André-Charles Boulle, appointed Ebéniste, Ciseleur, Doreur et
Sculpteur du Roi in 1672.
THE 18TH CENTURY PROVENANCE
This magnificent table was first and conclusively identified by H. Sorensen with that from the collection of Blondel d'Azincourt, sold in Paris 18 April 1770:-
312, une autre table de Boulle, le dessus de marqueterie en bois à fleurs de rapport, à quatre consoles ornées de têtes de femmes en bronze doré: 2 pieds 4 pouce de haut, 3 pieds 6 pouces de longeur et 2 pieds 2 pouces 6 lignes de longeur.
Both the dimensions and description correspond exactly with this table. Whilst Blondel d'Azincourt's sale was to play a large part in the revival of interest in the furniture of André-Charles Boulle during the 1770's, he was clearly not the original patron of this table, but the circumstances surrounding its commission still remain tantalisingly unidentified.
Having said this, the date of the table's execution can be fairly accurately calculated on the basis of its relationship with the pair of cabinets-on-stands in the Musée du Louvre (OA 5468), which were executed shortly after the Peace of Nimègue in 1678 (D. Alcouffe et al., Furniture Collections in the Louvre, Paris, 1993, Vol. II, no.17, pp.60-63).
In its overall design, the table - although on a grander scale - also resembles the stands for the pair of coffres de toilette from the Abdy Collection, illustrated in Connaissance des Arts, 'Un vrai Collectionneur', October 1960, p.67, illustration no.6.
This table was resold nine years later from the collection of the Abbé de Gevigney, lot 100:-
This time, the description is far more succinct, although without dimensions.
In the Inventory drawn up in 1729 of furniture belonging to the Crown, a different table, but clearly of the same inspiration is listed under number 598:-
Une table de marqueterie de fleurs de bois de plusieurs couleurs, fond d'ébène, au milieu de laquelle est un panier de fleurs posé sur un bout de table, portée sur un pied en console de quatre thermes de femmes aillées.
This latter table was 106cm wide, 73cm. deep and 79cm. high.
Furthermore, by the number 700 in the same Inventory are listed two tables-bureau en première partie supported on four legs: de même marqueterie représentant quatre thermes de femmes de bronze doré.
The subsequent fate of the table, long since forgotten, has been retraced to Wanstead House, Essex. This monumental Palladian house was built by the Scottish architect Colin Campbell (illustrated in the first edition of his Vitruvius Britannicus of 1715) and decorated by William Kent for the enormously wealthy Richard Child, Baron Newton and Viscount Castlemaine, later created Earl Tylney of Castlemaine. According to the diarist, John Evelyn, Sir Richard's father Josiah, 'arrived to an estate ('tis said) of L200,000' through the 'management of the East India Company's stock' (F. Kimball, 'Wanstead House, Essex-I', Country Life, 2 December 1933, p.605).
Described in A New History of Essex (1769) as 'one of the noblest houses in England. The magnificence of having four state-chambers, with complete apartments to them, and the ball-room, are superior to anything of the kind in Houghton, Holkham, Blenheim, or Wilton', some sense of its grandeur can be seen in the famous portrait of Lord Castlemaine by William Hogarth now in the the Philadelphia Museum of Art (C. Saumarez Smith, Eighteenth-century Decoration, New York, 1993, p.94, pl.74).
Acquired for Wanstead by either John Tylney Child, 2nd Earl Tylney (d.1784), his nephew Sir James Long (d.1794) or his daughter Catherine (d.1825), who in 1812 married the 4th Earl of Mornington, this table was included in Mr. Robins' house sale on 10 June 1822 and the thirty-one following days, fourth day's sale (13 June 1822), when it was described as:-
The house was tragically demolished in 1824.
The son of the exceptional collector and amateur Augustin Blondel de Gagny, and the cousin of D'Alembert, Barthélémy-Augustin was born in 1719. In 1734 he joined the army and as a result of his heroic conduct at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, he was awarded the croix de Saint-Louis. In 1752, he married the niece of the financier and collector Marin de la Haye and established himself in society with his appointment as Intendant des Menus-Plaisirs du Roi. Through his marriage and his brother-in-law Bergeret, he became an intimate of the painter François Boucher and had some success as an engraver.
On the death of his father in 1776, he inherited the château de Garges and he himself died in the midst of the Terreur on 31 May 1794.
JEAN-BAPTISTE-GUILLAUME DE GEVIGNEY
From the Franche-Comté, Jean-Baptiste-Guillaume de Gevigney was born into a wealthy and recently ennobled family on 20 January 1729. Ordained as a Priest in March 1753, the young ecclesiastic threw himself into the archival research. Associé of the académie de Besançon (subsequently titulaire in 1760) and protected by the Prince de Bauffremont, the abbé de Gevigney pillaged the archives for his own profit. Appointed garde des titres du cabinet de Monseigneur le comte d'Artois, he continued stealing to build his own collection. Under increasing suspicion, however, he was forced to go into exile and he died in Dijon on 8 September 1802.
BOULLE'S FRUITWOOD MARQUETRY
Fashionable from around 1660, marquetry in fruitwood was initially inspired by the oeuvre of the painter Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer. In 1715, Boulle owned 170 drawings and studies of flowers and around 150 drawings of birds painted from life by Pater fils. Moreover, at the time of his death in 1732, several flower paintings by Beaudesson are listed.
Contrary to accepted general opinion, André-Charles Boulle employed fruitwood marquetry during the vast majority of his career, and not just before 1700. Indeed, in the Acte de Délaisement of 1715, when the ébéniste was already sixty-three years old, the following are recorded:-
Quinze tables de fleurs ou pièces de rapport commencées...1 350l. Sept portes de cabinets de fleurs et de marqueterie en dedans 280 l.
Dix neuf caisses de bois de couleur 200 l.
Environ 25 gros tronçons de bois jaune, quelques racines de fresne, 6 demi-bûches d'ébène, 6 demi-bûches de bois rouge ou santal et quelques morceaux de stetin 500 l.
Dix caisses de bois scié en feuilles mêlées comme buis, épine vinette, houx, brésil et autres 300l..
The fire that ravaged Boulle's workshops in 1720 destroyed deux (bureaux) de bois de couleur, très avancés and eight commodes, of which some were de bois violet et autres couleurs and this is proof that marquetry furniture was still fashionable as late as 1720, as it was still being ordered from the ébéniste.
Not everything was destroyed in the 1720 fire, however, as the 1732 Inventory describes une table à fleurs de pièces rapport à guesnes fort vieille, prise comme telle.