The doors of the upper section of this Neoclassical secrétaire (or Neelische Schrank) open to reveal, in the manner of a kunstkammer, a set of forty-eight, polychrome wax reliefs by the celebrated wax modeller, Kaspar (Caspar) Bernhard Hardy (1726-1819). Hardy may be described as a ‘Renaissance man’, having pursued a variety of disciplines including the arts of painted enamel, engraved shells, glasswork and bronze casting. However it was skill in wax modelling for which he was most recognized, “in wax modelling, Hardy achieved a position which has not been reached by anybody else. He started, following the taste of his time, with low reliefs of great men, portraying them with apt traits of nature and character. He also paid great attention to a natural moulding of material, especially of lace. He then continued with genre figures, full of psychological truth, and with idylls, which reveal the purest and tenderest sentiments” ( E.J. Pyke, A Biographical Dictionary of Wax Modellers’, Oxford, 1973, p. 63). Admired for his talents, he found friends and patrons in Franz Ferdinand Wallraf (1748-1824), founder of the museum in Cologne, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) who acquired eight of Hardy’s wax figures, now on display in the Goethe Nationalmuseum in Schloss Tierfurt in Weimar. The wax portraits in this cabinet depict predominantly genre figures, such as the meticulously executed, compassionate ‘The Mother’ and the pathetic ‘The Frugal Peasant’, parallels of which can be found in contemporary paintings and engravings.
The secrétaire in which these portraits are housed is believed to have been the work of Theodor Commer (1773-1853), ‘Commer of Cologne’, as attributed in the sole academic reference to this piece: ‘Ein Schauschrank mit Wachsbossierungen des Kolner Domvikarius Kaspar Bernhard Hardy (1726-1819)’ in Wallraf-Richartz Jahrbuch, by Kurt Luthmer, 3-4, 1926-27, pp. 199-207. The form is heavily influenced by the work of the preeminent German cabinet maker, David Roentgen and the output of his workshop in Neuwied. This is evident in the severe neoclassical form, the use strongly contrasting timbers, the characteristic brass mounts and inlay as well as spring-released hidden drawers, giving some credence to the suggestion that Comer may have trained under Roentgen. There are two models of related Roentgen cylinder desks, which ostensibly differ solely in the depth of the lower section beneath the rising cylinder; one model, as in this example, has rows of two or three drawers above short tapering supports, and the second is on tall tapering supports.
Until very recently, the secrétaire was believed to have been destroyed during the Second World War, its survival over two-hundred years even more remarkable (A. González-Palacios, A Secretaire by Theodor Commer with panels containing wax figures by Caspar Bernhard Hardy, Milan, 2016, p. 37).