Bernard II Van Risenburgh, maître before 1730.
JAYNE WRIGHTSMAN AND THE TASTE FOR BVRB
Over the past seventy years, the Wrightsman collection has become synonymous with the type of collecting that is scholarly, passionate, and lavish at the same time. Having a keen and trained eye, thirst for knowledge and a drive to form the most exquisite and multi-faceted collection of eighteenth-century French decorative art, Mrs. Wrightsman collected only the best available to her. The extensive four-volume edition of the Wrightsman Collection by F.J.B. Watson is a testament to and proof of its all-encompassing nature. The collecting of Mrs. Wrightsman can be divided into separate phases; her early activity focused on the Rococo style, while her later acquisitions were characterized by an interest in the Louis XVI period. The present table and lot 43 in this sale were both purchased in the 1950s and are characteristic pieces of Mrs. Wrightsman’s early collecting phase. Executed by Bernard II Van Risenburgh, probably the most iconic maker of the Louis XV period, these tables represent the best of French cabinet-making of the mid-eighteenth century. Mrs. Wrightsman was an avid collector of works by BVRB and, in addition to acquiring pieces of this celebrated master for her personal use, she has also generously donated many of them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, such as a writing table lavishly inlaid with tinted exotic woods and mother-of-pearl (see D. O. Kisluk-Grosheide, et. al., European Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New haven and London, 2006, pp. 132-133); an ebony bureau plat (see F.J.B. Watson, The Wrightsman Collection, vol. II, Greenwich, 1966, pp. 295-297); and a pair of Chinese lacquer encoignures (see ibid., vol. I, pp. 170-173).
Bernard II Van Risenburgh, known by his initials as BVRB, was one of the most celebrated ébénistes of his era. BVRB established his own workshop independently of his father where his work stood apart from that of his contemporaries with its innovative conception, construction and innovative gilt bronze mounts. He worked almost exclusively for the foremost Parisian marchands-merciers of the mid-eighteenth century, such as Thomas-Joachim Hébert, Lazare Duvaux and Simon-Philippe Poirier. They supplied BVRB with the rich and exotic materials such as Japanese lacquer and Sèvres porcelain, which were incorporated into his finest pieces and sold to the most prestigious clientele. Although BVRB collaborated with different marchands and was constrained by their individual demands, he developed a highly personal and distinctive style which makes his work instantly recognizable. Perhaps the most significant sign is the exceptional quality of his mounts. Their impeccable ciselure lends them a sculptural fluidity unmatched by his contemporaries and most are unique to his oeuvre. This not only identifies his work but also suggests that unlike other ébénistes, he either designed his own mounts or retained a bronzier for his exclusive use. BVRB is also credited with reviving the great marquetry tradition of Louis XIV masters such as André-Charles Boulle, and especially the development of a particularly refined form of end-cut marquetry known as 'bois de bout' marquetry.
The present table and lot 43 are luxurious small-scale items of furniture developed by BVRB in the 1740s and destined for petits appartements or cabinets de retraite of his wealthy and sophisticated patrons. The two tables à écrire in this sale belong to a group of tables of the same profile and proportion, all by B.V.R.B., and with closely related marquetry and mounts. One table stamped BVRB of great similarity from the Alexander Collection sold Christie’s New York, 30 April 1999, lot 106; one from the H. Farman collection, see P. Kjellberg, Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1989, p. 129, fig. C; and another is in the Fondation Jean-Louis Prévost, Geneva, see A. Nicoid, et. al., Mille Objets pour Genève, Un Patrimoine Enrichi, Geneva, 1989, cat. no. 33. Other related examples, all of which are stamped by BVRB but which may well duplicate some of the above include a table formerly in the collection of Madame Dubernet-Douine sold Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 11-12 April 1946, lot 141; another from the collection of Madame Louis Burat sold Galerie Charpentier, Paris, 17-18 June 1937, lot 142; and a third from the collection of Paul Dutasta sold Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 3-4 June 1926, lot 146.
Although the Wrightsman Catalogue lists the provenance for this superb table as Collis P. Huntington, the legendary railroad baron and one of the original 'Big Four' of San Francisco, it is actually more likely to have belonged to his son Archer Huntington, as Collis died in 1900, before Duveen's celebrated en bloc acquistion of the Rodolphe Kann collection in 1907. Archer Huntington was one of the most generous philanthropists of his era, founding or funding many landmark institutions such as the Hispanic Society of America, and is known to have bought several pieces from Duveen from the Kann collection, many of which he subsequently donated to Yale University.