Bernard Van Risenburgh (BVRB) (d. 1765), maître circa 1735.
This beautiful small commode is an exceptionally elegant example of the early work of one of the greatest Parisian ébénistes of the 18th century, Bernard van Risenburgh II (after 1696-about 1766).
The attribution to Bernard van Risenburgh
This maker, whose work epitomizes the early pittoresque Louis XV style, and who used the stamp B.V.R.B., developed such a personal style that there can be no doubt regarding the attribution of the present commode. The distinctive, openwork corner mounts, with their cartilagious, fanciful outline, occur on other pieces by him, notably the black lacquer commode delivered in 1737 by the marchand-mercier Thomas-Joachim Hébert for the cabinet de retraite at Fontainebleau of Queen Marie Leczinska, now in the Louvre (Daniel Alcouffe et.al., Le mobilier du Louvre, Dijon 1993, vol. I, no. 42). This also has the same apron mount, with a slightly varied central feature. The keyhole escutcheons are again found on other early works by this maker, such as the celebrated bureau plat acquired around 1746 by Richard Arundale of Allerton Park, which was soon afterwards recorded in a drawing by the British architect John Vardy. This was sold from the collection of the Dowager Viscountess Galway, Christie's London, 23 March 1972, Lot 97, and is now at Temple Newsam House (Christopher Gilbert, 'An exceptional bureau plat by B.V.R.B.', Leeds Arts Calendar 73 (1973), pp. 14-17). The same escutcheon is seen on an extremely richly-mounted commode in the Kunstgewerbemuseum at Schloss Pillnitz near Dresden, which was probably delivered to the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, August III (1733-1763), for Schloss Moritzburg (cat. Meisterwerke des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Dresden 1996, no. 40).
The shape of the commode is characteristic for Van Risenburgh's work as well, but it is rarely found in this particularly attractive small size. Although the maker is well-known for his stylized floral marquetry in bois-de-bout, some of his early pieces have abstract marquetry of the kind seen on the present piece, whose bold and adventurous patterns accord marvellously well with the character of the mounts. Examples include a commode with the mark of the château de Bellevue sold from the Bensimon collection, Couturier Nicolay, Paris, 18 and 19 November 1981, lot 87, and a small secrétaire en pente currently with Kugel, Paris, exhibited at the TEFAF in March 2007.
BVRB and Germany
Although his furniture was eagerly sought by many of the most fastidious patrons of the middle of the 18th century, Van Risenburgh's name did not become famous during his lifetime. This was because he did not sell his goods himself. Based in the unfashionable Faubourg Saint-Antoine, he worked for the powerful and influential marchands-merciers of his time, who sold his pieces to their prominent clients, ensuring that his name be kept a secret - this must be the reason behind the cryptic nature of his stamp, consisting merely of his initials. Foreign aristocrats visiting Paris, or agents procuring Parisian goods for monarchs and princely rulers abroad, often turned to these very dealers; thus, some of Van Risenburgh's finest works straightaway found their way to other countries. German rulers were notoriously keen to buy Parisian furniture, and the finest group of Van Risenburgh's furniture still to be found in its original destination consists of three lacquer and two kingwood commodes, a kingwood bureau plat, two marquetry corner cupboards and a lacquer desk at the Residenz in Munich, all delivered to the Elector of Bavaria, Karl Albrecht, in the 1730s (B. Langer, Die Möbel der Residenz München, vol. I, Die französischen Möbel des 18. Jahrhunderts, Munich-New York 1995, nos. 15-20; B. Langer, Zwei Kommoden des Bernard II Vanrisamburgh, Berlin-Munich 1997 (Patrimonia 134)). Also, apart from the commode at Dresden mentioned above, King August III of Poland acquired another related pair by Van Risenburgh, now at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (G. Wilson and C. Hess, Summary catalogue of European decorative arts in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 2001, no. 28). Intriguingly, the reputed provenance of the present commode seems to suggest that it came from the possession of the brother of the Elector Karl Albrecht, Clemens August, Elector and Archbishop of Cologne. He had a well-known predilection for the arts of Paris: for the coronation of his brother as Holy Roman Emperor in 1742, he ordered a set of vestments of cloth of gold and silver there, as well as a magnificent carved and gilded throne chair (D. von Boeselager, Capella Clementina, Kurfürst Clemens August und die Krönung Kaiser Karls VII., Keulen 2001, passim).