The superb collection of French furniture featured in this catalogue (lots 1-65) was formed over many years by a passionate and erudite European collector, well versed on the greatest Parisian furniture-makers or Maîtres-Ebénistes and their oeuvres. This collector chose carefully and made several splendid acquisitions at some of the landmark auctions held at Christie's, such as the Akram Ojjeh (1999), Lagerfeld and Alexander collection sales (2000), sales which transformed the market for French decorative arts, setting record prices for the most exceptional pieces.
His purchases included furniture by Georges Jacob, Jean-Henri Riesener, Jean-François Oeben, Jean-François Leleu and Nicolas Heurtaut, all of which made a significant contribution to the development of French furniture in the 18th Century through their innovative designs and superb craftsmanship. Each of these celebrated artists stood out among their peers and was patronized by the Royal family and the Parisian élite.
Most of the items of furniture in the collection were executed in the second half of the 18th Century, from the middle of the reign of Louis XV until the end of that of Louis XVI, encompassing examples conceived in the Rococo, Transitional and Neoclassical styles. Some of these are decorated with skillfully inlaid marquetry and beautifully-chased gilt-bronze, conceived together to create an extremely refined tableau, with marquetry patterns and ormolu mounts in perfect harmony. Others rely on the plain but lovely-figured timbers of the finest quality to fully express their character and beauty, especially those in exotic mahogany, more widely used towards the end of the 18th Century.
The collection includes two pieces by Jean François Oeben (maître in 1761) which perfectly typify his oeuvre. The first is an exquisite secrétaire of small proportions formerly in the Ojjeh collection (lot 15). It is inlaid with an illusionistic cube pattern, which Oeben developed circa 1760 and often combined with his stupendous floral marquetry. Oeben became Ebéniste du Roi in 1754 and was based at the Gobelins workshops until 1761. He is chiefly remembered for his superb craftsmanship, his oeuvre often incorporating ingenious mechanical devices and either elaborate parquetry or plain but beautifully figured mahogany veneers of the finest quality. Another distinctive item by Oeben in the collection is the so-called 'commode à la Grecque' from the Lagerfeld collection (lot 16). This commode is of a transitional type greatly favored by the duc de Choiseul and perhaps most importantly by Madame de Pompadour, who commissioned several examples for Versailles,
Ménars and D' Auvilliers.
Jean-Henri Riesener was one of Oeben's principal employees and on the latter's death took direction of the workshop. He completed several pieces left unfinished on Oeben's death, such as the celebrated 'bureau du Roi' which Riesener completed in 1769.
He continued to produce extraordinary marquetry furniture in the style developed by Oeben but gradually imposed his neo-classical idiom to the exuberant floral designs. In 1774 Riesener was appointed 'Ebéniste du Roi' and it is around that time that he executed more furniture embellished with beautifully figured mahogany off-set with finely chased ormolu mounts. The handsome and imposing armoire formerly in the Lagerfeld collection is a tour-de-force of the art of the
maître ébéniste, demonstrating superlative construction with its concealed locking device, figured mahogany of the highest quality, and brilliantly chased ormolu mounts, resulting in this superb architectural piece of noble proportions.
Some of the greatest Parisian chair-makers or menuisiers are also represented in this collection, again mainly those active in the second half of the 18th Century. An impressive fauteuil by Nicolas Heurtaut - active as a sculpteur en bois from 1742, maître in 1755 and arguably one of the most accomplished menuisiers of his time -
originally formed part of the Dreesmann collection until sold at Christie's in 2002 and is now being offered as part of a set of four as lot 9. Executed in a sinuous and boldly carved fashion, this fauteuil of monumental proportions, exemplifies Heurtaut's highly accomplished 'symmetrical rococo' of the late 1750s.
The most renowned chair-maker of the neoclassical period is undoubtedly Georges Jacob, whose oeuvre is represented in this collection with a marquise (lot 17) as well as a pair of superbly-carved console tables most probably executed by him (lot 40), the quality of which infallibly demonstrates the collaboration between the celebrated menuisier and a specialized sculpteur de renom. Jacob's elegant and refined chairs, both in transitional and full-blown Louis XVI style, illustrate the perfect balance between shape and ornament which is so characteristic for his oeuvre and makes his work instantly recognizable.
This eclectic collection was formed with a discerning eye, great knowledge and perhaps most importantly a passion for French furniture.
By choosing the dix-huitième, this collector surrounded himself with works of art conceived in a period of unrivalled artistic creativity, luxury and comfort. This glorious Century, which reached its apogee in Paris, inspired the rest of Europe, with all foreign courts looking to emulate the latest Paris fashions. The sale of this collection, representing all the riches of the ancien régime, will offer new and seasoned collectors alike, a unique opportunity to perfect their interiors or complement their collections.
BY LOUIS I CRESSON, CIRCA 1750