Guillaume Beneman, maître in 1785.
This superb secretaire is embellished throughout with early 18th century Japanese lacquer panels, their spare, sober design set off by the ebony frame and understated neo-classical mounts. When with French and Company in 1948, this secretaire was accompanied by its pair by Etienne Levasseur (maître in 1767), which is almost certainly the example illustrated in A. Pradère, French Furniture Makers, London, 1989, p. 316, fig. 359.
To find two identical pieces of furniture (differing only in the lacquer panels) made by different cabinet-makers would indicate that the commission originated with a marchand-mercier, who would have contracted out the work to his favoured ébénistes. It is interesting to note in this respect that when Beneman was commissioned to supply ébénisterie for the château de Compiègne in 1790, Levasseur was involved in the capacity of a fournisseur and delivered various bronzes d'ameublement.
Marchand-merciers enjoyed a monopoly on the importation of all non-perishable goods from the Orient, and merchants such as Thomas-Joachim Hébert and Lazare Duvaux were among the first to promote the fashion for mounting furniture with lacquer panels in the 1740's and 1750's. Japanese lacquer was the most prized and most expensive form of lacquer used in this way, both for its extremely fine quality and for its strikingly spare designs, which made it particularly appropriate for embellishing the more understated furniture of the Louis XVI period.