DAVID ROENTGEN, MAITRE IN 1780
This masterful secretaire is a premier example of the celebrated Neuwied ébéniste David Roentgen (1743-1807). Widely regarded as one of the foremost cabinetmakers of the 18th century, Roentgen's furniture has always been greatly admired for its exquisitely executed marquetry and unrivalled technical complexity.
The Roentgen workshop was founded in 1742 in Herrnhaag, Wetterau by David's father Abraham (1711-1743), who had been apprenticed in the Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and London. His earliest known pieces are of English design and workmanship, and Abraham even referred to himself as Englischer Kabinettmacher in an advertisement for the Frankfurter Messe of 1754 (D. Fabian, Abraham und David Roentgen, Das noch aufgefundene Gesamtwerk ihrer Möbel-und Uhrenkunst in Verbindung mit der Uhrmacherfamilie Kinzing in Neuwied, Bad Neustadt/Saale, 1996, p. 11.)
His reputation grew rapidly, and soon after his move to neighboring Neuwied in 1750, he supplied furniture to a number of illustrious clients, including his protector, Prince Alexander zu Wied (1738- 1791), but particularly Johann Philipp von Walderdorff (1701-1768), Archbishop and Elector of Trier from 1756 (J.M. Greber, Abraham und David Roentgen, Möbel für Europa, Starnberg, 1980, vol. I, pp. 48-49). His son David officially took conrol of the workshop in 1772, and under his leadership it developed into a truly pan-European enterprise (D. Fabian, op.cit., 1996, pp. 13-14). Roentgen first visited Paris in 1774 to familiarize himself with the latest novelties. In 1779 he made a second visit, and this time took a number of his best pieces with him, giving him instant recognition in Royal circles. King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and other members of the Royal family made important acquisitions, and eventually conferred upon Roentgen in the 1780's, the courtesy title 'ébéniste mécanicien du Roi et de la Reine'. By 1780 he was a member of the Paris cabinetmaker's guild, enabling him to sell his furniture without any obstruction in Paris (C. Baulez, 'David Roentgen et François Rémond, une collaboration majeure dans l'histoire du mobilier europeéen', L'Objet d'Art/L'Estampille 305 (1996), pp. 99-101). As a maître-ébéniste, Roentgen was officially obliged to stamp the pieces he intended to sell in Paris, but he rarely complied with this
rule. In the latter 1770's he had also provided fifteen pieces of furniture to Prince Charles of Lorraine, an uncle of Marie-Antoinette and Governor of the Low Countries at Brussels. And, in addition to supplying many of the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire, he was also appointed Frederick William II's 'Fournisseur Ordinaire de la Cour de Prusse'. Roentgen's later success was in Russia. He visited the Imperial Court at St. Petersburg probably as many as six times between 1783 and 1791, and produced many of his finest pieces for Empress Catherine the Great.
THE CHINOISERIE MARQUETRY
Decorated with chinoiserie scenes, this secretaire is a magnificent example of David Roentgen's marquetry furniture, which was greatly admired throughout Europe. The Roentgen workshop already produced furniture with small decorative inlays after English examples in pewter, tin, and mother-of-pearl in the late 1740's. In the next decade, ambitious and individual marquetry schemes were developed. These were of a more pronounced German character, and similar in strength and color to the famous Augsburg marquetry of the second half of the 16th Century (D. Fabian, 'Die Entwicklung der Einlegekunst in der Roentgenwerkstatt', Schriften zur Kulturwissenschaft der Internationalen Akademie für Kulturwissenschaften 36 (1981), pp. 2-4).
Between about 1766 and 1768, a new type of marquetry was developed in the Roentgen Fabrik, which is first mentioned in an advertisement for the Hamburg Lottery of 1769. The first prize was described as 'Ein bureau...mit Chinuesischen Figuren, a la Mosaique eingelegt'. In contrast to traditional marquetry techniques based on scorching and engraving for effects of shade and detail, the new technique created 'pictures in wood', painterly marquetry panels assembled from minute pieces of wood cut with incredible precision by the Nieuwied Intarsiatoren (D. Fabian, op.cit, 1981, p. 8, and R. Baarsen, Duitse Meublen, Zwolle, 1998, p. 74).
Figural marquetry, including theatrical, allegorical and historical scenes, became a recurring decorative motif during the 1770's and early 1780's. The figurative scenes, executed for Prince Karl Alexander von Lothringen in Brussels in 1779, based on the paintings and drawings of Januarius Zick (1732-1797) are by far the most sophisticated examples (now in the Österreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna). However, it is Roentgen's chinoiserie marquetry panels which were perhaps even more inventive, and certainly more whimsical, and they form the interest of the present piece. Several scenes are based on prints by Jean Pillement (1728-1803) or François Boucher (1703-1770). One example is the figure of the dancing tambourine player on the left side of the present secretaire, which is inspired directly from a Pillement print of c. 1770 (see H. Huth, Roentgen Furniture: Abraham and David Roentgen, European Cabinet-makers, London, 1974, fig. 6). As in other areas of the decorative arts, these Chinese-inspired scenes were immensely popular from Paris to St. Petersburg through the 1770's and all of the panels of the present secretaire can be found on other important pieces from the Roentgen workshop. The previously mentioned tambourine player also appears on the side of a commode, illustrated here, which also shares the central scene of musicians and both of the 'bird handlers' panels on the lower cabinet doors with the present secretaire (Private Collection, London, see Greber, op. cit., 1980, no. 459). These musicians, though with the additional of a pagoda in the background, also appear on a dressing table formerly in the Royal Saxon Collection at Schloss Moritzburg (now destroyed) and another very slightly modified version on a cylinder bureau at Schloss Lustheim, Oberschleissheim (Greber, op. cit., nos. 301 and 414). The marquetry panels of the 'bird handlers' also appear in several additional pieces including the Baden cylinder desk, another roll-top desk from Schloss Eltville, a small commode, also formerly at Moritzburg, and a pair of corner cabinets (see Greber, op. cit., 1980, nos. 385, 454 and 530 and 531).
THE SECRETAIRE A ABATTANT: ENGLISH INFLUENCES
This secretaire demonstrates David Roentgen's mastery of the latest in French tastes. However, parts of the overall design and some of the decorative elements are clearly English in inspiration. Specifically, elements of this secretaire correspond to that of two English-fashioned longcase clocks designed in the 1770's by Roentgen, one now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the other at Schloss Eltville (see Greber, op.cit., 1980, vol. 2, nos. 311 and 312). They were inspired by an engraving for two clock patterns issued in Thomas Chippendale's Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1754-1762, pl. CLXIII. One case features corner-sunk columns and scrolled truss brackets; while the other has its vase-capped and pagoda-swept hood enriched by Grecian ribbon fret. Their patterns fused 'Antique' and 'Chinese' ornament in a whimsical fashion described by Chippendale as 'Modern' (D. Fabian, Kinzing und Roentgen Uhren aus Neuwied, Bad Neustadt, 1984, pp. 200-201). Both of these clocks incorporate these corner columns (here entwined with ormolu vines), Chinese-inspired ormolu fretwork and solid bracket feet. These elements were directly transcribed to the present secretaire. These C-scroll bracket feet are also nearly identical to those on the Baden cylinder bureau, another piece clearly inspired by the designs of Chippendale (Sotheby's sale, Die Sammlung der Markgrafen und Grossherzöge von Baden, Baden-Baden, 5-21 October 1995, lot 1057).
THE ORMOLU MOUNTS
The freize mounts of the present secretaire can probably be attributed to the designs of the engraver Elie Gervais. A native of Geneva, Gervais worked in Neuwied and Koblenz from 1750-1775 and appears to have provided the Roentgen workshops with designs for both marquetry panels and furniture mounts. However, he was better known for his work as a designer of medals or coins, commissioned by the various ruling princes of the Rhine region. The severely neoclassical medallions of the present secretaire bear close resemblance to these medals, based on idealized heads of Roman emperors, which are a revival of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque medals produced throughout the 16th and 17th centuries (see M. Stürmer, 'Die Roentgen-Manufaktur in Neuwied,' Kunst & Antiquitäten, 1979-1980, pp. 38-40). There are close arrangements of similar designs for the frieze mounts, and perhaps the best comparisons are to the freizes of two of the most magnificent secretary-desks produced by the Roentgen workshop: one for Prince Karl Alexander von Lothringen, now in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Vienna and the other formerly in the Imperial German Collection and now at Schloss Köpenick, Berlin. In each, ribbon-tied acanthus mounts alternate with similarly-tied classical medallions seperated by short-fluted pilasters hung with guttae, though the present sectretaire alternates in a third swagged mount. The frieze mounts are found again on another sécretaire à abattant but with floral marquetry illustrated in Greber, 1980 op.cit, p. 278, pl. 550, and listed with Jacob Stodel, London/Amsterdam. The laurel mounts to the columnar uprights appear on three longcase clocks, one in the collection of the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (illustrated in Greber,op.cit, p. 163, pl. 314); the previously cited longcase clock at Schloss Eltville; and the clock also previously mentioned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which interestingly also shares the frieze mounts found on this secretaire. The medallion mounts to the frieze are an important precursor to the later, far more rigourously neoclassical, mahogany pieces of the 1780's, several of which are mounted with similar classical portrait busts framed in laurel swags (see D. Fabian, 'Der Sekretär in der Roentgenwerkstatt,' Schweizerische Schreiner Zeitung, 8 March 1985, pp. 220-223).
THE HILLINGDON COLLECTION
The celebrated Hillingdon Collection was formed by Sir Charles Mills, Bt. (1792-1872). The collection of French furniture and works of art, one of the greatest put together in England in the nineteenth century, included the largest single accumulation of Louis XV and XVI porcelain-mounted furniture ever to be assembled. Seventeen of the pieces (together with other furniture and Sèvres porcelain) were sold from the collection in 1936 and are now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, (J. Parker et al, Decorative Art from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, Aylesbury, 1964, pp. 116-119 et passim). Illustrated in the privately printed collection catalogue of 1891 (where it is attributed to David Roentgen) the secretaire was one of five pieces of Roentgen marquetry furniture in the collection.
Sir Charles Mills was a partner in his family's private bank, Glyn, Mills & Co., with his two brothers, who were also passionate collectors of French works of art. In 1825 he married Emily Cox, the daughter of a partner in Cox's Bank. He built a house near his wife's parents at Hillingdon, Middlesex and in London the Mills lived at Camelford House on the corner of Oxford Street and Park Lane. He was created a baronet in 1868. His son, created 1st Lord Hillingdon in 1886, continued to live at Camelford House but moved from Hillingdon Court to Wildernesse Park, near Sevenoaks.