This magnificent secrétaire en cabinet is a masterpiece of French cabinetry and is the perfect synthesis between Adam Weisweiler, an incredibly talented ébéniste at the height of his powers, and one of the era’s most creative and influential marchands-merciers, Dominique Daguerre. Richly mounted and utilizing distinctive precious materials such as 17th century Florentine plaques and Spanish brocatelle marble, the cabinet can possibly be identified with lot 42 of the sale of Daguerre’s stock on 25 March 1791 at Christie’s. It is described as ‘a superbe and singularly elegant ebony cabinet the front curiously and beautifully inlaid with gems, comprised of precious stones from Florence, and Brocadella marble top, superbly mounted in ormoulu' and was sold for 105 gns. with the annotation in the auctioneer's book '105 John' (reproduced here).
THE TASTE FOR PRECIOUS STONES
The combination of pietra dura and pietra paesina plaques on the cabinet door of the secretaire, with their remarkably life-like depictions of birds, flowers and a Florentine landscape are a perfect evocation of paintings in stone. Enlightened connoisseurs regarded stonecutting as one of the greatest manifestations of ancient Roman art, and its revival was a key tenet of the Renaissance. In 1588 Ferdinando de’ Medici founded the Grand Ducal Workshops in Florence, and the fame of their exquisite creations soon spread throughout Europe. The various dates of the plaques on the present lot illustrate a revival of interest as aristocratic connoisseurs such as the duc d’Aumont sought objects that employed precious hardstones for their collections. Daguerre would have taken plaques from earlier works and incorporated them into more au courant styles. The present lot is one such example with its late 17th century floral and landscape plaques from the famed Florentine Grand Ducal workshops, a mid-18th century pietra paesina plaque and the two fashionable single figures essentially imported soon after they were made.
The cabinet also possibly formed part of the stock of the dealer Rocheux (active 1790-1820) as it could be identified as that described in the inventory of his estate after his death in 1820 as item 163. ‘Un secrétaire à abattant avec quatre tiroirs en dedans, pilastres sur les côtés à figures caryatides en bronze doré au mat, décoré au milieu d’un tableau en pierres fines, fleurs, fruits, ouvrage de Florence, le fond en ébène avec pieds tournés.' Rocheux was prosperous and had considerable financial means at his disposal as well as a shop with a grand address at 8 rue Royale. He was recorded as a purchaser during the sales of the contents of Versailles in 1793 and delivered some modern mahogany furniture to the château de Fontainebleau during the Napoleonic era. His rich stock was valued at 48,000 livres at his death and included several Weisweiler models supplied to Daguerre in addition to Boulle furniture, porcelain, works of art and Renaissance enamels. Rocheux’s clientele was equally grand and included Talleyrand as well as a number of English clients, including George IV’s agent, ‘M. Benoist de Londres.’ In 1816, he is recorded as the purchaser of a console by Weisweiler with pietra dura plaques which was originally placed in the Blue Velvet Ante Room at Carlton House and is now at Buckingham Palace (RCIN 2602). After Rocheux’s death, his son did not continue the business and the stock was sold on 29 January 1821.
The form and ornament of this secretaire is one of the most sophisticated interpretations of the many elements seen in Weisweiler’s commissions for Daguerre towards the end of the ancien régime. Daguerre had an enormous stock of luxurious materials including 17th century Japanese lacquer, Florentine hardstone panels and rare porcelains. His designs, which would break up and combine these materials in a seemingly endless variety of ways, created a luxurious and instantly desirable new aesthetic. However, it was Daguerre’s extensive network of highly skilled bronziers and ébénistes that turned his designs into a finished product. Weisweiler’s talent as an ébéniste is clearly evident in his execution of the highly sophisticated design of the columns flanking the paneled door. The remarkable skill required to achieve the spreading spirally-turned lower section intertwined seamlessly with ormolu and the fluted baluster above demonstrates the outstanding level of precision and finesse that Weisweiler had reached at this point in his career. He was working almost exclusively for Daguerre and had succeeded the ébéniste Martin Carlin in that role.
This secrétaire en cabinet achieves the perfect balance between sobriety and luxury. The deceptively simple form is offset by the judicious use of luxurious Florentine hardstone plaques and restrained, beautifully chased ormolu mounts, almost certainly by the bronzier François Rémond. Although he worked independently with some of the leading Parisian ébénistes, Rémond had an extensive relationship with Daguerre and was his principal supplier; he is recorded to have supplied work valued at the staggering sum of 920,000 livres between 1778 and 1792. The link to Rémond is supported by a pair of candelabra made by Rémond and supplied by Daguerre to the Princess Kinsky now in the Château de Versailles. They have bases with almost identical mounts to the frieze of this secretaire (C. Baulez, ‘La Luminaire de la Princesse Kinsky’, Estampille/L’Object D’Art, May 1991, p. 97). Weisweiler also made a virtually identical secrétaire en cabinet now in in the Huntington Library and Art Collections, Pasadena (reproduced here). The only differences are the model of ormolu figures on the sides, the door features nine panels of Japanese lacquer and opens on the opposite side. It could potentially be identified as Nº 45 in the Daguerre sale, “a small curious cabinet of the fine old raised Japan with brocadella top and ormoulu mountings (25£).
Both pieces have features that appear repeatedly on other furniture either attributed to or stamped by Adam Weisweiler. The distinctive columns and the same frieze appear on another secrétaire en cabinet mounted with Sèvres plaques at the James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor (P. Lemonnier, Weisweiler, Paris, 1983, p.66) and the columns are also on a pair of meubles d’appui formerly in the Grog Carven collection and now in the Louvre (Ibid. p.100). A pair of meubles d’appui attributed to Weisweiler in the Wallace collection share the same large scale ormolu figures on the sides (F395). Pietra dura plaques also feature on a commode in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace where they are surrounded by Boulle marquetry panels (RCIN 2593); It has since been identified as lot 59 in the Daguerre sale, which was annotated in the auctioneer's book 'GW', which has tentatively been identified by Colin Streeter as being George, Prince of Wales. Another example with pietra dura plaques stamped by both Adam Weisweiler and Martin Carlin also shares the same frieze mount. It was sold from the collection of Akram Ojjeh, Christie’s, Monaco, 11-12 December 1999, lot 30. The presence of the stamps by both makers provides an intriguing link to a pair of side cabinets in the White Drawing room at Buckingham Palace which were part of the collection of the Prince Regent, later George IV. They are illustrated in Charles Wilde’s circa 1816 watercolor of the Blue Velvet Room at Carlton House(W. H. Pyne History of the Royal Residences, 1816, vol III) and display spiral and fluted columns, a closely related arrangement of plaques (with figural panels flanking a pietra paesina panel) as well as large scale ormolu figures to the sides. They were extended in width to contain side shelves around 1834 when they were transferred to Buckingham Palace where they remain today in the White Drawing Room (RCIN 2425). Attributed to Martin Carlin, they provide another intriguing link to these two makers as it illustrates how Daguerre reused certain combinations in different forms and also employed two of the era’s most talented ébénistes to execute his designs.
WEISWEILER AND DAGUERRE
Born in Neuwied, Weisweiler is believed to have studied with David Roentgen (1743-1807) before emigrating to Paris, where he was established as an artisan libre – a foreign worker protected by the medieval right of refuge – by 1777, the year of his marriage. The following year he became a maître-ébéniste, and established his workshop on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, joining Reisener and the elite group of German artisans providing pieces for the French royal family. While he is recorded to have worked with the marchand-mercier Julliot, the luxury pieces for which he is best known were almost exclusively sold directly through Dominique Daguerre. He provided the designs for many of Weisweiler’s most important commissions and together they supplied the most influential and esteemed patrons of their day: Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV), and Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna and Grand Duke Paul of Russia.
The heir to Simon-Philippe Poirier's atelier, Daguerre was the foremost Parisian marchand-mercier of the last decades of the ancien régime. From the 1770s onward, he was the prevailing tastemaker in Paris and subsequently London where he opened a second atelier in 1778 to meet the demands of his growing clientele. He specialized in supplying objets de luxe to the French court and, increasingly during the 1780s, to the English and foreign nobility. He supplied the furniture to George, Prince of Wales for Carlton House as well as Brighton Pavilion. In 1787 alone, Daguerre’s bill to the Prince of Wales was a staggering £14,565 13s 6d. Daguerre also worked for the Prince’s circle and provided furniture to Duke of Bedford for Woburn Abbey and Earl Spencer for Althorp. By 1791, financial constraints and current events necessitated the sale of his stock at Christie’s which was enough to fill an entire catalogue and among many illustrious items likely included this very sécretaire en cabinet.