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One veneered in panels of Japanese black and gold lacquer, the other veneered in panels of Chinese black, gold and red lacquer; the Japanese commode with serpentine and moulded Campan Rubané marble top, the Chinese commode with replaced Basque Breccia marble top, above two bombé-shaped drawers decorated sans traverse with exotic landscapes and figures, within a scrolling-foliage cartouche, the angles with C-scroll and flowerhead-cast chutes, the similarly bordered sides of the Japanese commode inlaid with mother-of-pearl, one side with a cliff and a sea landscape, the other with a mountainous landscape with a dragon, the sides of the Chinese commode with a fisherman and boat to one side and trees and pagodas to the other, on splayed legs terminating in scrolled sabots, the Japanese commode with replaced apron mount, the Chinese commode with two replaced sabots
Each: 34 in. (87.5 cm.) high; 50½ in. (128.3 cm.) wide; 24 in. (61 cm.) deep; one slightly taller (2)
The Japanese lacquer commode: The Collection of Baron Stieglitz, Saint Petersburg; at the Stieglitz Museum, Saint Petersburg by 1913.
Sold at an auction organised by the Soviet Government in Berlin between 1928-1930.
Anonymous Sale; Palais Galliera, Me Ader, Paris, 3 April 1968, lot 109.

The Chinese lacquer commode: The Collection of Guy Weisweiler; offered for sale hôtel Drouot (Mes Laurin, Guilloux, Buffetaud, Tailleur), Paris, 5 December 1980, lot 110, purchased privately.
The Japanese commode: D. Roche, Le Mobilier Français en Russie, Meubles des XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles et du Commencement du XIXe, Conservés dans les Palais et les Musées Impériaux et dans les Collections Privées, Paris, 1913, vol. I, pl. XXII.
Both commodes: D. Langeois, et al., Quelques Chefs d'Oeuvres de la Collection Djahanguir Riahi, Milan, 1999, pp. 95-105.
Paris, Jacquemart-André Museum, 1982.

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Jamie Collingridge Clocks

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Lot Essay

The Riahi commodes epitomise the marchands-mercier's vision of meubles de luxe in mid-18th century France. Combining the costliest, rarest and most exotic materials in a tour-de-force of ébénisterie and the ciseleur-doreur's art, they reflect the sinuous confidence of the full-blown rococo style. Executed in both Japanese and Chinese lacquer - re-used from screens or coffers - and displaying identical rocaille encadrement mounts but with contrasting chutes, they were undoubtedly executed in the same ébéniste's atelier. Tantalisingly neither is stamped, reinforcing the hypothesis that both were commissioned by the same marchand-mercier from one of two ébénistes - either Bernard II van Risen Burgh or Jean Desforges.

Bernard II van Risen Burgh ('BVRB') received his maîtrise in 1730 and worked almost exclusively for the most important Parisian marchands-mercier of the day, such as Thomas-Joachim Hébert, Lazare Duvaux and Simon-Philippe Poirier. His work is characterized by a superb construction combined with extensive use of exotic materials such as Oriental and European lacquer and, later in his career, Sèvres porcelain plaques. These precious materials were the exclusive domain of the powerful and innovative marchands, who commissioned these meubles de luxe and subsequently sold them on to their extravagant clientele. BVRB's collaboration with the foremost marchands-mercier also allowed him to employ exceptional ormolu mounts, the funding of which would have been too expensive for any ébéniste working independently. Most mounts employed by BVRB are unique to his oeuvre, suggesting he either designed his own mounts or retained a bronzier for his exclusive use, and are characterized by a perfect ciselure and consistency of quality throughout.

These commodes are both constructed with panelled backs and the same walnut 'runners' beneath the drawers - both constructional techniques BVRB is known to have employed. The mounts - although of exceptional richness and execution - are however of a model that was also employed on commodes stamped 'D.F' for Jean Desforges. As the design of the mounts is key in any definitive attribution to BVRB - in the absence of a stamp, the Riahi commodes could equally well have been executed by either BVRB or Desforges working for the same marchand-mercier.

Desforges' life and oeuvre are discussed by Calin Demetrescu, 'D.F. un ébéniste identifié, L'Estampille-L'Objet d'Art, October, 1992, pp. 64-81. A direct contemporary of Bernard II van Risen Burgh (BVRB), Desforges's oeuvre displays many similarities with BVRB's most sophisticated pieces, and particularly with his pieces of lacquer furniture supplied to the Royal family in the mid-1740s. Both ébénistes collaborated closely with both Hébert and Duvaux, who would supply the oriental lacquer and the sculptural mounts; and the Riahi commodes were almost certainly conceived by one of these powerful Parisian dealers.

In the inventory drawn up following BVRB's death in 1766, over thirty pieces of furniture are recorded in his stock, of which the vast majority were still to receive their decoration and gilt-bronze mounts. Daniel Langeois (op. cit.) has suggested that - like many of his contemporaries - it is not impossible that BVRB also supplied carcases to his confrères - and this might well explain the presence of BVRB's stamp on a further commode with these same 'Desforges' mounts, formerly in the Collection Josse. This hypothesis would be particularly valid when there was a large order placed by a marchand-mercier in haste.

Of the three cabinet-makers of this family active in Paris during the 18th Century, Bernard II was undoubtedly the most successful, and Pradère, amongst others, regards him as the greatest ébéniste of the Louis XV period. The careers of both Bernard I and Bernard III are very little documented and their oeuvre relatively unknown. This forms a stark contrast with that of Bernard II, who during his illustrious career spanning almost four decades, produced furniture of the highest quality and level of execution. His oeuvre was first discussed in 1957 when the link was established between the 'BVRB' stamp and this until then unknown but genius ébéniste (J.P. Baroli, 'Le mysterieux B.V.R.B enfin identifié', Connaissance des Arts, March, 1957, pp. 56-63). Despite working for different marchands and obviously catering to their demands, BVRB developed a highly personal style and - based on several of his favoured mounts and unique shapes - most of his furniture is instantly recognisable.

The Residenz in Munich contains the finest group of furniture by BVRB still in its original setting, which was supplied in the early 1730s to the Elector of Bavaria, Karl-Albrecht. This important and substantial commission consisted of three lacquer and two kingwood commodes, a kingwood bureau plat, two marquetry corner cupboards and a lacquer desk. The opulent lacquer pieces are now accepted as his earliest items decorated in this costly exotic material and were supplied by the Paris marchand-mercier Pierre Garnier, whose paper trade label features in the drawers. (B. Langer, Die Möbel der Residenz München, Munich-New York, 1995, nos. 15-20). Royal patronage soon followed for BVRB in France and in 1737 a Japanese black lacquer commode by him was supplied by the marchand Hébert for the cabinet de retraite of Queen Marie Leczinska at Fontainebleau, now in the Louvre (D. Alcouffe, Le Mobilier du Louvre, Dijon, 1993, vol. I, no. 42).

The grandfather of Jean Desforges, Michel, worked in the atelier of Pierre Gôle until the latter's death in 1685, and subsequently moved to the workshop of André-Charles Boulle (J. Guiffrey, Sentence et arrêt rendus contre André-Charles Boulle au profit de ses ouvriers, 1685, in Nouvelles annales de l'Art Français, 1881, p. 316). Based in the Grande Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine, Desforges married in 1707 and had two sons, Robert, described as a marqueteur ébéniste and Michel II, who also became ébéniste. Michel II had numerous children including Jean, but also Jeanne, who was married to Guillaume Martin, the celebrated marchand peintre and Vernisseur du Roi. Martin and Jean Desforges almost certainly worked together on various items of lacquer furniture, with Martin over painting some areas of the oriental lacquer to create a fuller design. Another member of his family with whom Desforges collaborated was his cousin, the ciseleur Guillaume, who also supplied bronzes to Jean-Pierre Latz.

Jean Desforges's furniture consisted exclusively of two drawer commodes decorated sans traverse with floral marquetry or oriental lacquer and he does not seem to have executed other furniture types. The construction of his commodes is beautifully crafted and finished and the back boards were often panelled and chamfered - which is not the case on the Riahi commodes. The sumptuous lacquer panels were framed by large and exceptional bronze mounts, beautifully chased and richly-gilded. As a result, his furniture achieves supreme richness and harmony equal to that of his contemporary BVRB, and their work has often been interchanged due to the extremely close similarities.

Based on an examination of his mounts and the arrangement of his commode façades, D.F.'s oeuvre can be divided into various consecutive groups. A beautiful example of his early work and representative of the first group is a commode of circa 1730-35 now at Versailles (T. Wolvesperges, Le Meuble Français en Laque au XVIIIième Siècle, Paris, 1999, p. 65, fig. 51). This example combines a central Chinese lacquer field with kingwood surrounds, a feature more frequently found on Régence lacquer pieces. The massive angle mounts are of an enormous scale and continue into strips which join the sabots. This impressive and ponderous commode relates to the sumptuous group of lacquer furniture by BVRB and Antoine-Robert Gaudreaus acquired circa 1730-33 in Paris by Karl Albrecht, Elector of Bavaria for the Residenz in Munich (B. Langer, Die Möbel der Residenz München, vol. I, Munich, 1995, pp. 88-102).

The next group of commodes of circa 1735-50, called commodes à cadres, are much more delicate in appearance and finish, with a thin meandering framing mount around a lacquer or marquetry tableau of smaller scale and less intricate design. The most prominent mounts on these commodes are a characteristic double C-scroll mount to the apron and a flowering, multiple C-scroll mount to the angles. These are often stamped with the C couronné poinçon, the tax mark applied between March 1745 and February 1749 to any alloy containing copper. Similar mounts also appear on the present commodes providing the principle clue to their date of execution. A fine example of this group is the Chinese red lacquer commode from the collection of the Duchesse de Richelieu (illustrated in A. Pradère, Les Ébénistes Français, Paris, 1989, p. 176). During this decade Desforges produced another, slightly richer group of lacquer commodes called commodes à cartel, to which the Riahi commodes belong. The most distinctive feature of these commodes is the cartel to the centre of the lacquer panel. Capturing the essence of the rococo, this whimsical, double-domed scrolling cartouche issuing the handles is set within the framing mounts, creating a harmonious tripartite façade. Besides the present commodes, a further example, from the collection of Alphonse de Rothschild at Schloss Schillersdorf, is illustrated in Demetrescu, op cit., fig. 11.

Most of the cartel mounts used by Desforges on the latter group also feature on a commode by Jacques-Philippe Carel of circa 1735 and now in the Residenz in Munich. This commode bears the trade label of the marchand-mercier Edmé Calley, who owned the magasin named À la descente du Pont Neuf, and who just like Granier supplied luxurious furniture to the Court in Munich. Ownership of Calley's magasin transferred to Charles Darnault in 1737, who renamed it Au Roy d'Espagne, and this date provides a datum ante quem for the commode by Carel. Calley and his successor Darnault obviously collaborated with various ébénistes, providing them with bronze mounts and costly oriental lacquer. On large commissions, work would evidently be divided between various craftsmen, which explains why certain furniture types were executed by different craftsmen but also the presence of identical mounts on pieces executed by different ébénistes. The models for the cartel mounts on the Carel commode might have been exclusive to the Calley/Darnault enterprise, which would suggest they were responsible for Desforges's group of commodes à cartel (Demetrescu, op. cit., p. 71).

Lacquer furniture by BVRB has long been considered the pinnacle of his artistic achievements - and the handful of lacquer commodes that are recorded bear testimony to his brilliance. The Riahi commodes are perhaps the only known near pair of large scale. Single lacquer commodes by BVRB sold more recently include: a Japanese lacquer commode from the collections of Barons Albert and Nathaniel von Rothschild, sold Christie's London, 8 July 1999, lot 205 (£1,431,500); a Japanese lacquer commode from the collection of Edmond and Lily Safra, sold Sotheby's New York, 19 October 2011, lot 745 ($3,442,500); and a Chinese coromandel lacquer commode, sold anonymously, Christie's New York, 22-23 October 2003, lot 670 ($3,031,500).


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