Jean-Henri Riesener, appointed ébéniste ordinaire du mobilier de la Couronne in 1774, maître in 1768.
This Royal mahogany table à écrire of superb elegant proportion and enriched with jewel-like ormolu mounts, bears the brand ‘Garde-Meuble de la Reine’ and ‘C.T.’ indicating it was commissioned by Queen Marie-Antoinette of France (1755-1793) for her personal domain of the Petit Trianon.
THE GARDE-MEUBLE DE LA REINE
The circular marque au feu with interlaced monogram ‘MA’, set within the circular brand ‘GARDE MEUBLE DE LA REINE’, was used for the personal Garde-Meuble of the Queen Marie-Antoinette from 1784, managed under the direction of Pierre-Charles Bonnefoy du Plan (1732-1824). Intendant de la Reine and concierge of the Trianon domain, Bonnefoy du Plan not only controlled the furniture’s movement but served as the main intermediary between the Queen and designers and craftsmen.
This institution was in charge of the furnishing of the Queen’s private apartments, which already existed under the reign of Queen Marie Lesczynska, Louis XV’s wife, but was at that time used very parsimoniously, the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne being responsible for the main commissions. In 1784, taking advantage of the departure of Pierre Elisabeth de Fontanieu (1731-1784), director of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, Marie-Antoinette frantically developed the Garde-Meuble de la Reine allowing her a greater independence vis-a-vis the Crown’s institution and more control over her luxurious commissions. The creative process of her furniture was indeed submitted to her, ranging from the preparatory drawings to the models (sometime full-scale) of the pieces or to details of carving. An exigence, which was noted in the Souvenirs of her sister-in-law the Comtesse de Provence: ‘La Reine a une bonne qualité, quand elle veut une chose elle ne la quitte point’.
The independence of her personal Garde-Meuble also permitted her a greater freedom in the selection of the craftsmen involved in the commissions, and to keep her favourite cabinet-maker Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) despite his disgrace in 1784. The newly appointed Intendant du Garde-Meuble de la Couronne Thierry de Ville-d’Avray (1732-1792) profoundly reformed the institution and replaced the official ébéniste de la Couronne Riesener by Guillaume Benneman, as the former was considered too expensive. Through her garde-meuble, Marie-Antoinette continued this collaboration during which Riesener’s most important pieces were produced. The present table is a fascinating testimony of this fruitful and longstanding relationship.
THE PETIT TRIANON
The Petit Trianon was built on the site of a botanical garden developed about a decade earlier by Louis XV, within the grounds of the Grand Trianon, Louis XIV's retreat, southeast of the château de Versailles. It was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel by the order of Louis XV for his long-term mistress, Madame de Pompadour, and was constructed between 1762 and 1768. Madame de Pompadour died four years before its completion, and the Petit Trianon was subsequently occupied by her successor, Madame du Barry. Upon Louis XVI’s accession to the throne in 1774, the 20-year-old King gave the château and its surrounding park to his 19-year-old Queen Marie Antoinette for her exclusive use and enjoyment. At the eve of the Revolution, Bonnefoy du Plan possibly destroyed a large part of the Queen’s archives in order to conceal her extraordinary expenses from the Tribunal Révolutionnaire or, more likely these were ceased by the revolutionaries as mentioned in a report dated 1793.
The crowned brand ‘CT’ for château de Trianon, visible on the present desk, was branded or painted on pieces which entered the Petit Trianon, then known as château de Trianon. The absence of an inventory or journal of the furnishing of the château does not allow a precise location of the table in the Domain, but the outstanding quality of the mahogany and superbly chased and gilded ormolu mounts suggest it was delivered for Queen Marie-Antoinette’s own use or for an apartment in the Petit Trianon of a close relative. In any case, with its undertier, the present table would have been tailored by the Queen to serve a very specific purpose. Approximately twenty-five pieces branded ‘CT’ and ‘Garde-Meuble de la Reine’ are known, seven of them desks:
- the magnificent marquetry writing-table by Riesener delivered through the official Garde-Meuble de la couronne in 1780 for the Queen at the Trianon and later marked with the Queen’s personal garde-meuble brand, subsequently in the collection of the Dukes of Hamilton and acquired by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, now at Waddesdon Manor (W1/38/1).
- a mahogany table delivered in 1777 by the Garde-Meuble de la couronne for the cabinet d’entresol de la dame d’honneur de la Reine, sold at Sotheby’s, Monaco, 23 June 1985 lot 770 and and Christie’s London, 7 July 2011, lot 45.
- a parquetry table by Riesener delivered in 1782 for the Duchess of Polignac’s apartment at Petit Trianon, sold at M° Beaussant-Lefèvre, Paris, 28 June 2000, lot 161, acquired by the musée du château de Versailles.
- a marquetry table and a secrétaire à abattant by Riesener delivered in 1777 for the cabinet of Louis XVI at Petit Trianon, subsequently in the collections of the Dukes of Hamilton and acquired by baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, now at Waddesdon Manor (W1/38/2 and W1/25/6).
- a mahogany and trellis parquetry table sold at Ader, Paris, 18 March 1980, acquired by the musée du château de Versailles in 1999.
- a mahogany, bois satiné and marquetry table delivered in 1784 for Madame Elisabeth’s apartment at Petit Trianon (now at the musée du château de Versailles, inv. num. V5288).
Most of these pieces were marked with an inventory number probably applied as part of an inventory, now lost. The absence of such numbers on the present table would suggest it is a delivery made after this inventory was compiled. The absence of the official Garde-Meuble de la Couronne's numbering also demonstrates it was delivered after 1784 when Marie-Antoinette’s brand was created.
One of the rare late 18th century surviving documents regarding the furnishings of the Petit Trianon during the reign of Marie-Antoinette is a bill of the ébéniste ‘Paquet’ from Versailles, which lists some repairs he undertook on fourteen writing desks in the Petit Trianon (Archives nationales, O1 3629):
n°10 avoir raclé et repoli une commode et une table à écrire…
N°11. Raclé et repoli une table à double dessus et une table à écrire
N°12. Raclé raboté une table à écrire, une commode
Chez madame roialle dans l’antichambre rétabli deux tables à écrire, une commode …une petite table à écrire…
N°13. Rétabli une grande table de placage… et une table à écrire..
Cabinet du roi : un grand bureau à table, une table à écrire … antichambre : une table à écrire une commode, le tout raclé et mis à neuf.
Chez la reine : raclé et poli 3 commodes, donné du jeu au tiroir d’une table chinoise ; l’antichambre : 2 tables à écrire et une commode, le tout poli et mis à neuf.’
The table mentioned under no. 11 with ‘double tops’ might refer to the Rothschild desk, the undertier could be considered as a ‘second dessus’.
A ROYAL MODEL
The Rothschild Petit Trianon table à écrire, with its sober architectural lines enhanced with superb gilt-bronze mounts closely relates to a group of writing desks of similar overall form with tripartite frieze-drawers, all delivered by Riesener to members of the French Royal family, mainly Marie-Antoinette. In chronological order, these are:
- the marquetry writing desk mentioned above, delivered by Riesener in 1777 for the cabinet of Louis XVI at Trianon, with identical scrolling foliage mounts to the sides and identical spiral stringing to the edges (Waddesdon Manor, inv. no. W1/38/2, illustrated).
- the mahogany and marquetry writing desk delivered for the Pièce des bains of Madame Elisabeth at Versailles in 1778, with identical scrolling foliage mounts to the sides (now at Waddesdon Manor, acc. num. 2528)
- the mahogany, bois satiné and marquetry table delivered in 1781 for Marie-Antoinette at Compiègne (now at Waddesdon Manor, inv. no. W1/20/8).
- the mahogany and marquetry table delivered to Marie-Antionette for her cabinet de la Reine at the château de Marly in 1781 (now at the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon).
- the more sober kingwood veneered writing desk delivered in 1781 for Marie-Antoinette at the château de la Muette, sold from the Beistegui collection at Christie’s, Paris, 10 September 2018, lot 14 (illustrated).
- the mahogany writing desk delivered in 1783 for Marie-Antoinette at Marly with some identical mounts to the frieze, legs and sabots (now at Philadelphia Museum of Art, acc. num. 1939-41-8).
- the mahogany writing desk delivered in 1784 for Marie-Antoinette’s cabinet intérieur in the Tuileries, with similar fluted frieze, and mounts to legs and sabots (now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, illustrated).
- the mahogany, bois satiné and marquetry table delivered in 1784 for Madame Elisabeth’s apartment at Trianon with similar mounts to frieze and legs (now at the musée du château de Versailles, inv. num. V5288).
The extremely finely chased fluted frieze to the present writing desk seems unique and indicates the importance of this commission despite its sober appearance. The alternated three different types of sprays of flowers are characteristic of Marie-Antoinette’s taste for nature which became a style in its own right.