A LOUIS XV ORMOLU-MOUNTED BLUE AND GILT VERNIS MARTIN BUREAU EN PENTE
A LOUIS XV ORMOLU-MOUNTED BLUE AND GILT VERNIS MARTIN BUREAU EN PENTE
A LOUIS XV ORMOLU-MOUNTED BLUE AND GILT VERNIS MARTIN BUREAU EN PENTE
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A LOUIS XV ORMOLU-MOUNTED BLUE AND GILT VERNIS MARTIN BUREAU EN PENTE

BY PIERRE IV MIGEON, CIRCA 1735-40, THE VERNIS DECORATION ATTRIBUTED TO THE MARTIN FRERES

Details
A LOUIS XV ORMOLU-MOUNTED BLUE AND GILT VERNIS MARTIN BUREAU EN PENTE
BY PIERRE IV MIGEON, CIRCA 1735-40, THE VERNIS DECORATION ATTRIBUTED TO THE MARTIN FRERES
The hinged fall-front enclosing a fitted interior with pigeon-holes and drawers veneered in bois satiné, above two further drawers, including writing-pots and a well, on cabriole legs with gilt sabots, decorated overall with Chinoiserie landscapes with pagodas, birds and figures, stamped MIGEON and NB
35 ¾ in. (91 cm.) high; 27 in. (68.5 cm.) wide; 16 ¾ in. (42.5 cm.) deep
Provenance
French private collection until 2001.
Literature
Les ébénistes du XVIIIe siècle français, Collection Connaissance des Arts, Paris, 1963, p. 94 – described as ‘un parfait example de ces meubles légers, pleins de gaieté et de fantasie’ (in a private collection).
S. Mouquin, Pierre IV Migeon, Paris, 2001, pp. 96-97, & 124-125, fig. 40.
A. Forray-Carlier and M. Kopplin et al., Les Secrets de la Laque Français, exh. cat., Paris, 2014, p. 91, cat. 46.
Exhibited
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Les Secrets de la Laque Français, 13 February - 8 June 2014, cat. 46.
Special notice

These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.

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Lot Essay

‘Le fameux Martin a trompé à cet égard plus d’une fois les plus habile connoisseurs; ses chefs-d’oeuvre sont encore recherchés avec le meme empressement que les anciens laques’ Jean-Félix Watin, 1772
‘..le secrétaire en pente … en vernis martin bleu adopte une ligne d’une parfait harmonie…’ Sophie Mouquin, Migeon, 2001

Pierre IV Migeon, maître by 1729.

This dazzling bureau reflects the enduring fascination in the West for the luxury products of the East, in particular the lacquer and porcelain wares of China and Japan, whose perfected techniques in these materials remained so mysterious and alluring to Western craftsmen. It is decorated in the rarest colour employed by vernisseurs in the 18th Century, a rich azure blue which may well have used the precious hardstone lapis lazuli in its preparation. Blue was never used as a ground colour in the 17th or 18th Century in Japanese or Chinese lacquers, and its use here demonstrates how, by the 1730s and 1740s, the vernisseurs (or lacquer craftsmen) of Paris were not just slavishly imitating Asian lacquers, but creating their own visual vocabulary.

The rarity of the use of blue is indicated by the fact that only a handful of pieces decorated in blue vernis martin are recorded in inventories in the 18th Century, all supplied to elite aristocratic patrons. The most celebrated is the commode and encoignure by Mathieu Criaerd, supplied by Thomas-Joachim Hébert in 1742 to Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Mailly for her Salon Bleu at the château de Choisy, now in the Louvre. However the decoration of these pieces, although inspired by chinoiseries, is much more Western and pictorial in style with rococo frames and only loosely imitates Chinese or Japanese lacquers, and is actually closer in spirit to the blue and white porcelain which was an important feature of the room.

The duchesse d’Orléans owned a bureau at the château de Saint Cloud by 1759, described as ‘un secrétaire verny de Martin fond bleu dur, ornements de bronze doré d’or moulu 160 livres.’ A second example was in the collection of the celebrated collector, Jean-Baptiste de Machault d'Arnouville, contrôleur général des finances to Louis XV, recorded in the château d’Arnouville after his death and described as ‘un petit secrétaire de fond bleu 48 livres’.

Only four blue-ground bureaux en pente decorated in imitation of Japanese lacquer are recorded today:
- The current example by Migeon.
- An example by Migeon, with similar gilt decoration simulating ormolu chutes to the top of the legs was previously in the collection of René Weiller, sold Christie's, London, 17 April 1980, lot 188, and recently appeared on the Paris art market, having had its varnish removed, which had discoloured giving it a green appearance (S. Mouquin, Pierre IV Migeon, Paris, 2001 p. 95., fig. 39).
- An example by BVRB, with a pale blue ground, formerly with Steinitz, Paris and now in a private collection (illustrated in T. Wolvesperges, Le Meuble Français en Laque au XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1999, p. 117, fig. 69).
- An unstamped example supplied circa 1750-1751 to Madame de Pompadour for the château de Bellevue, stamped with the ‘C’ couronné poinçon, a tax mark employed on any alloy containing copper between March 1745 and February 1749, now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. As this does not appear in the bills of Lazare Duvaux’s deliveries to Bellevue, it is possible it was ordered from another marchand-mercier such as Thomas-Joachim Hébert. Although unstamped, the distinctive pattern of contrasting light and dark amaranth and plum woods of the interior makes it likely that it was executed by Adrien-Faizelot Delorme, who specialized in this use of woods (B. Rondot, Madame de Pompadour et les Arts, exh. cat., Paris, 2002, pp. 326-7).

The fact that all three of the four extant examples of bureaux employing a blue ground are by different makers points to the likelihood that they were commissioned by a marchand-mercier such as Hébert, who particularly specialised in lacquer (and who was an important supplier to Machault d’Arnouville).

THE MARTIN BROTHERS AND THE ART OF LACQUER WORK
The Martin brothers, who perfected a technique for imitating Chinese and Japanese lacquer, are one of the select few elite craftsmen, along with Boulle, Cressent and Gouthière, to be named in catalogues and inventories in the 18th Century, such was the fame of their artistry. The most important workshops were operated by the eldest of the brothers, Guillaume (1689-1749), who was made vernisseur du Roi in 1713 and in 1730 was granted the right ‘…de fabriquer, faire, vendre et débiter toutes sortes d’ouvrages en relief de sa composition, dans le goût du Japon ou de la Chine…’, and Etienne-Simon (1703-1770), vernisseur du Roi in 1728. While Guillaume particularly specialized in smaller objects, Etienne-Simon expanded the business to include complete lacquer décors for rooms, and one can imagine this rare bureau might have been commissioned to harmonise with a special lacquer scheme for a client. On his death in 1770 Etienne-Simon was owed the enormous sum of 270,000 livres, indicating how extensive the business had become. Interestingly, there is very little mention in the accounts of the Martin frères of any transactions directly with ébénistes, implying that the bulk of their commissions to decorate furniture would have come through marchands-merciers.

PIERRE IV MIGEON
Pierre IV Migeon (1696-1758), like so many of the great artisans of Paris, came from a family of craftsmen. He received his maîtrise by 1729 and worked in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris, the traditional quartier for cabinet-makers. The majority of his output is in the classic Louis XV style – case pieces with lavish rococo ormolu mounts and veneered in floral marquetry or distinctive geometric patterns. He achieved rapid success, and from early in his career he also acted as a retailer as well as a maker of furniture, sub-contracting work as a marchand-ébéniste to his confrères who perhaps lacked access to a private clientele. Furniture employing lacquer panels or vernis decoration constituted a small, but important part of his production. A related pale blue-ground bureau decorated in a much more painterly style en camaïeu, with chinoiserie landscapes in the manner of Pillement (Mouquin, op. cit., pp. 95-8).

The stamp NB is probably for the marchand-mercier Nicolas Bertin, who had a shop ‘A la Toison d’Or’. His production is mostly dated between 1730 and 1740 and his label can be seen on three pieces, the label dated 1731. It is possible that the carcase of this bureau was purchased as a stock piece by Migeon from Bertin, explaining the presence of both their stamps to the underside.

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