Nicolas Philippe Dussault, maître in 1774.
This magnificent secrétaire was delivered by Dominique Daguerre circa 1787 to the German Prince Frédéric III de Salm-Kyrbourg for the chambre à coucher of his Paris hôtel, now the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur. It is mentioned in the inventory taken of the hôtel de Salm on 4 Fructidor An 3 (21 août 1795):
Dans une chambre à coucher ensuite dudit salon [le salon central en rotonde], ayant pareille vue
Un petit secrétaire en bureau à deux tablettes de marbre en bois d'acajou moucheté avec ornement à figure en camie sur la face et sur les deux côtés garni d'un tiroir au dessus, le tout garni de cuivre doré d'or moulu, prisé 1 800 livres"
A drawing of the alcove of the bedroom of Prince Salm is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue La rue de Lille, l'Hôtel de Salm, Paris, 1983, p.168 (also illustrated here).
PRINCE FREDERIC DE SALM-KYRBOURG AND THE HOTEL DE SALM
Frédéric Othon de Salm-Kyrbourg was the son of Philippe-Joseph, Prince Regent of Salm-Kyrbourg and of Marie-Therèse-Jeanne, princesse de Hornes and d'Overisque. His fascination with France was instilled from an early age when he was educated at the Louis le Grand college, eventually settling there in 1771 having initially served in the army. In 1781 he married Jeanne-Françoise, princesse de Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, and soon after purchased land from the prince de Conti to construct a Paris residence of suitable magnificence for his princely tastes. He engaged the architect Pierre Rousseau to build a spectacular residence in the fashionable neo-classical style, with a grand colonnaded facade and domed salon. The sculpteurs Roland and Moitte and the painter Bosquet (who also worked for the Menus plaisirs du Roi) were commissioned to decorate the interiors. For furnishing the hôtel, the ébénisterie was ordered by the fashionable marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre, while the celebrated menuisier Georges Jacob supplied the seat-furniture and mobilier. The prince and his wife were eventually able to move into their palatial hôtel in 1787 after six years of construction; he had spent the staggering sum of 700,000 livres on its construction and decoration. The prince did not live to enjoy his magnificent residence for long, as he suffered an untimely demise in the Terror in 1794: the numerous creditors to his estate (he had never fully paid the enormous debts he had incurred in building and furnishing the house) seized the contents of the hôtel, which were sold ultimately from December 1795 to April 1796.
After Salm's death, the hôtel was briefly occupied by Madame de Stael before being requisitioned by Napoleon in 1804 to house his newly established Légion d'Honneur and was henceforth known as the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur. Such was the fame of this beautiful example of neo-classical architecture that in 1915 it inspired Alma Spreckels and her husband the sugar magnate Adolph B. Spreckels to create a new art museum for San Francisco as a replica of its design, which remains today in a spectacular setting near the Golden Gate bridge as the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.
THE DAGUERRE COMMISSION AND THE NEW TASTE FOR WEDGWOOD JASPERWARE
This small and exquisite cabinet, commissioned by the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre and enriched by a superb collection of Wedgwood jasperware medallions of classical figures and signs of the Zodiac, is a quintessential product of the taste of the marchands-merciers at the very end of the ancien régime. Although it is in effect a secrétaire à abattant it purports to be a jewel-cabinet with two doors, the central strip mount suggesting a device to cover the joint between them; this underlines the jewel-like quality of the piece. In essence, the use of Wedgwood plaques on furniture continued the tradition of furniture mounted with Sèvres porcelain plaques as pioneered by Simon-Philippe Poirier in the 1760s. The dealer Granchez of 'Au Petit Dunkerque' had originally introduced Wedgwood and Bentley's cameo tablets to France, but from 1787 Daguerre became Wedgwood's exclusive representative in Paris. It was in the same year that Sir William Eden, the British minister plenipotentiary in Paris, was to inform Wedgwood that his 'Figures En Relief are far beyond anything that has been attempted anywhere'. This secretaire, commissioned in 1787 from Daguerre, was therefore the height of fashion. A series of recently discovered bills from 1790 in the Archives Nationales, Paris, to Daguerre and his then partner Lignereux, 'pour compte de Josiah Wedgwood' details an extensive group of 'camées' reflecting the enduring popularity of Wedgwood's jasperwares in Paris even after the onset of the Revolution.
Jasperware was developed by Wedgwood around 1775 and plaques of this ceramic material evoking sculpture in the antique manner were quickly being used in England to decorate both chimneypieces and furniture (see Alison Kelly, Decorative Wedgwood in architecture and furniture, London, 1965). Wedgwood was extremely keen to promote the export of his wares; soon, for example, he was making a whole range of jasperware portrait medallions of Dutch subjects, especially for export to Holland (Alma Kuiper-Ruempol, 'Wedgwood en Nederland', Mededelingenblad Nederlandse Vereniging van vrienden van de ceramiek 106/107 (1982), pp. 1-116). In Germany, jasperware met with great success and princes like Leopold III Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-Dessau formed important collections of Wedgwood wares (Thomas Weiss, ed., Wedgwood, Englische Keramik in Wrlitz, Leipzig, 1995). The early reception of jasperware in France is less well documented, but it must have had an instantaneous appeal as already in the 1770s the Royal porcelain factory at Sèvres started to produce imitations (Aileen Dawson, 'French Biscuit Porcelain in the Style of Wedgwood's Jasperware', Apollo, August 1982, pp. 94-102). With the appointment of Daguerre as his agent in Paris, the import of his wares into France seemed ensured (Geoffrey de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor, Furniture, Clocks and Gilt Bronze, Fribourg 1974, p. 859; idem, 'Daguerre and England', 'Bernard Molitor 1755-1833, Ébéniste parisien d'origine luxembourgeoise,' Exhibition Catalogue, Luxemburg (Villa Vauban) 1995, p. 158).
FURNITURE MOUNTED WITH JASPERWARE PLAQUES MADE FOR DAGUERRE
Daguerre commissioned Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820), who was one of the foremost ébénistes regularly in his employ, to incorporate Wedgwood plaques into a number of pieces of furniture. Around 1788, Weisweiler combined a large Sèvres plaque painted with flowers with a series of jasperware medallions on a secrétaire that was probably part of Daguerre's last delivery to Queen Marie-Antoinette (C.C. Dauterman et al., Decorative Art from the Samuel H. Kress collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Aylesbury 1964, pp. 154-161, cat. 28, illustrated here ). Two surviving drawings attributed to Daguerre's atelier further emphasize his pivotal role in the creation of furniture with Wedgwood plaques. The first is a watercolor design for a secretaire incorporating both porcelain and Wedgwood jasperware plaques in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (gift of Raphael Esmerian, 59.611.8, illustrated in C. Dauterman et al., Decorative Art from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, Aylesbury, 1964, p.161. This drawing was part of an album provided by Daguerre to Duke Albert of Sachsen-Teschen and his wife Maria-Christina as a form of sales catalogue, with several porcelain-mounted pieces reflecting the importance of wealthy foreign clients to Daguerre's business.
The second drawing is illustrated in P. Lemonnier, Weisweiler, Paris, 1983, p.97. This is for a table à café ornamented with Wedgwood plaques with the signs of the Zodiac, as also appear on the Salm secretaire. Weisweiler also produced a number of bonheurs-du-jour, consoles-dessertes and other pieces inset with jasperware, presumably again to Daguerre's orders (see Lemonnier, op.cit.,, figs. on pp. 28, 87, 90, 104, 105, 113 and 118). In 1787, Daguerre came to England at the invitation of the Prince of Wales to assist with the decoration of Carlton House; he was there intermittently until his death in 1796, so he was obviously very well placed to select Wedgwood's latest productions.
This unique secretaire, executed by the little-known ébéniste Dussault, was almost certainly made to the order of Daguerre. In many ways it takes its inspiration from the work of Weisweiler and other ébénistes working for this marchand-mercier. The yellow and purple woods employed in the interior evoke Weisweiler's work, as well as the gilt-bronze pilasters set at the corners - a motif also encountered in the work of Guillaume Beneman (maître-ébéniste in 1785-1811) - and the delicate scrolling and swagged mounts, typical of the goût étrusque of the 1780s. However, very few mounts actually occur on furniture by other makers produced for Daguerre. In proportion and general feeling, there is a certain resemblance to the extraordinary cabinet decorated with feathers and butterfly wings made by Guillaume Beneman for Louis XVI shortly before 1789 (Daniel Meyer, Le mobilier de Versailles, Dijon 2002, no. 60). Dussault seems to have specialized in curious and mechanical pieces of furniture. He must have had good contacts with the revolutionary régime, as in 1794 he was charged to sell the great mechanical sécretaire made by David Roentgen for Louis XVI in 1779 (François de Salverte, Les ébénistes du XVIIIe siècle, Paris/Bruxelles 1923, p. 106).
The marble-topped cabinet celebrates Poetry's triumph, with the poetry deity Apollo's laurels festooning and wreathing the Pompeian baluster pillars that are indented at the angles, while festive Egyptian-striated ribbons band the frieze. Golden bas-relief rinceaux of vines accompany the latter's laurel-wreathed escutcheon and are festooned with Venus pearl-strings issuing from Apollo sunflowers; more laurels enrich the angle tablet's flowered and lozenged compartments. Striated ribbons embellish the stand's frieze and square-pillared legs, whose horn-tapered feet are wreathed in triumphal palms, while festive veil-drapery festoons the marble stretcher-tray. The stand's Grecian escutcheon is wreathed by laurels and flowered with Venus roses; the angle tablets comprise trophies of Cupid's garland darts celebrating lyric poetry, and its lambrequined frieze evokes the ancient poet's history of the harvest deity Ceres, with her festive garland of fruit and flowers symbolizing Peace and Plenty. The cabinet is further enriched in the Roman manner with marble-figured tablets and medallions of wood, whose jeweled mosaics of colored bas-relief jasper-ware evoke Poetry's birth and triumph, and are framed in Etruscan pearled ribbon-bands. The façade's principal figurative tablets of azure-blue jasper feature a sacrifice at love's altar in antiquity. Lyre-playing Erato, the Muse of Lyric poetry, celebrates as her companion, holding a swaddling cloth beside an enflamed altar, recalls the Birth of the Poet Lucan as depicted in a famed antique bas-relief.
Their cut-cornered tablets are encircled by Zodiac medallions, recalling Urania's role as fortune-teller at the birth of the Roman poet Lucan (39-65). The personification of the Art of Poetry is represented at the sides by a victorious citharist, nominated the Apotheosis of Homer, and another nominated The Apotheosis of Virgil. These tablets are wreathed by golden bas relief laurels and rinceaux of Roman acanthus issuing from the sunflowered spandrels of the façade and sides.
The Etruscan/Grecian source for the Homer figure on jasperware plaque on the left side derived from a celebrated antique calyx krater wine-vase in the collection formed at Naples by Sir William Hamilton and illustrated in his catalogue issued by P.F. d'Hancarville as A Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities, 1767 (Vol.111, pl.31). It was John Flaxman who modeled the companion tablet, The Apotheosis of Virgil, in the mid 1780s and prided it as very superior to the Homer.