Pierre Garnier, maître in 1742.
PIERRE GARNIER AND THE GOÛT GREC.
The early development of the neo-classical style in furniture was driven in particular by three avant-garde ébénistes, the German-born cabinet-makers Jean-François Oeben and Joseph Baumhauer, a well as the son of the Parisian ébéniste François Garnier, Pierre, who in 1742 became maître-ébéniste at the early age of 16.
In 1761, when the so-called goût grec was only just making itself felt, the avant-garde architect Charles de Wailly presented at the biannual Paris Salon a number of revolutionary pieces of furniture, one of which was a secrétaire belonging to Marie-Thérèse du Cluzel de la Chabrerie, wife of the maître des requêtes, Philippe-Etienne Desvieux. This was made by Garnier and described in the Avant-Coureur as being traité dans le meilleur goût de
Boulle, implying it was of severe outline, veneered with ebony and fitted with ponderous gilt-bronze mounts (C. Huchet de Quénetain, Pierre Garnier, Paris, 2003, p. 29). This early and highly publicised collaboration with de Wailly may have brought Garnier to the attention of one of the most influential protagonists of the new style, Madame de Pompadour's brother, the directeur des
Bâtiments, the Marquis de Marigny. As a remarkable series of letters from Marigny to his cabinet-maker testifies, he held Garnier in high esteem and entrusted him with a variety of commissions (S. Eriksen, 'Some letters from the Marquis de Marigny to his cabinet-maker Pierre Garnier', Furniture History VIII (1972), pp. 78-85). For instance, Marigny asked Garnier to design various items of furniture, as well as the mounts with which to enrich a plain piece of ebony furniture; obviously, the cabinet-maker was himself active as a designer, which may explain the idiosyncratic nature of many of his most ambitious productions.
GOUT GREC BUREAUX-PLATS BY PIERRE GARNIER
Like much of his other work, Garnier's bureaux plats can quite easily be distinguished from those of his contemporaries and the present bureau, which is closely related to some examples stamped by the maker, may confidently be attributed to him. The square tapering legs are headed by demi-lune discs, but even more distinctive are their brass flutes filled with flourishing reeds as well as rope-twist edges, much favoured by this ébéniste. Similar legs appear on two bureau by Garnier veneered in light woods, one formerly from the Farquhar collections, sold Christie's London, 12 December 2002, lot 20 (illustrated here), and another in the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon ('Musée Calouste Gulbenkian', Catalogue, Lisbon, 1982, no. 680, pp. 115 and 310). Further mounts characteristic for Garnier's oeuvre are the berried laurel swags which hark back to the great bureau plat made for Ange-Laurent Lalive de Jully in circa 1754-56 by Baumhauer and Caffieri to the designs of Louis-Joseph Le Lorrain, which is now at the Musée Condé at Chantilly (S. Eriksen, Early neo-classicism in France, London, 1974, figs. 85-89). On the present bureaux they appear in more slender and elongated form but it is clear they derive from the ponderous mounts on Lalive de Jully's monumental desk. Smaller swags are incorporated in Garnier's handles decorated with flaming urns, which not only feature on the aforementioned and various other bureaux but also on the pair of commodes excecuted by Garnier circa 1762-65 which were purchased by King Charles XIII of Sweden during his visit to Paris in 1770, and are now at Gripsholm Castle (C. Huchet de Quénetain, op. cit., p. 49).
These bureau plats were formerly in the collection of French furniture and objets d'art, formed by Margaret, Baroness Nairne and Keith (1788-1867) and her husband Auguste-Charles-Joseph Comte de Flahaut d'Angivillier, Marigny's nephew and successor as directeur-general bâtiments du Roi. It is possible that Flahaut may have inherited furniture through his own family though it seems probably that the better part of the collection was formed by husband and wife together expressly for their Parisian house, the Hôtel de Massa, following their marriage in 1817. Both were noted for their love of 'les beaux meubles d'époque' (F. de Bernardy, Charles de Flahaut, 1954, p.158) and their salon as 'un des plus elegants de la capitale' (ibid.). Flahaut's colorful career included a period as Aide-de-camp to Napoleon (in which he attended the battle of Waterloo), as Minister in Berlin in 1831, Ambassador to Vienna in 1841-48 and to London in 1860-62 (where his father had served from 1830 to 1834). The Flahauts' daughter Emily, heiress of Meikleour, married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne in 1843, and it is through that marriage that much of their splendid collection came into the Lansdowne family at Meikleour, Perthshire, at Bowood and Lansdowne House.