Joseph Baumhauer (d. 1772), known simply as 'Joseph', was one of the many craftsmen who migrated from Germany to France whose contribution to the production of furniture in the eighteenth century was highly significant. German craftsmen gravitated towards Paris attracted by the quality of craftsmanship and the market for cabinet-making; and among those who made the journey were B.V.R.B. (Bernard Van Risen Burgh), R.V.L.C. (Roger Van der Cruse dit La Croix) and Jean-Henri Riesener. Little is known of Joseph's youth, but he was in Paris in 1745, the year he married Reine Chicot, whose father and brother were menuisiers. The marriage no doubt helped him to enter the guild of menuisiers-ébénistes, however Joseph was never master ébéniste, and instead remained an ouvrier libre. He eventually came to be under the protection of the Duc d'Aumont and was appointed marchand-ébéniste Privilégié du Roi around 1749, after which he added the Fleur-de-Lys to his stamp at each end of his name.
The list of marchand-merciers and their clients who called for Joseph's services is numerous and prestigious, including Léger Bertin, Michel Héceguère, Lazare Duvaux and Charles Darnault; the comtes de Cobenzl, de Merle, de Choiseul Stanville, the marquis de Marigny, de Brunoy and the duchesse de Mazarin. The inventory taken after Joseph's death by the ébénistes Carlin and Dufour lists very few pieces - fifteen in total - all in the process of construction, indicating that he worked on a commission basis mainly for marchand-merciers who bought furniture as soon as it was finished. Moreover, the fact that Joseph did not keep an account book suggests that he did not have direct access to a private clientele. Even though Joseph owned a significant atelier, his skill as a cabinet-maker was not reflected in his (lack of) personal fortune. The use of expensive materials in his pieces is further indication that the atelier was bankrolled by the marchand-merciers: rich ormolu mounts, panels of Japanese lacquer, Sèvres porcelain plaques and pietra dura, which only the marchand-merciers could have supplied to the ébéniste. French guild regulations precluded cabinet-makers such as Joseph from casting and chasing bronze mounts themselves as this was the prerogative of the fondeurs, and it is likely that marchand-merciers provided Joseph with bronze mounts for use in his commissions.
Each of these encoignures bears the label 'Au Roy d'Espagne', the shop of the marchand-mercier Charles Darnault, situated in the rue de la Monnoie. He sold all manner of furniture, including pier glasses, wall-lights and screens as well as case furniture. Darnault's inventory of 1753 records a large number of models and chased decorations ready for use, which he would have supplied to ébénistes for commissions. Joseph's collaboration with Darnault is documented by a number of commodes with both his stamp and the label 'Au Roy d'Espagne', which are also similar to the present lot in the design of the mounts or in the marquetry. In particular these encoignures were originally supplied by Joseph to Darnault en suite with a pair of commodes which were formerly in the collection of the Duke of Leeds at Hornby Castle (reputedly there from 1800), sold Christie's London, 28 June 1901, lot 100 to Charles Wertheimer, London; from whom they were acquired by Peter Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Pennsylvania; by whom donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1942. Both the commodes and a pair of corner cupboards, almost certainly the present pair, are mentioned in An Inventory of Furniture Etc. at Hornby Castle selected by her Grace, the Dowager Duchess of Leeds, 1839 (op. Cit.). The commodes are almost certainly those described in the 'State Bow Drawing Room East' as 'No. 181 - Two Reisener commodes with two drawers ornamented with ormolu and mounted with red porphory slabs'. It is thought that early 19th century inventories of this type used the word 'Reisener' to describe marquetry in general rather than to imply authorship by Jean-Henri Riesener himself. The commodes sold in 1901, now in Washington, have breccia marble tops, which were described in the 1901 catalogue as fleur de pêche marble. The 'porphory' tops mentioned in the 1839 inventory are almost certainly the same tops though with a misleading description. The encoignures are described in the 1839 inventory in the same room as the preceding entry 'No. 180 - Two tulipwood corner commodes with folding doors and statuary marble tops with gilt rims'; it is interesting to note that the marble tops on the present pair are later. It is not known where George Lockett bought the encoignures and they do not appear in the 1901 Christie's catalogue nor do they appear in the 1920 or 1930 sales catalogues for the Dukes of Leeds or any of the early 20th century photographs of Hornby Castle; it is possible that they left the collection of the Dukes of Leeds in the 19th century prior to the sale of the commodes and were subsequently bought by Lockett from another source. A related commode stamped Joseph and with the same trade label is now in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum.
These elegant encoignures are a superb example of Joseph's flair for the rococo of the 1750s. The use of flowers cut in end-grain wood - bois de boût - against a ground of long-grain quarter-veneers, giving a contrast of texture and colour can also be seen on a marquetry commode now in the Toledo Museum of Art, and another with Partridge (Partridge, Summer Exhibition, London, May-July 1986, p. 106). Joseph chose the most luxurious materials to convey richness and sumptuousness; both the mounts and the marquetry are partly realistic and partly abstract; and the overall design flows in a perfect rhythm. Another similar encoignure with the same floral-spray marquetry but slightly different mounts is in the Collection Veil Picard, and another very closely related pair with slightly more mounts, was formerly in the Rothschild Collection and sold as the property of the late Edmund de Rothschild from Exbury House, Hampshire, at Sotheby's, London, 8 December 2009, lot 10. Towards the 1760s Joseph's forms became more restrained, mounted in a simpler fashion often with a foliate border to follow the contours and with small corner mounts. Around 1765, he adopted the neo-classical style, with straighter outlines and bronze mounts (see the commode supplied to the marquis de Marigny in 1766), and the floral marquetry of the rococo replaced by plain veneers of bois satiné, acajou and amaranth.
Joseph is still an ébéniste little documented, although it is evident today that commodes, encoignures and bureaux plats constitute almost the entirety of his oeuvre. Other important recorded pieces by Joseph are the Pupitre à écrire sold by Lazare Duvaux circa 1758, to the Comte de Cobenzl (1712-1770; sold from the collection of Hubert de Givenchy, Christie's Monaco, 4 December 1993, lot 84), and a Japanese lacquer commode (c.1750) with Darnault's label, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. After his death in 1777, his son Gaspard Baumhauer took over the workshop and his warrant of ébéniste privilegié du Roi, however due to illness and financial problems, Gaspard Baumhauer was forced to suspend his activities circa 1777-78.