The rectangular leather-lined top within a flower-decorated
border, the front with seven drawers, on square-section
feet joined by X-shaped stretchers, restorations and replacements
31 in. (79 cm.) high; 70 in. (178 cm.) wide; 34 in. (86.5 cm.) deep

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Lot Essay

Aubertin Gaudron supplied the Garde-Meuble Royal between 1686 and 1713.

Designed in the Louis XIV 'antique' manner, this princely bureau
mazarin's marquetry panels are inspired by the oeuvre of Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (d. 1699) and relate to engravings published by Gabriel
Androuet DuCerceau, apointed Dessinatuer to Louis XIV circa 1690,
now held in the Stockholm National Museum (P. Fuhring, 'Late
Seventeenth and early 18th Century Furniture Designs for Upholstered
Furniture', Funiture History Society Journal, Leeds, 1989, pp.
42-60, fig. 6). Monnoyer's work was subsequently popularised by Daniel Marot in his Nouveaux Livres de Tableaux de portes et cheminées
of circa 1700, and the latter also depicted a bureau of closely
related form, with foliate-capped herm legs and concave-fronted
stretchers, in a library interior.


The presence of fleurs de lys on the corners of this desk is certainly the hint of a royal provenance. However, no desk of these unusually large dimensions is to be found in the two known inventories of Louis XIV's collections: The King's inventory drawn up between 1660s and 1705, published by Jules Guiffrey (Inventaire Général des Meubles de la Couronne sous Louis XIV, Paris 1886, 2e partie, pp.129-180) and the posthumous inventory drawn up between 1705 and 1729 (Archives nationals, O1 3336). Therefore, one would conclude that this desk either belonged to a close relative of the King (and purchased on his private purse) or to another branch of the Royal family, one of the princes du sang, such as the Orléans, Condé or Conti.

Almost all of the forty-three desks described in the Inventaire Général were of much smaller dimensions and had tops of marquetry. It is worth noticing however, that the only three large desks mentioned (N313, 322 and 593) had their tops covered with green or blue velvet. While the first bureaux were all of pewter and brass marquetry, or of walnut, flower marquetry models appear after 1685 (the first one is delivered in the early 1680s) and flower marquetry is generalized on bureaux and commodes in the years 1700-1710. These marquetry panels (when described) consisted of vases of flowers, sometime with birds and butterflies (N457, 514, 516, 517, 539, 540). In some cases the top included royal symbolism, such as the king's monogram with a lyre (n487) or a crown and fleurs de lys on the corners (N539, 540); in one case fleurs de lys and dolphins on the corners (N514). Interestingly related fleur de lys feature on the stretcher of a floral marquetry cabinet by Pierre Gole at Burghley House, Lincolnshire, which was acquired by the 5th Earl of Exeter in Paris in the 1680s.

A number of bureaux of this form, characterized by their distinctive marquetry decoration to the legs, are referred to in late 17th and 18th century inventories. Of these, the earliest and most enlightening reference is for the pair of bureaux supplied by the ébéniste Aubertin Gaudron to Louis XIV's Garde-Meuble on 16 November 1688. Delivered for Madame de Maintenon's apartment at Versailles, they were described as:- 'deux bureaux de marqueterie de bois fleurs de rapport ayant chacun sept tiroirs et une armoire dans le milieu ferman clef dont les entres des serrures sont de bonze dor, au dessus est represent un vase pleins de fleurs pos sur une table d'attente aux oiseaux et papillons portez par 8 piliers en termes avec bazes det boulles dores, les bureaux ont chacun 3 pieds 10 pouces de long 28 pouces de large sur 29 pouces de hauteur'

A bureau that corresponds closely to this description is now in the National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden.

Established in the rue Saint-Honoré, Gaudron was extensively patronised by both Court and Crown. Employed by not only the King, the Dauphin and the Dauphine, but also the Prince de Condé, the duc de Chartres and the duc d'Anjou, he is last recorded in a payment by the Garde-meuble de la Couronne in 1713. Two further 18th century references to bureaux of this type after this date have so far been found. The first:- 'Un bureau de travail de marqueterie fleurs naturelles couvert de velours noir avec serre papiers et le pied, le tout de fleurs naturelles, le pied et bureau garni de plusieurs tiroirs 120 livres' was listed in 1721 in the hôtel of Louis XIV's Minister Desmaretz de Maillebois. The second:- 'un grand bureau ancien de bois de rapport plusieurs tiroirs sur ses huit pieds et traverses de bois pareil 12 livres', was recorded in the 1761 inventory of the property of the Maréchal de Belle Isle, grandson of the surintendant Fouquet.

A related bureau, reputedly owned by Horace Walpole and subsequently at Balbirnie House, Fife, was sold on 12 June 2003, lot 1178 (£117,250). Apart from the Balfour bureau and that in Stockholm, further related bureaux of this distinctive type are recorded:- one was sold anonymously Christie's London, 25 June 1988, lot 108; another was sold anonymously at Sotheby's Monaco, 4 March 1989, lot 274; and a final example was exhibited in Louis XIV Faste et Décors, Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, 1960, p. xxxi, formerly in the collection of Jacques Helft.

Andre-Charles Boulle also supplied bureaux of this form, as is confirmed by the 1713 inventory of the dealer Paul Verani's atelier, which lists 'un grand bureau fleurs de bois de couleur fait par Boul, couvert de maroquin 200 livres'. This latter bureau conforms with that in the collection of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat House, Wiltshire, which was negotiated by Christie's to the Victoria and Albert Museum to remain in situ in 1996. The very elaborate marquetry decoration of the Longleat bureau, as well as the distinctive masks on the side panels, make this attribution to Boulle almost certain.

We would like to thank Alexandre Pradère for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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