Bernard II van Risenburgh, maître in 1730.
These impressive and early neo-classical commodes and encoigures stamped BVRB are inlaid with Japanese lacquer panels of the highest quality and mounted with finely chased ‘goût grec’ ormolu mounts. United by Baron Maurice de Rothschild (1881-1957), they were part of special commissions by highly fastidious patrons, including the financier Armand-Fréderic Nogaret (1734-1806). They were almost certainly supplied by one of the foremost marchands-merciers, such as Simon-Philippe Poirier or François Darnault.
BERNARD III VAN RISENBURGH
The commodes and encoignures bear the stamp used by the famous Bernard II van Risenburgh (after 1696-c. 1766) and also by his son, Bernard III, who never became maître-ébéniste but worked on in his father's workshop when this was being managed by Bernard II's widow. In 1764, Bernard II, whose health was failing, sold his workshop to his son. Very little is known about Bernard III who seems to have had a short but brillant career as ébéniste. However, there are a number of very fine pieces in the neo-classical style bearing the stamp 'B.V.R.B' that are usually attributed to him. The present commodes and encoignures form a highly important addition to this small group of 'BVRB III' pieces.
LACQUER COMMODES BY BERNARD III VAN RISENBURGH
Included among the stock sold by Bernard II van Risenburgh to his son in 1764 were deux batis de commodes à l'Antique sur l'un desquels sont commencés à monter les cadres des portes et coté et les moulures du haut et bas en cuivre (T. Dell, Furniture in the Frick Collection, vol. I, New York 1992, p. 302). These are generally thought to have been of a neo-classical model that retains some curved features harking back to the earlier Louis XV style. A number of such pieces bearing Bernard van Risenburgh's stamp, all mounted with Japanese lacquer, are known, including an almost identical commode in the Kress Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (C.C. Dauterman a.o., Decorative art from the Samuel H. Kress Collection at the Metropolitan Museum, London, 1964, No. 10), a pair of smaller ones in the Frick Collection (Dell, op. cit., pp. 294-313). The ‘Westminster commode’, sold at Christie’s, London, 9 December 2004, lot 100, was executed in BVRB’s workshop in a more aggressive neo-classical appearance, with heavy swags and satyr masks, which would indicate it has a slightly later dating. They are generally attributed to BVRB III, although judging from the description in the stock inventory, their model had already begun to be produced while Bernard II was still involved with the workshop. Lacquer-mounted commodes in the rococo style had from the 1730s been among the father's most prized works. It is conceivable that the model for the Rothschild ensemble, which in its form retains some curved lines and scrolling feet but is basically dominated by straight lines and avant-gardist neo-classical appearance, had also been evolved by 1764. Other pieces stamped 'B.V.R.B.' mounted with lacquer panels and attributable to Bernard III are recorded: a pair of encoignures with yellow lacquer panels related to the present pair of encoignures was sold from the collection of Jacques Doucet, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris 7-8 June 1912, lot 322. Another pair of encoignures, conceived in a more neoclassical design with red Chinese lacquer is now at Versailles and was gifted by the Duchess of Windsor in 1973 (inv. V4987). They are en suite with a commode à vanteaux sold from the collection of Monsieur Claude Cartier, Sotheby’s, Monaco, 25 November 1979, lot 155. Without lacquer, a commode of the Westminster model is known, equally stamped by BVRB but veneered with marquetry (sold, Sotheby's, Monaco, 14 December 1996, lot 73). Veneered in ebony and attributable to BVRB III is a console in the Royal Collection (RCIN 35484) and a cartonnier formerly in the collection of Pierre-Victor, Baron de Besenval (1722-1725) and subsequently in the collection of Baron Gustave de Rothschild, sold from the Lambert Art Collection, Christie’s, London, 14 October 2015, lot 22.
THE ROLE OF THE MARCHANDS-MERCIERS
Japanese lacquer, especially of the superb quality found on the present commode, was so rare and costly that virtually no cabinet-maker was able to buy it himself in order to decorate his furniture. Instead, the powerful marchands-merciers, the class of dealers who were also responsible for the production of Sèvres-mounted furniture, acquired the lacquer and commissioned ébénistes to produce furniture that was veneered with it. Bernard II van Risenburgh is known to have made much of his lacquer-mounted furniture for the marchands-merciers Thomas-Joachim Hébert, Simon-Philippe Poirier and François Darnault.
The Rothschild ensemble as well as the other late commodes by BVRB., have a number of features in common with some of the celebrated lacquer-mounted commodes supplied by Poirier. In 1766, this dealer delivered a sumptuous piece by Joseph Baumhauer (d. 1772) to the Marquis de Marigny, Madame de Pompadour's brother and a great advocate of the new style, for 4000 livres (A. Pradère, Les ébénistes français de Louis XIV à la Révolution, Paris, fig. 240). It shares with the present commode the same tripartite curved front, the thick ormolu frames around the lacquer panels, the curved legs, identical apron to those of the present encoignure, but with a prominent Greek key frieze and satyr masks instead of the laurel leaf frieze on the Rothschild ensemble.
ARMAND FREDERIC NOGARET
Lots 10 and 11 from the present set were almost certainly commissioned for Armand-Frédéric-Ernest Nogaret (1736-1806), secrétaire du Roi and trésorier to the comte d’Artois, brother of Louis XVI. Son of a wealthy leader of the gobelet du Roi in the Languedoc region, he first became premier commis to the duc de la Vrillière from 1753 to 1775. His lucrative position permitted him to buy a château and to collect important works of art from the most prized collections of his time such as from the Randon de Boisset sale. He also commissioned luxurious furniture in the latest fashion through marchands who supplied the comte d’Artois. At the time of his death on 5 July 1806, this great collector owed money to Avisse, who had delivered armchairs, and also to the bronziers Delafontaine and Petit, to the horloger Tavernier and to the marchand de curiosités Adoze. In his collection sale sold by Thierry & Langlier in Paris on the 6th April 1807 was listed an important group of furniture mounted with ormolu and Japanese lacquer including a commode and pair of encoignures en suite, a writing desk and a coffer (lot 788). Although very succinctly described it is possible to trace the successive provenance as they were bought in 1806 by the powerful Dominique-Vincent Ramel de Nogaret (1760-1829), formerly Minister of Finance under the Directoire. He purchased together with the present set a cartonnier (lot 789) which was described in his inventory after death with a clock ‘à L'enfant d'après Pigalle, nommé l'enfant à la cage’ and not mentioned in the catalogue as it had been specifically bequeathed to his protégé Dominique Vincent Ramel-Nogaret, heir to the deceased. It is probable that he bought the cartonnier to reunite it with the clock he inherited.
Based on the precise description of the cartonnier in Nogaret's inventory after death, this piece had been identified as the one sold at Christie’s, London, 4 July 1994, lot 270. Interestingly, this piece had identical diamond-shaped mounts to the feet and shares a similar ‘goût grec’ design such as the present, indicating they were probably part of the same commission. Although stamped Macret, the cartonnier might have been in fact made by BVRB III as it shares similar mounts and a distinctive avant-garde ‘goût grec’ design closely related to his oeuvre, such as the pair of encoignures by BVRB III now at Versailles (inv.V4987). Pierre Macret, in his capacity as marchand-ébéniste privilégié du Roi suivant la cour, would have subcontracted some of his commissions, a common practice for the prolific marchands.
The present commode and pair of encoignures resurfaced in the Exposition Universelle of 1867 in Paris where they were lent by Baron Ludovic-Napole´on Lepic (1839-1889), and presented in the Exposition Universelle’s catalogue with a Dominique-Vincent Ramel de Nogaret provenance. They were subsequently sold in Baron Lepic’s collection sale in 1897. The frontispiece of this sale catalogue indicates that Baron Lepic acquired privately and ‘en bloc’ a large part of his superb collection from the heirs of Dominique-Vincent Ramel de Nogaret, which was housed in his house in Montolieu, so-called ‘Le Petit Versailles’, because so much of the furniture and works of art in his residence were considered as magnificent.
In the 1897 sale, the set was purchased by the celebrated collector and socialite comtesse Jacques de Ganay (1851-1933), who would have in her turn sold it to Baron Maurice de Rothschild (1881-1957), who united the present set (lots 10-11) with the other almost identical commode (lot 12). The latest commode is probably the one described in the 1796 entry of the journal of the Palais Directorial (now Palais du Luxembourg), as below:
Rentré du Palais Directorial. Prairial An IV. N°156.
Une commode de lac fond noir, contournée sur le devant et sur les bouts, la devanture ouvrant à trois vantaux formant panneaux, encadrés d’une moulure de bronze unie, ainsi que les deux bouts, la frise ornée de guirlandes de laurier nouée de rubans, chutes en consoles sur les quatre montants des pieds, rosaces unis dans las cases, sabots à feuilles d’ornements, grosse moulure ciselée au pourtour du bas des panneaux, agrafes dans le milieu à muffle de lion et feuilles d’ornement, le tout de bronze doré, ladite à dessus de marbre griotte d’Italie, de 5 pieds de large, 22 pouces de profondeur et 34 e hauteur [92 cm. high; 162.5 cm. large; 59.4 cm. deep]. It is inscribed in the margin of the document: ‘29 Prairial an IV. Chez l’ambassadeur Batave’ indicating it might have been sent to the Ambassador of ‘Batave’, actual Holland.