Designed in the Louis XIV 'antique' manner, this princely bureau mazarin's marquetry panels are inspired by the oeuvre of Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (d. 1699) and relate closely to engravings published by Gabriel Androuet DuCerceau, appointed Dessinateur to Louis XIV circa 1690, now held in the Stockholm National Museum (P. Fuhring, 'Late Seventeenth and early 18th Century Furniture Designs for Upholstered Furniture', Furniture History Society Journal, Leeds, 1989, pp. 42-60, fig. 6). Monnoyer's work was subsequently popularised by Daniel Marot in his Nouveaux Livres de Tableaux de portes et cheminées of circa 1700, and the latter also depicted a bureau of closely related form, with foliate-capped herm legs and concave-fronted stretchers, in a Library interior.
A number of bureaux of this form, characterized by their distinctive marquetry decoration to the legs, are referred to in late 17th and 18th Century inventories. Of these, the earliest and most enlightening reference is for the pair of bureaux supplied by the ébéniste Aubertin Gaudron to Louis XIV's Garde-Meuble on 16 November 1688. Delivered for Madame de Maintenon's apartment at Versailles, they were described as:-
deux bureaux de marqueterie de bois à fleurs de rapport ayant chacun sept tiroirs et une armoire dans le milieu fermant à clef dont les entrées des serrures sont de bronze doré, au dessus est representé un vase pleins de fleurs posé sur une table d'attente aux oiseaux et papillons portez par 8 piliers en termes avec bazes det boulles dorées, les bureaux ont chacun 3 pieds 10 pouces de long 28 pouces de large sur 29 pouces de hauteur
A bureau that corresponds closely to this description is now in the National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden.
Established in the rue Saint-Honoré, Gaudron was extensively patronised by both Court and Crown. Employed by not only the King, the Dauphin and the Dauphine, but also the Prince de Condé, the duc de Chartres and the duc d'Anjou, he is last recorded in a payment by the Garde-meuble de la Couronne in 1713. Two further 18th Century references to bureaux of this type after this date have so far been found. The first:-
'Un bureau de travail de marqueterie à fleurs naturelles couvert de velours noir avec serre papiers et le pied, le tout de fleurs naturelles, le pied et bureau garni de plusieurs tiroirs 120 livres' was listed in 1721 in the hôtel of Louis XIV's Minister Desmaretz de Maillebois. The second, 'un grand bureau ancien de bois de rapport à plusieurs tiroirs sur ses huit pieds et traverses de bois pareil 12 livres', was recorded in the 1761 inventory of the property of the Maréchal de Belle Isle, grandson of the surintendant Fouquet.
Apart from the Balfour bureau and that in Stockholm, further related bureaux of this distinctive type are recorded:- one was sold anonymously at Christie's London, 25 June 1988, lot 108; another was sold anonymously at Sotheby's Monaco, 4 March 1989, lot 274; and a final example was exhitibted in 'Louis XIV Faste et Décors', Paris, 1960, Exhibition Catalogue, p. xxxi, formerly in the collection of Jacques Helft.
Andreé-Charles Boulle also supplied bureaux of this form, as is confirmed by the 1713 inventory of the dealer Paul Verani's atelier, which lists 'un grand bureau á fleurs de bois de couleur fait par Boul, couvert de maroquin 200 livres'. This latter bureau conforms with that in the collection of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat House, Wiltshire, which was negotiated by Christie's to the Victoria & Albert Museum to remain in situ in 1996. The very elaborate marquetry decoration of the Longleat bureau, as well as the distinctive masks on the side panels, make this attribution to Boulle almost certain.
GENERAL ROBERT BALFOUR OF BALBIRNIE
A seat of the Balfour family since 1642, Balbirnie was rebuilt for John Balfour in the fashionable Grecian style between 1777-82. The significant upturn in the family fortunes resulting from the Napoleonic wars, however, led General Robert Balfour to extend Balbirnie again under the direction of the Edinburgh architect Richard Crichton. Lavishing the huge sum of £16,367 on building works between 1815-21, General Balfour proceeded to refurbish the house in the fashionable late Regency taste, employing amongst others, the celebrated Edinburgh firm of William Trotter and Son. Amongst the first residents of John Nash's newly-built Carlton House Terrace in London - living at no. 14 from 1829-36, before selling it to the Earl of Lonsdale - Balfour would undoubtedly have been aware of the Francophile tastes enamoured by George, Prince of Wales, later George IV and his circle and readily serviced by the English marchand-mercier Edward Holmes Baldock (d. 1854). It would, therefore, seem most probable that the bureau marzarin was purchased by General Balfour in the 1820's or 1830's, either for Balbirnie or for Carlton House Terrace and this would certainly concur chronologically with its reputed provenance from Strawberry Hill.
HORACE WALPOLE Horace Walpole's (d. 1797) celebrated collection of French furniture and objets d'art - much of it bought directly in Paris, either at auction or from the marchand-mercier Simon-Philippe Poirier between 1765-7 and 1769 - was sold in the Strawberry Hill sale conducted bythe auctioneer George Robins between 25 April and 24 May 1842. Although this bureau mazarin does not appear in the 1842 sale, it would certainly concur with Walpole's taste for the Court of Louis XIV - his obsession, for instance, with madame de Sévigné (d. 1696) a case in point - as well as his interest in the 17th Century antiquarain furniture, particularly in ebony, which he described as 'the true black blood' (C. Wainwright, 'Only The True Black Blood', Furntiure History Society Journal, Leeds, 1985, pp. 251-5). As Wainwright points out, moreover, several of Walpole's ebony chairs are known to have left the collection at Strawberry Hill prior to the 1842 sale, one being recorded with the Bond Street broker John Webb as early as 1833, and so it is certainly conceivable that that may also be the case with the Balfour bureau mazarin (op.cit., p. 252).