The serpentine gilt-tooled brown leather top with moulded edge above three frieze drawers with lacquer panels depicting Japanese landscapes within scrolling cartouches, the back decorated and mounted conformingly, with a writing slide to each end, on cabriole legs terminating in scrolled sabots, replacements to the lower frieze border mounts, stamped four times 'JOSEPH'
28¾ in. (73 cm.) high; 44¾ in. (114 cm.) wide; 22½ in. (57 cm.) deep
Anonymous Sale; Hôtel Drouot (Me Couturier), Paris, 10 December 1963, lot 276.
P. Kjellberg, Le Mobilier Français Du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1989, p. 454.
D. Langeois, et al., Quelques Chefs d'Oeuvres de la Collection Djahanguir Riahi, Milan, 1999, pp. 173-175.

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Lot Essay

Acquired by M. Riahi in 1963 and one of his earliest and most important purchases, this superb bureau was executed at a moment of perfection in French 18th Century decorative arts. A masterpiece by Joseph Baumhauer, this bureau's harmonious proportions and balance of outline, scale and decoration demonstrate his skill in the pantheon of the greatest ébenistes of the Ancien Régime. When purchased in 1963 the bureau, which cost the huge sum of 387,000 francs, was considered a record price at the time, as recorded in Connaissance des Arts in February 1964.

French ébénisterie was greatly influenced by the influx of foreign cabinet-makers and various ingenious techniques for construction and marquetry were in fact introduced by them. During the late 17th Century and early 18th Century many of these hailed from the Northern and Southern Netherlands: Pierre Gôle, André-Charles Boulle and Bernard van Risen Burgh to name a few. The second half of the 18th Century would see many German cabinet-makers arriving in the French capital, such as Jean-François Oeben and Jean-Henri Riesener. Joseph Baumhauer, generally known as Joseph, was one of the first German cabinet-makers to arrive in Paris, probably well before 1745, the date of his marriage. He had been granted special status and did not become maître but was made ébéniste privilégié du Roi around 1749, just as Jean-Pierre Latz had been ten years previously. This special position had various tax advantages and enabled different trades being practised in one workshop (J.-D. Augarde, 'Joseph Baumhauer, ébéniste privilegié du Roi', L'Estampille-L'Objet d'Art', June 1987, no. 204, pp. 15-16.).

Joseph worked almost exclusively for the marchands-mercier, the innovative dealers of furniture and bronzes d'ameublement, most notably for Lazare Duvaux, Charles Darnault and Simon-Philippe Poirier, for whom he produced richly-decorated and luxurious pieces decorated in marquetry, lacquer, pietra dura and Sèvres porcelain. During the first part of his career he worked largely for Duvaux, and some of Joseph's pieces can be identified in Duvaux's Livre-Journal, compiled between 1749 and 1758, such as the unique pupitre à écrire debout purchased by Karl, Count of Cobenzl (d. 1770) in 1758, sold from the renowned collection of Hubert de Givenchy, Christie's Monaco, 4 December 1993, lot 84 (R. Baarsen, 'Ebénisterie at the court of Charles de Lorraine', The Burlington Magazine, February, 2005, vol. CXLVII, p. 92). With its symmetrical rococo mounts and balanced harmonious proportions, this beautiful cabinet-cum-writing desk is one of the earliest pieces in his distinctive rocaille assagie style, a more restrained rococo or Transitional style, which he would perfect in the next decade. He is one of only a few cabinet-makers who were able to execute masterpieces in various different styles simultaneously. It is, for instance, intriguing that just before working on the Cobenzl pupitre, Joseph had completed his most celebrated and daring piece: the great bureau plat made for Ange-Laurent Lalive de Jully around 1754-56 and now at château de Chantilly (S. Eriksen, Early Neo-Classicism in France, London, 1974, figs. 85-89). This extremely monumental and rectilinear piece in ebony and richly mounted in gilt-bronze is the earliest known piece in the experimental goût grec style and could not be further removed from the light and colourful marquetry pupitre purchased by Cobenzl from Duvaux.

One of the precious materials employed by Joseph on his most luxurious and costly pieces was Japanese lacquer or 'Vieux Lacq', which generally originated from antique coffers and screens and was supplied by a marchand-mercier. Lacquer furniture was clearly one of Joseph's principal specialities, which he produced throughout his career. One of his most accomplished Japanese lacquer pieces conceived at the out-set of his career, and already fully demonstrating his genius, is a rococo commode executed circa 1750-55 for the marchand-mercier François-Charles Darnault and now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (T. Wolvesperges, Le Meuble Français en Lacque au XVIIIième Siècle, Paris, 1999, p. 171, fig. 78).

The Riahi bureau is one of the small group of bureaux executed by Joseph from circa 1760 until his death in 1772. This compact and delicately sinuous model was undoubtedly conceived by Simon-Philippe Poirier, for whom Joseph largely worked in the latter part of his career. Several examples are embellished with Sèvres porcelain plaques, one of Poirier's main specialities, which he carried through until his retirement in 1777, a feature that was continued with the same vigour by his successor Dominique Daguerre. The earliest bureau of this type is probably that at Waddesdon Manor, which incorporates Sèvres plaques, the earliest dated 1760 (G. de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, Fribourg, 1974, vol. II, pp. 428-433, no. 89). Five other examples decorated with Sèvres porcelain plaques are known, with the dates of the plaques dating up to 1770, including one in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry at Boughton House, which is closest to the Waddesdon example; and another, one of the porcelain plaques with the mark of the porcelain painter Charles-Louis Méraud the Younger and the letter K for 1763, was sold from the Jean Rossignol Collection, hôtel Dassault, Paris, 13 December 2005, lot 122 (6,874,575 Euros). Interestingly the shape of the plaques to these two bureaux corresponds to those which adorn the Mlle. de Sens commode by BVRB; that the borders of Joseph's bureau so cleverly conceal this irregular shape illustrates the ingenuity and ability to adapt of the marchands-mercier in general, and Poirier in particular.

The Riahi bureau, the bureau in the Grog-Carven bequest Louvre and a third in an American private collection, are the only three bureaux embellished with Japanese lacquer known to exist (D. Alcouffe, Le Mobilier du Louvre, Paris, 1995, p. 189, no. 59; and Wolvesperges, op. cit., p. 271, fig. 137). As with the examples embellished with Sèvres porcelain plaques, these were also almost certainly supplied by Poirier, who had a quasi monopoly on furniture mounted with previous materials in these years. The main difference between these three lacquer bureaux are the tulipwood veneers that appear on the Riahi example around the lacquer panels as opposed to Vernis Martin. The lower outline of the latter is also slightly more sinuous, as are the mounts framing the drawers.

The lacquer bureaux are embellished with most of the same mounts also used to border the porcelain plaques, some of which are exclusive to Joseph's furniture. Poirier clearly chose the mounts to follow and accentuate not only the gently sinuous shape of the top, frieze and legs, but also to border the lacquer panels. The long framing mounts are gently moulded and feature small clasps; those to the corners consist of long sweeping acanthus centred by trails; and to the legs Joseph applied a flat tapering mount which is exclusive to his work. On the 'Sèvres' bureaux, the mounts around the rows of porcelain plaques needed to be more solid and secure; however, around the lacquer plaques these are much lighter, resulting in an even more harmonious chef d'oeuvre.


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