André-Charles Boulle (d.1732), appointed Ebéniste, Ciseleur, Doreur et Sculpteur du Roi in 1672, is among the greatest ébénistes of all time. His fame was such that his name has become synonymous with a whole generic furniture type. In the first decades of the 18th century, while still exploiting the common practice of contrasting black ebony against the gold of gilded bronze and brass, silver-toned pewter and often red-coloured tortoiseshell in marquetry, Boulle introduced light, playful designs enlivened with small-scale, lacy designs of playful singeries, garlands of flowers and airy architectural fantasies. First popularised as a technique in his work for the French Court during the reign of Louis XIV, the style has since been associated with the most opulent and expensive designs.
After his death, Boulle's sons, who had been running the workshops since 1715, continued to produce pieces using their father's techniques and models, as demand for Boulle-marquetried furniture continued throughout the century. Although there was a slight lull in popularity at the peak of the Rococo, Boulle marquetry was again at the height of fashion in the time of Louis XVI when the style of the Sun King underwent a revival. From this time until the beginning of the Empire style circa 1800, great makers such as Levasseur and Baumhauer created their own versions of Boulle's originals and adapted the decorative techniques to furniture forms popular during their own time.
The taste among great collectors for the ancien régime styles of the Louis continued into the 19th century, and Boulle-style furniture held its popularity and prestige. Important makers, such as Sormani, Zwiener, Linke, and Blake, commonly copied or adapted the great pieces of the past, often speculatively but frequently directly when commissioned by the likes of the Rothschilds, the Marquess of Hertford or Henry Clay Frick. Many of these 19th century pieces took their places comfortably side by side with their predecessors from the 17th and 18th centuries in great houses such as Mentmore.
The Armoire Fontanieu
This fine and impressive armoire is a copy of the celebrated model by Boulle, now housed at the Louvre (inv. OA 5441). This style of cabinet, as also seen on related period cabinets and designs, represented a marked shift from previous models. The pierced scrolling hinges and especially the domed cornice issuing an ormolu volute are highly decorative and represent a move away from the strictly utilitarian.
The original armoires, primarily constructed in contre-partie with its companion in première-partie, were apparently referred to in a 1732 inventory of Boulle's workshop as grandes armoires de Mrs Delpêche et Fontagneux, Monsieur Fontagneux likely being Indendant Général des Meubles de la Couronne, Moyse-Augustin de Fontanieu, Marquis de Fiennes (d.1724). The construction of original armoire likely dates to the years when Fontanieu was Trésorier Général de la Marine and the nautical motifs, including shells, oars and fishing nets reflect this status. The firearms and gunnery tools suggest the profession of Pierre Delpêche who was an arms dealer.
The 'Armoire Fontanieu' descended in the Fontanieu family through most of the 18th century, passing from son to grandson. Seized during the Revolution, the cabinet was sent to the Corps législatif where it was in use at the Palais de Saint-Cloud. In 1806, Napoleon had it moved to the Château de Fontainebleau, and in 1870 the Mobilier National finally removed it to the Louvre.
By the time the cabinet arrived at the Louvre, the base had gone missing and had been replaced by an ebony veneered plinth, probably by Jean-Henri Riesener during a restoration in 1784. Originally, the cabinet would have had a lion-headed plinth base above five large round feet. Our 19th century model's screw-turned feet derive from other examples of Boulle furniture which would have been at Winckelson's disposal during the time of its construction.
Charles-Guillaume Winckelsen (d. 1871) first established his workshops in 1853 at 23, Val-Sainte-Cathérine before moving to 21, rue Saint-Louis in 1860, and finally to 49, rue de Turenne in 1867. He had a reputation for producing only furniture, and bronze mounts in particular, of the highest quality, reproducing styles of the ancien régime. He had amongst his illustrious clientele prince Radziwil and the Lafittes, but since he worked in Paris for only a short time, from 1854 until his death, only a relatively small amount of his work is available on the market today.
On 27 July 1871, Henri Dasson purchased the workshop and stock from Winckelsen's widow for 14,000 French francs. The prolific Dasson established Winckelson's tradition of high quality workmanship as the benchmark for his own productions.
The Hotel Gibson
The landmark Hotel Gibson in Cincinnati Ohio was built by Peter Gibson in 1849, and expanded in 1873. In 1912, the original building was razed, and the hotel then underwent a $6,000,000 restoration under the direction of architect Gustave W. Drach and decorator Charles A. Pedretti. Following unparalleled business prosperity in the region, the building was rededicated and reopened in 1923 to much fanfare. Accounts of the time laud the interior of the hotel, and glowing reviews describe the palatial Florentine court and the Louis XV and Louis XVI suites.
The glamorous hotel had a colourful run, housing the rich and famous for decades. In 1942, 500 German, Italian and Japanese diplomats and consular officials stayed on the top floor after being expelled from South America. Musicians from the likes of Doris Day and Jimmy Dorsey are known to have played there. John F. Kennedy was a frequent guest, and it was this political history for which the hotel is best remembered.
In 1950, the powerful Sheraton hotel corporation gained control of the operation. It was this new leadership and powerful backing that paved the way to what was undoubtedly the pinnacle of Grandeur for the hotel. This point was reached in 1968, when the State Dinner of the 60th Annual Governors Conference was held in the Roof Garden. The speaker at the State Dinner was Lyndon B. Johnson.
It was in preparation for this conference that Sheraton executive Ernest Henderson travelled to France and Spain to find furnishings suitable for the redecoration of the suite on the floor where the elite was to stay. The result of the redecoration was a small plush "Kingdom of Versailles" on the fifth floor. It is likely that the present armoire was purchased for the Sheraton Gibson Hotel during one of these buying trips to Europe. The piece resided at the historic hotel until 1974, when the entire contents of the hotel were sold off in a marathon sale organised by National Content Liquidators (NCL) and lasting more than sixty days (see fig. previous page).