Jacques Dubois, maître in 1742.
Embellished with costly Japanese lacquer panels and vernis martin, this jewel-like bureau de pente by Jacques Dubois is a fascinating discovery having been identified as the desk delivered by the marchand-mercier Jacques-François Machart on the 21 August 1755, to Louis XV’s celebrated mistress, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764). The number ‘2002’ visible to the underside of the desk indeed refers to an entry made by the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne for the furnishing of Madame de Pompadour’s apartment at the château de Choisy, one of the King’s favorite residences:
Du 21 août 1755. Livré par le Sr Machar marchand pour servir dans l’appartement de la marquise de Pompadour au château de Choisy.
‘N. 2002 Un secrétaire de laque aussi à figures et fleurs chinoises fermant à clef, ayant dedans une tablette, trois tiroirs dont un garni d’encrier poudrier et boîte à éponge de cuivre et une trape à secret, long de 20 pouces sur 14 pouces de profondeur et 34 de haut’.
The secrétaire was delivered together with a commode, also in lacquer, described under the number 2001: ‘une commode de laque à figure et fleurs chinoises et dessus de marbre brèche d’Alep ayant par devant deux grands tiroirs fermant à clef…’ and a ‘petite table vide poche en marquetrie de fleurs …’ under number 2003.
Although the two lacquer pieces were positioned in Madame de Pompadour’s bedroom, the ‘petite table’ was finally placed in the Queen Marie Leszczynska’s apartment.
The secrétaire and the commode were both still recorded in Madame de Pompadour’s bedroom at the time of her death, located on the ground floor next to the King’s apartment, in 1764:
‘2002 Un secrétaire aussi de laque à figures et fleurs chinoises fermant à clefayant au dedans une tablette, trois tiroirs don’t un garni d’encrier, poudrier et boîte à éponge de cuivre et unr trape à secret, long de 20 pouces sur 14 de profondeur et 34 de haut.’
MADAME DE POMPADOUR
Among the fabled collections of furniture and works of art amassed by Madame de Pompadour, her collections of antique Japanese lacquer held a prominent position within her most prized and valuable possessions. Her educated connoisseur's eye and appreciation of precious and finely-worked surfaces were clearly drawn to the art of Japanese lacquer-workers and their astonishing accomplishments. She was also deeply interested in the history of these items, to which she accorded equal importance. This was clearly highly relevant to her when she purchased the celebrated Van Diemen box in 1753. This precious Japanese lacquer box was offered to Anton van Diemen, the Governor of the Dutch East India Company between 1636 and 1645, and was considered the most beautiful Japanese lacquer item known in Europe at the time (B. Rondot in X. Salmon ed., Madame de Pompadour et les Arts, Paris, 2002, p. 320).
In the inventory complied after her death around fifty Japanese boxes and coffers are listed. In addition, a large number of items of furniture are recorded decorated in Lacq or Ancien Lacq, referring to antique Japanese lacquer, including eight commodes, around ten encoignures, two writing-tables and various other smaller items of furniture. Most of these were at her main residence in Paris, the hôtel d'Evreux, now the palais de l'Elysées, but other items were recorded at Versailles and Saint-Ouen (Jean Cordey, Inventaire des biens de madame de Pompadour rédigé après son décès, Paris, 1939).
A key figure in Mme. de Pomadour's life as a collector was the celebrated marchand-mercier Lazare Duvaux, whose Livre-Journal complied between 1748 until his death in 1758 records her purchases, totaling 380,000 livres in ten years (T. Wolvesperges, Le Mobilier en Laque au XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1999, p. 365). The most expensive purchase Mme. de Pompadour made from Duvaux was a lacquer-mounted secrétaire by BVRB, almost certainly the one sold from the collection of Djahanguir Riahi, sold at Christie’s, London, 6 December 2002, lot 25 (3,177,250 GBP), which is listed on 19 February 1757 as:
- 2729. Un secrétaire en forme d'armoire à abattant, plaqué en ancient lacq, orné partout de bronze d'or moulu, les dedans plaques en bois de rose à fleurs, les cornets d'argent, garni en velours et l'armoire en étoffe, 5000 L. (L. Courajod, Livre-Journal de Lazare Duvaux, marchand-bijoutier ordinaire du Roy 1748-1758, Paris, 1873).
JACQUES-FRANÇOIS MACHART, MARCHAND- MERCIER
For this delivery, Madame de Pompadour used another marchand-mercier: Jean-Jacques Machart (or Machard, d. 1763), who was received marchand mercier bijoutier in 1744 in Paris. His main activity was the trade of European porcelain, and more particularly gilt-bronze objects mounted with porcelain flowerheads. He collaborated with Duvaux from whom he acquired luxurious goods and wares between 1749 and 1759 and was a regular buyer at the manufacture de Sèvres; interestingly, in 1753, he purchased from the manufactory several pairs of vases Pompadour. His clientele included the Duchesse d'Orléans, Madame Geoffrin, the Marquise de Villeroy and the Prince de Turenne. Machart seems to have played the same role with the Garde-Meuble as his counterpart the Parisian marchand Thomas-Joachim Hébert a decade earlier, providing the garde-meuble more precious items of furniture for the private appartments of the members of the Royal family, whereas the states apartments were usually supplied by the ébénistes de la couronne such as Gilles Joubert or Antoine Gaudreaus. The delivery made in 1755 for Madame de Pompadour’s apartment at Choisy seems to have been the most important commission he realized for the garde-meuble, and his name appeared again in the Journal du garde-meuble two years after and this time for two lanterns in gilt bronze with porcelain flowers, also supplied for the château de Choisy. The inventory of the stock of Machart drawn in 1753 after his wife’s death reveals that items of furniture were in minority, the majority being gold boxes and jewels. However, around twenty pieces of furniture enriched with lacquer were recorded including three commodes de lac (term used for Japanese lacquer) and one de Chine (for Chinese lacquer). In 1763 Machart went bankrupt allowing the compilation of another inventory this time listing more valuable pieces in lacquer including a garniture d’un secrétaire de lac chez Dubois. Jacques Dubois, who supplied the present desk through Machard, already appeared in his 1753 inventory as one of his fournisseurs demonstrating a fruitful collaboration.
This desk is stamped by the ébéniste Jacques Dubois, who, just like BVRB extensively supplied furniture to Madame de Pompadour, specialised in furniture mounted with Oriental lacquer. Whilst his career is thinly documented he is known to have initially worked with his half-brother Noël Gérard from the late 1720s, the latter acting as witness to his marriage in Paris in 1730. Established in the rue de Charenton, Dubois enjoyed the privilèges of an ouvrier libre and was thus unfettered by the strict guild regulations endured by his fellow ébéniste. He is known to have collaborated with the marchand-merciers Bertin and Pierre I Migeon (A. Pradère, French Furniture Makers, Paris, 1989, p. 171)
As the inventory taken following his death in 1763 clearly testifies, his workshop included a small group of costly pieces in Chinese or Japanese lacquer, listing 'un bureau en lac de Chine' and 'un petite secrétaire en lac de japon' each valued at '200 L'. The inventory also shows that Dubois maintained an extensive stock of gilt-bronze mounts - 432 livres pesant de modèles de bronze, 1 080 L. One of the mounts characteristic for Dubois’ oeuvre are the leaf chutes trailing the legs, which appear on the present bureau but also on a bureau from the collections of the Barons Nathaniel and Albert von Rothschild, sold Christie’s London, 8 July 1999, lot 204. They also appear on both the related bureau, stamped with the C couronné poinçon, illustrated in A. Pradère, ‘op. cit.’ p. 170, fig. 148, as well as on the marquetry bureau, sold from the Alexander Collection, Christie's New York, 30 April 1999, lot 140. The closest comparisons are the bureau of same scale from the fabled Paul Dutasta collection, sold Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 3-4 June 1926, lot 157; and the bureau sold at Christie’s, London, 23 May 2018, lot 211 (£175,000). These examples, stamped by Dubois, also has a red japanned interior like the Pompadour bureau, creating a striking contrast with the Japanese lacquer exterior. The fall-front’s gilt-bronze frame with sunbeams corners and pierced chutes are also visible on other lacquer bureaux by Dubois, although of larger width, including the one sold at Nicolay, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 2 December 1986, lot 80, and the example sold at Christie’s, London, 6 July 2006, lot 109.
CHATEAU DE CHOISY
Acquired in 1739 after the death of the princesse de Bourbon-Conti, Choisy was one of Louis XV's favorite residences where he never ceased to undertake building works. Built between 1680 and 1686 by Jacques-Jules Gabriel for the Grande demoiselle, the château was considerably reconfigured and enlarged by Ange-Jacques Gabriel for Louis XV. Gabriel transformed a pleasure house bought as a retreat for Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Mailly into a veritable Royal château where they could live away from the peering eyes of the court. It is in 1745 after Madame de Mailly’s death, that Madame de Pompadour was installed on the ground floor, at the end of the right wing. This apartment, described as ‘l’appartement 1’ in the 1764 inventory, comprised an antichambre, one dining room, a bedroom, a cabinet and a dressing room. The bedroom where the present desk and commode en suite delivered in 1755 were listed, was decorated with crimson green and gold damask and furnished with a lit à l’impérial in giltwood and green-painted and numerous seat furniture similarly decorated, all displayed on a carpet façon de perse. The rest of the ébénisterie furnishing her apartment was delivered by the marchand-mercier Gilles Joubert on the 22 August 1755: one commode, a bedroom table in kingwood, and two armoires in rosewood for her cabinet. Interestingly, Louis XV’s bedroom was also furnished with a group of lacquer mounted furniture including the commode delivered by Robert-Antoine Gaudreaus in 1744 now at Versailles (inv. num. V2014.1). The Queen having expressed her desire to come to Choisy, from 1746 the King undertook numerous refurbishments and enlargements to the château in order to have it ready for the Royal family. A bathing pavilion was added, and above all a Petit Château was designed to provide an intimate refuge for Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour. Works continued in a series of commissions as late as 1777, though Louis XV lost interest in Choisy after Pompadour's death in 1764.