Embellished with exquisite floral marquetry and retaining much of its original colours, this spendid table demonstrates the brilliant marquetry and technical skills of the celebrated Neuwied furniture-maker and entrepreneur David Roentgen (1743-1807). It was executed circa 1775-1780, towards the end of the so-called vierte Entwicklungs or Arbeitsphase, as discussed by Joseph Maria Greber and Dietrich Fabian (J.M. Greber, Abraham und David Roentgen, Möbel für Europa, Starnberg, 1980, pp. 109-189 and D. Fabian, Abraham und David Roentgen, Das noch aufgefundene Gesamtwerk ihrer Möbel und Uhrenkunst in Verbindung mit der Uhrmacherfamilie Kinzing in Neuwied, Neustadt/Saale, 1996, pp. 9-17)
'A LA MOSAIQUE' MARQUETRY
Embellished with various ribbon-tied floral garlands and bunches in contrasting woods, the Rothschild table is a striking 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 1740s. In the next decade, ambitious and individual marquetry schemes were developed. These were of a more pronounced German character, and similar in strength and colour 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, which were masterfully practised by Abraham Roentgen, the new technique created 'pictures in wood', painterly marquetry panels assembled from minute pieces of wood cut with incredible precision by the Neuwied Intarsiatoren (D. Fabian, op. cit., 1981, p. 8 and R. Baarsen, Duitse Meubelen, Zwolle, 1998, p. 74.). Trompe l'oeil floral marquetry in the newly-developed à la Mosaique technique became one of the favourite patterns of the 1770s and early 80s and was employed to embellish almost all furniture-types produced in the Roentgen Werkstatt. Comparable to Camaieu painting on porcelain, relying on various shades and intensities of the same colour, Roentgen's gardening trophies of deutsche Blumen included roses, tulips and bellflowers, suspended from ribbons or rings, or loosely wrapped around a distaff (R. Stratmann-Döhler, Mechanische Wunder Edles Holz, Roentgen-Möbel des 18. Jahrhunderts in Baden und Würtemberg, Karlsruhe, 1998, p. 48 and p. 96).
While several of Roentgen's chinoiserie scenes can be traced to prints by Jean Pillement (1728-1803) and François Boucher (1703-1770), and a large number of his impressive figurative scenes are based on the oeuvre of the Trier court painter Januarius Zick (1732-1797), few designs can be found for his illusionistic floral marquetry. However, Fabian has established a convincing link between Roentgen's intense rococo marquetry of the early 1760s and the musical and gardening trophies depicted in the work of Pierre Ranson (1736-1786), which are also likely to have been a starting point for his later, more classical, floral marquetry designs (D. Fabian, op. cit., 1981, p. 6, fig. 15 and p. 11, fig 24).
Roentgen executed several of these small oval multifunctional writing-tables or Mehrzwecktische, which were undoubtedly among the most popular items issuing from his workshop. They are similar in construction and often incorporate an ingenious mechanism which allows the spring-loaded hinged drawers to be opened by means of concealed release-buttons to the underside. They are embellished with various marquetry designs, but this examplès trompe l'oeil marquetry decoration of Arcadian pastoral trophies around a convolvulus-entwined knife is certainly one of his most accomplished. It appears on a number of related tables, which are illustrated in D. Fabian, op.cit., 1996, pp. 47-49 and S. de Ricci, Louis XVI Furniture, Suttgart, 1938, p. 93. An intriguing theory has been developed that Roentgen signed these tables in the marquetry. And indeed, 'hidden' in one of the four knots in the bindweed one can clearly distinguish an 'R', the letter he occasionally used as his signature.
INFLUENCES FROM FRANCE
With its elegant refined shape, balanced arrangement of marquetry and rich gilt-bronze embellishments, the Rothschild table demonstrates David Roentgen's international ambitions and ardent interest in the latest French fashion. Roentgen visited Paris in 1774 to familiarise himself with the latest nouveautés. In 1779 he embarked on a second visit, and this time he took a number of his best pieces with him, which gave him instant recognition in Royal circles. King Louis XVI and other members of the Royal family made important acquistions, and Roentgen received the courtesy title 'ébéniste-méchanicien de la Reine' from Queen Marie-Antoinette. In the following year he succeeded in joining the Paris cabinet-makers' guild, which enabled 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 européen', L'Objet d'art/L'Estampille' 305 (1996), pp. 99-101).
While Roentgen could outwit his French counterparts with his marquetry skills and ability to create intricate techinal devices, he could not match the jewel-like quality of gilt-bronze mounts executed by French bronziers. When he first stayed in Paris in 1774, Roentgen visited several ateliers, and soon acquired French ormolu mounts for his most important commissions. During his second visit he came in to contact with the ciseleur-doreur François Rémond (1747-1812), whose ledgers survive from 1779 until 1792 and list Roentgen's purchases on numerous accounts. Roentgen purchases included large sculptural groups and decorative friezes, but also smaller items, such as the 'poignées en draperies' so characteristic of Roentgen's oeuvre (C. Baulez, op. cit., 1996, pp. 109-118). The rosette mounts of this table also appear on the magnificent cylinder bureau by Roentgen from Longleat, which will be sold by the Marquess of Bath in the Rooms, 13 June 2002.