Undoubtedly the foremost St Petersburg cabinet-maker of the late 18th century, Christian Meyer was a direct supplier to the Imperial Court. His oeuvre was first analysed in the 1970s by Dr Burkhardt Göres and it is with the help of the more recent research led by Drs. Tatyana Semenova and Iraida Bott, Curators at the Hermitage Museum and Tsarskoye Selo respectively, that a firm attribution to this cabinet-maker can be made for some of the most accomplished late 18th Century Russian neoclassical marquetry furniture.
The recent re-attribution of Meyer's oeuvre coincided with the appearance on the market of a pair of superb marquetry games tables attributable to Meyer, both on the basis of their exceptional marquetry, and an inventory label bearing proof of the Imperial Winter Palace provenance. The latter attribution was further supported by the reference to the Winter Palace in an invoice to the Imperial household dated 14 May 1797, as part of a delivery of marquetry games tables by Meyer. The pair of Winter Palace tables was sold at Christie's, London, 'The Exceptional Sale', 7 July 2011, lot 29 (£301,250 including premium).
The present pair was in fact already identified by Dr Göres in the 1970s and believed to have been part of a commission made in 1798 by Tsar Paul I to Christian Meyer for furniture destined as dowry for his daughters. Unlike the aforementioned Winter Palace pair, the decoration to these tables reflects a transitional stage in Meyer's work, when he gradually abandoned the English style marquetry in favor of a more extensive use of elaborate mahogany veneers, combined with rich gilt-bronze ornamentation à la David Roentgen. These tables offer a harmonious combination of Meyer's most accomplished marquetry with the richness of the ormolu mounts found on his later pieces. Incidentally, the foliate paterae to the corners of the present tables are similar to those found on the portable showcase in the Hermitage collection, which once belonged to Paul I.
Whilst recent research has identified ornamental engravings by Michael Angelo Pergolesi as one of the main sources for Meyer's 'English style' marquetry designs, it appears that Meyer used drawings by Catherine the Great's court architect, Giacomo Quarenghi for these tables which are slightly later in date. In fact, decorative compositions related to those featured on these tables, can be found in the architectural scheme and interior decoration of the various palaces at Tsarskoye Selo.
Christie's is grateful to Dr. Tatyana Semenova, curator of furniture at The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, for her help with this catalogue note.
(B. Göres, Tvorchestvo Davida Roentgena dlya Rossii i ego svyaz s russkim mebelnym iskusstvom kontsa 18 - nachala 19 veka, unpublished (and as yet un-translated) doctoral thesis, University of Leningrad, 1979; and B. Göres, Zum frühen Schaffen von Heinrich Gambs in St. Peterburg Ein Jahrhundert Möbel für den Fürstenhof - Karlsruhe, Mannheim, St. Peterburg, exhibition catalogue, Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe, 1994)
Gatchina Palace is a country seat which Catherine the Great had commissioned from Antonio Rinaldi (d. 1796) for her lover, Count Grigori Orlov (d. 1783). Following Orlov's death, the Empress re-purchased the estate and gave it to her eldest son, Grand Duke Paul, who embarked on an ambitious scheme of refurbishment, commissioning and purchasing French and Russian furniture and works of art, porcelain and tapestries (E. Ducamp, Gatchina, Paris, 1992 pp. 7-16).