The striking marquetry pastorales, which combine Italianate classical ruins with figures engaged in leisurely pursuits, were extremely fashionable during the 18th Century. They were admired for their painterly effect and evoked memories of sights seen and sensations experienced while on the Grand Tour. Such distinctively pictorial marquetry panels were often based on engraved sources, for instance a series of eight engravings by P.-F. Basan, one of which entitled Vi Ruine featured similar arcaded ruins to this panel and derived from a painting by P.-A. de Machy (1723-1807), who was acknowledged as an expert painter of architecture and ruins: in L’Avant-Coureur, 23 January 1764, he was described as ‘l’unique en ce genre’ (G. de Bellaigue, 'Ruins in Marquetry', Apollo, January 1968, p. 20).
The marquetry hunting trophies to each side of this beautifully-inlaid secrétaire à abattant are derived from a design by the engraver and decorator Jean-Charles Delafosse (1734-1789/91) from his Livres de Trophées de chasse et de pêche, reissued by P.F. Tardieu between 1776 and 1785. The same hunting trophies, including the same modification of suspending ribbon bows to the original design, can be found on an unstamped Louis XVI table, circa 1777, in the James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, as well as on a drop-front secrétaire by Pierre Roussel (maître in 1745) in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Similar bows feature on a mechanical table stamped by Christophe Wolff (maître in 1755) in the Louvre and it has been argued that the ‘Master of the Striped Bow’ perhaps ought to be identified as Wolff (G. de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, London, 1974, vol. II, pp. 498-502, no. 102). The bows on the mechanical table in the Louvre are tied in the corners of a foliate border which is nearly identical to that framing the front central panel of the present secrétaire.
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CHRISTOPHE WOLFF AND ROUSSEL, DUFOUR, MACRET, NICOLAS
It has been convincingly suggested that specialist marqueteurs, such as Christophe Wolff and André-Louis Gilbert (1746-1809), supplied marquetry panels to other ébénistes to construct their own furniture around; and it is likely that large ateliers, such as Pierre Roussel's, could have employed their own in-house marqueteurs at a time when such panels were particularly fashionable (G. de Bellaigue, 'Engravings and the French Eighteenth-Century Marqueteur', Burlington Magazine, May 1965, pp. 240-250 and July 1965, pp. 356-363). The plethora of closely related secrétaires à abattant stamped by various makers and unstamped renders a firm attribution for the carcase of the present example difficult.
- A closely related secrétaire à abattant stamped by Pierre Roussel, was in the collection of the late R.N.S. Clarke, Esq. (sold Christie's, London, 10 December 1992, lot 211, £71,500; and subsequently with Galerie Perrin, Paris). The pictorial marquetry panels to both its upper fall-front and lower doors are directly inspired by the engraving Vi Ruine and the same scene to the fall-front appears on the mechanical table by Wolff in the Louvre. The Roussel secrétaire features a depiction of a donkey laden with its owner’s belongings identical to that on the present secrétaire. Further similarities can be found not only in the marquetry panels but also the inlaid angles, which depict caryatids to the Roussel example and cluster and Solomonic columns to the present secrétaire, as well as the overall form and mounts, notably the prismatic angle mounts and ribbon-tied laurel ring handles.
- A further related secrétaire stamped by Charles-Joseph Dufour also featured the 'Wolff' striped bow and hunting trophies after Delafosse to the sides of the present example, as well as a similar somewhat naive arrangement to the interior (sold anonymously, Sotheby's Paris, 18 December 2001, lot 302, 1,354,999 FF).
- A further example stamped by Antoine Nicolas (maître in 1765) featured similar Oriental vases and vessels to its frieze drawer as well as the donkey to one corner of the main panel and ribbon-tied trophies emblematic of the arts, music and science to the sides (offered Christie's, London, 15 June 1995, lot 112).
- Another similar secrétaire à abattant stamped by Pierre Macret, formerly in the collection of Sir Michael Sobell (sold Christie's, London, 23 June 1994, lot 148, £150,000) features similarities in the brickwork, foliage and ruins as well as the distinctive prismatic mounts.