certainly the secrétaire 'd'ancien lacq noir à pagodes' supplied to Madame de Pompadour by Lazare Duvaux in 1756.

Of the three cabinet-makers of this family active in Paris during the 18th Century, Bernard II was undoubtedly the most successful, and Pradère, amongst others, regards him as the greatest ébéniste of the Louis XV period. The careers of both Bernard I and Bernard III are very little documented and their oeuvre relatively unknown. This forms a stark contrast with that of Bernard II, who during his illustrious career spanning almost four decades, produced furniture of the highest quality and level of execution. His oeuvre was first discussed in 1957 when the link was established between the 'BVRB' stamp and this until then unknown but genius ébéniste (J.P. Baroli, 'Le mysterieux B.V.R.B enfin identifié', Connaissance des Arts, March, 1957, pp. 56-63).

Bernard II became a master before 1730 and from the off-set of his career appears to have immediately worked for the most important Parisian marchands-mercier of the day, such as Thomas-Joachim Hébert, Lazare Duvaux and Simon-Philippe Poirier, producing luxurious furniture embellished with marquetry and costly materials combined with finely chased and richly-gilt ormolu mounts. These powerful and innovative dealers would have supplied him with the Japanese lacquer and Sèvres porcelain, which were then incorporated into his finest pieces and sold to their prestigious clientèle. Despite working for different marchands and obviously catering to their demands, BVRB developed a highly personal style and based on several of his favoured mounts and unique shapes most of his furniture is instantly recognisable.

The Residenz in Munich contains the finest group of furniture by BVRB still in its original setting, which was supplied in the early 1730s to the Elector of Bavaria, Karl-Albrecht. This important and substantial commission consisted of three lacquer and two kingwood commodes, a kingwood bureau plat, two marquetry corner cupboards and a lacquer desk. The opulent lacquer pieces are now accepted as his earliest items decorated in this costly exotic material (B. Langer, Die Möbel der Residenz München, Munich-New York, 1995, nos. 15-20). Royal patronage soon followed in France and in 1737 a Japanese black lacquer commode was supplied by the marchand Hébert for the cabinet de retraite of Queen Marie Leczinska at Fontainebleau, now in the Louvre (D. Alcouffe, Le Mobilier du Louvre, Dijon, 1993, vol. I, no. 42).
During the 1740s BVRB developed a new range of luxurious, small-scale items of furniture destined for petits appartements or small cabinets de retraite, usually the domain of a lady of high rank and extremely luxuriously decorated. Commissioned and possibly designed by the marchands-mercier with whom he collaborated, these were again generally decorated with superb marquetry panels or lacquer, sometimes mounted with porcelain tablettes, framed by lavish ormolu mounts. One of the these smaller more feminine models was the secrétaire, a curvaceous writing desk with a hinged slanted flap, now generally known as a bureau en (or de) pente. One of the earliest examples is the marquetry bureau supplied by Thomas-Joachim Hébert in 1745 to the Cabinet Interieur of the Dauphine at Versailles (D. Meyer, Le Mobilier de Versailles, vol. I, Dijon, 2002, pp. 108-111, no. 29). Hébert's successor, Lazare Duvaux, evolved this design in the late 1740s into an even more richly-mounted type decorated with antique Japanese lacquer panels. His Livre-Journal, which records his sales between 1749 until 1758, lists three such secretaires:

- No. 678, on 17 December 1750 to the King: 'Un secrétaire d'ancien lacq de trois pieds de long garni partout en bronze doré d'or moulu, 1800 L;
- No. 1526, on 12 September 1753 to president Roujault: 'Un petit secrétaire d'ancien lacq noir et or garni d'or moulu, le dedans plaqué en bois de rose à fleurs, la tablette en velours, les tiroirs garnis d'étoffe, 720 L. This appears to be a smaller model, priced at less than half the cost of the King's purchase;
- No. 2662, on 22 December 1756 to Mme. de Pompadour: 'Un secrétaire d'ancien lacq noir à pagodes, garni en bronze doré d'or moulu, l'abattant en velours, les tiroirs doublés d'étoffe, 1800 L. This example was acquired for exactly the same price as the King's and was almost certainly identical in form and size (trois pieds de long).

Only five related bureaux of this model are known to exist, which share the same gently sinuous outline and application of black and gilt Japanese lacquer to all sides. The only significant differences are evident in the bronze mounts, which may allow dating of the extant examples. Besides the present bureau, these are:

- One sold Beaussant-Lefèvre, Paris, 24 November 1995, lot 177. This has bronzes stamped with the C couronnée poinçon, the tax mark applied between March 1745 and February 1749 to alloys containing copper, and this bureau might be the earliest example of this type. The bronze mounts at the top of the legs are shaped as distinctive 'chutes de fleurs', a full-blown rococo motif, which also feature on the Dauphine's marquetry bureau mentioned above. The presence of the C couronnée poinçon, which ceased to be applied after February 1749, determines that this bureau is highly unlikely to be that supplied to the King in December 1750, and certainly not that supplied to Mme. de Pompadour in 1756. Furniture supplied to the King (and his mistress) would have been the most up-to-date and current available - and Duvaux would never have supplied pieces to them that had been extant for such a long time;

- One from the Jules Porgès Collection and subsequently with Duveen circa 1928. Now in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, it is illustrated in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum Catalogue, Lisbon, 1982, no. 12, p. 157. This has the same 'chutes de fleurs' to the legs as the previous example and was probably executed just before 1745 or just after 1749 due to omission of the C couronnée poinçon;

- One in a private collection, Paris. This has the same 'chutes de fleurs' but the bronzes have not been examined (illustrated in T. Wolvesperges, Le Meuble Français en Laque au XVIIIième Siècle, Paris, 1999, p. 194, no. 88). It was probably executed at approximately the same time as the two above mentioned examples;

- One in the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, Inv. 112612 (illustrated in Wolvesperges, op. cit., p. 195, no. 89);

- The Riahi bureau.

Both the Riahi bureau and the example at Waddesdon Manor have different mounts at the top of the legs. The rococo floral motif has been replaced by a long symmetrical scroll, a motif more associated with the restrained rococo style from the mid-1750s. Mme. de Pompadour's bureau, purchased in 1756, was almost certainly of this latter type with more symmetrical mounts to the legs. It is impossible to prove categorically whether the Waddesdon or Riahi bureau is that supplied to Mme. de Pompadour in 1756, however the decoration of the lacquer of the Riahi bureau lends great support to the theory that it is in fact that supplied to the King's mistress. When supplied in 1756 Lazare Duvaux noted that Mme. de Pompadour's bureau was made 'd'ancien lacq noir à pagodes'; and whilst the Waddesdon bureau is adorned with panels to the fall-front and sides depicting mountains by water with very small buildings discernable at a distance, the Riahi bureau boldly depicts a scene of ladies playing koto on a terrace to the fall-front and distinctive pavilions to either end - a decorative scheme that can without doubt be described as 'à pagodes'. Moreover, the measurements of the Riahi bureau - just over three feet in width - correspond exactly to the description in Duvaux's Livre-Journal of the King's bureau and (by association of the sale price, which at 1800 livres was exactly the same) almost certainly also Mme. de Pompadour's bureau as 'trois pieds de long'.


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