Jean-François Oeben (1721-63), maître in 1760, ébéniste du Roi in 1754.
Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806), maître, ébéniste du Roi in 1768.
With its unusual open façade with shelves and shallow à la Grecque form, this so-called commode en bibliothèque, stamped 'Oeben', and its pair stamped 'Riesener', represent a unique type conceived in the Oeben/Riesener workshops (the pair was sold from a French private collection, Sotheby's Paris, 16 October 2007, lot 136, 3,952,250 Euros). Richly mounted and embellished with floral-marquetry trellis to the sides, they recall various luxurious types of furniture supplied by Jean-François Oeben to Madame de Pompadour and were clearly created with her taste in mind.
The creation of this unique model can be dated to the years after Oeben's death when the workshop was run by his widow, who was still entitled to employ his stamp. Oeben's principal pupil Jean-Henri Riesener probably immediately took over the reins of the workshop and in 1767 married Oeben's widow, but only became maître in 1768. Furniture produced in the workshop after Oeben's death but prior to Riesener's maîtrise date, are stamped Oeben. Items executed after Riesener gained his maîtrise obviously bear his stamp. The present pair of commodes en bibliothèque, one stamped 'Oeben', the other 'Riesener', were therefore almost certainly executed at exactly this transitional period and can be regarded as Jean-Henri Riesener's work executed in the atelier of la veuve Oeben.
JEAN-FRANÇOIS OEBEN - MADAME DE POMPADOUR'S FAVOURITE EBENISTE
Born in 1721 near Aachen, Jean-François Oeben probably arrived in Paris in the mid-1740s, and at the time of his marriage to Roger Van der Cruse's sister in 1749, he was working in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. By the early 1750s, he had caught the attention of Mme. de Pompadour, who would become his most important patron and as early as 1752 acquired floral marquetry frames by Oeben through her favourite marchand-mercier Lazare Duvaux (L. Courajod ed. Livre-Journal de Lazare Duvaux, Paris, 1873, vol. II, no. 124). Clearly in awe of his 'pictures' in exotic woods and technical devices, it was no doubt through her influence that Oeben was appointed ébéniste du Roi in 1754, with lodgings first at the Gobelins and then at the Arsenal. One of his most accomplished early works, demonstrating his fledgling genius, is the marquetry mechanical table of circa 1755-60 inset with Mme. de Pompadour's armorial device into the marquetry (A. Pradère, Les Ebénistes Français, Paris, 1989, fig. 263, p. 254).
Both Lazare Duvaux and Jean-François Oeben were key figures in Mme. de Pompadour's life as a collector and through them her fabled collections of furniture and works of art were largely formed. During her twenty years at Court, from her presentation in 1745 until her death in 1764, she witnessed the transition from the goût pittoresque or rococo to the experimental beginnings of the early Neo-classical style. She would constantly acquire items conceived in the latest fashion, and as such she played an active part in adopting but also encouraging the 'Antique' style. A new type of furniture specially designed for her by Oeben in 1760 was the 'Commode à la Grecque' - a commode of rectangular form with a slight breakfront resting on short curved cabriole legs - of which she ordered at least twelve examples for the château de Ménars. Seventeen are subsequently listed in the inventory compiled after her death in 1764, showing her appreciation of this new type (X. Salmon ed., Madame de Pompadour et les Arts, Paris, 2002, pp. 351-352).
Oeben's commodes à la grecque supplied to Ménars were veneered in plain mahogany, newly introduced to France, and both the innovative shape and the use of the dark veneers boldly illustrated the new 'Antique' style that Mme de Pompadour wished to follow. Oeben would repeat the 'à la grecque' form until his death in 1763 and soon this fashionable new form would be copied by other ébénistes, including Jacques Dautriche and Roger van der Cruse. Striking when veneered with mahogany or bois satiné, the flat surfaces of these commodes à la grecque were also particularly suited to the display of the various cube, lozenge and floral trellis marquetry patterns Oeben had developed and perfected in the preceding decade. Various marquetry examples stamped by Oeben are known to exist, the first probably executed immediately after the Ménars mahogany group and continuing until his death in 1763 (Pradère, op. cit., p. 261).
THE ROTHSCHILD COMMODE EN BIBLIOTHÈQUE
Whilst unique in form, the present commode en bibliothèque and its pair clearly derive from Oeben's commodes à la grecque developed for Ménars in 1760, but more specifically to the most luxurious items of marquetry furniture executed in his workshop between 1760 and 1763. The floral lozenge marquetry pattern to the sides had already been employed by Oeben in the 1750s and features on a small secrétaire of restrained rococo outline (R. Strattmann-Döhler, Jean-François Oeben, Paris, 2002, p. 62). Around the open shelves there are various finely-chased ormolu mounts and several of the mounts appear to have been designed especially for this piece, notably those at the top and bottom of the middle stile. The chutes headed by ram's masks at the corners appear on a number of his most elaborately decorated commodes and secretaires executed in the last years of his life.
THE ROTHSCHILD COLLECTIONS IN VIENNA
The extraordinary art collection of the Austrian branch of the Rothschild family was carefully formed over many generations. It had already reached a considerable size in the mid-19th Century and the Katalog der Kunstsammlung des Freiherrn Anselm von Rothschild, compiled in 1866 and re-published in 1872, listed no fewer than 600 items, including two portraits by Frans Hals and the celebrated Rothschild prayerbook. After Anselm von Rothschild's death (d. 1874) the collection was split between his three sons Nathaniel (d. 1905), Ferdinand (d. 1898) and Salomon Albert (d. 1911; known as Albert). Ferdinand emigrated to England, where he constructed Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, and his share of Anselm's collection went there with him. The remainder of the Austrian collection was housed on the Theresianumgasse in Vienna, in Nathaniel's mansion designed by the architect Jean Girette, and at Albert's house on the Heugasse, almost opposite Nathaniel, as well as at the family's hunting lodge, Hohe Warte, and at Schloss Schillersdorf.
The collection of furniture included several important exquisite examples of French ébénisterie, such as the Louis XVI commode by Jean-Henri Riesener from the Bibliothèque of King Louis XVI at Versailles and the Louis XVI regulateur de parquet by Ferdinand Berthoud, Balthazar Lieutaud and Philippe Caffièri, which was supplied to the Duc de Choiseul (sold from the collection of the Barons Nathaniel and Albert von Rothschild, Christie's London, 8 July 1999, lots 201 and 207). The present commode en bibliothèque is listed as item AR (for Baron Alphonse) 225 in the palace on the Theresianumgasse as 'Offene Kommode, mit weisser Marmorplatte reichen Goldbeschlagen mit Widderkopfen'. Together with various other items of French furniture, the commode was sent to the United States by Baroness Clarice von Rothschild (d. 1967) and subsequently sold, probably to Rosenberg and Stiebel, Inc., New York, as was the case with the celebrated Branicki corner cupboard by Jacques Dubois, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, illustrated in G. Wilson and C. Hess, Summary Catalogue of European Decorative Arts, J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, 2001, p. 20, fig. 35.