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CIRCA 1810

CIRCA 1810
The rectangular stepped top above a hinged fallfront with gilt-tooled brown leather writing surface to the reverse, flanked by inlaid bands of vine grapes and cornucopiae, enclosing an architectural penwork interior with pedimented recess with mirrored back in neo-gothic style, depicting classical Roman figures, flanked on each side by herms and four drawers and a variety of secret drawers, above four long drawers following the curve of the main body, flanked by winged griffins, above a rectangular base section with one drawer, on paw feet
145 cm. high x 103 cm. wide x 47 cm. deep
Special notice
Christie's charge a premium to the buyer on the final bid price of each lot sold at the following rates: 23.8% of the final bid price of each lot sold up to and including €150,000 and 14.28% of any amount in excess of €150,000. Buyers' premium is calculated on the basis of each lot individually.

Lot Essay

The present secretaire is exemplerary of the Viennese cabinet work in the early 19th century. Although influenced by the French neo-clasissism which swept through the continent it is unmistakably Viennese. Another secretaire, almost certainly by the same Viennese master is in the Art Institute of Chicago (Inv. No. 1976.39). Both pieces share the same daring ovoid design flanked by carved wood griffins issuing cornucopiae.

During the first half of the 19th century, in Germany, Austria and Hungary the secretaire was considered the most important type of furniture, reflecting the taste and sophistication of its owner. The secretaire was the most challenging piece of furniture a cabinet maker could choose to make as his masterpiece. A showcase for the abilities of the cabinet maker, the masterpiece not only established the maker as a qualified cabinet maker, it was fundamental in establishing his future reputation.

The present lot falls into a group of secretaires known as Iyra Sekretär which were the most elaborate form of this type of furniture. The ovoid body shape is both technically and artisticly challenging. This is reflected by the way the drawers both in the fitted interior as well as those of the base exactly follow the curvilinear shape dictated by the body. The technical excellence as well as a meticulous approach to the construction are evident wherever one chooses to inspect the piece, even the backboards have been beautifully pannelled and moulded. Besides the quality of the work, the materials as well as the techniques employed were designed to impress and dazzle the cabinetmaker's clientele. The profuse use of mahogany is a point in case, it was amongst the most expensive veneers in Vienna at that time. The various techniques employed by the cabinet-maker include penwork, parquetry and brass-inlays, mostly employed in the architectural interior. The interior offers many surprises, the beautifully inlaid parquet floor, reflected in the gothic arched mirror panels, slides out to reveal two concealed drawers to the back, a well below, enclosing four further drawers. Alltogether the interior has thirteen drawers which are concealed by sliding panels, spring mechanisms and other drawers.

The use of Ersatz decorative techniques, substituting bronze ornaments with carved wooden ornament, and marquetry with penwork is typical of Viennese pieces of this period. These innovative new techniques allowed the cabinet-maker to create luxury furniture for a larger clientele. Providing a basic model which could be made to the specifications and wishes of the client. The present secretaire is an example which has been adorned with a maximum of ornament. A related secretaire of the same design, but in a simplified version, and with an ashwood veneer was in the New York art market in 1989.
Before they were allowed to begin work on their masterpiece journymen-cabinetmakers were required to draw the design. A large number of these drawings are conserved in the Akademie der Schönen Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) in Vienna. Three of these designs are related to the present secretaire, although not closely enough for a firm attribution, they at least give a time range for the manufacture of the present piece. They are by Martin Hiernbach, dated November 1810; Johann Ertl, 1813; and Ladislaus Körösi, November 1814. The latter is closest in design to the present lot, also having cornucopiae issuing from each side. Because Viennese cabinet-makers rarely signed their furniture, the only possibility of attributing a piece to a cabinet-maker is via a signed design drawing. Beside the two aforementioned secretaires, there are two other related secretaires.
One with similar cornucopiae, now in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna and a another also of the same, tough simplified design, this time with profuse penwork, was formerly in the Paris art market.

All four related secretaires are illustrated in Christian Witt-Dörring 'A Viennese Secretary in the Empire Style', The Art Institute of Chicago; Museum Studies Volume 15, No. 1, 1989. pp. 54-67.

For design drawings please see: Gabriele Fabiankowitsch and Christian Witt-Dörring, Genormte Fantasie. Zeichenunterricht für Tischler. Wien 1800-1840; Vienna 1996, pp. 56 and 76.

We are gratefull to Dr. Christian Witt-Dörring for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.

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