René Dubois, who employed his father's stamp, maître in 1755.
THE SEVRES PLAQUES
Although added in the second quarter of the nineteenth Century, the Sèvres porcelain plaques and their contemporary surrounding ormolu frames are rare survivors from the small and distinguished group of late Louis XV Sèvres porcelain-mounted furniture commissioned by the marchand-mercier Simon-Philippe Poirier. Almost identical plaques set within this exact ormolu frame are also found on the bureau plat by Joseph in the James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor (illustrated in G. de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: Furniture, Clocks and Gilt Bronzes, I, Fribourg, 1974, no. 89, pp. 428-433). The Waddesdon plaques are painted with the date-letter H for 1760 and three bear the mark of the flower painter François Binet (active at both Vincennes and Sèvres 1750-75) - exactly the same as on one of the plaques on the Longleat bureau plat, which is dated 1760 and bears Binet's painter's mark of a dot above a T. Another Longleat plaque, dated 1764, bears the branch mark for Jean-Baptiste Noualhier, active between 1753 and 1755 and again from 1757 to 1766.
Three further bureaux plats embellished with these distinctive shaped Sèvres plaques of the Waddesdon Joseph model are recorded:- one is in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch at Boughton, Northamptonshire; a second was sold by the Viscount Clifden in these Rooms, 5 May 1893, lot 156; a third, now thought to be a 19th Century copy, is in the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. It is particularly interesting to note, therefore, that the Gulbenkian bureau is stamped E.H.B. for Edward Holmes Baldock, whilst the 5th Duke of Buccleuch (1806-1884) was amongst Baldock's most important clients. An English marchand-mercier who is known to have dealt in both exceptional 'antique' furniture and in modifying furniture for contemporary tastes, Baldock is a possible author of the alterations to this bureau plat, with the addition of the Sèvres plaques, particularly bearing in mind that the Duke of Buccleuch was the 4th Marquess of Bath's uncle.
THE FASHION FOR BUREAUX A LA GREC
With its 'Etruscan' decoration of contrasting amaranth and tulipwood and swagged laurel-baguettes, this bureau plat reflects the goût Grec style introduced in the 1750's by the architect Louis-Joseph Le Lorrain. Probably working in collaboration with a marchand-mercier such as Simon-Philippe Poirier, Le Lorrain's goût grec style was first realized in the designs for the celebrated suite of furniture supplied for the Parisian hôtel of the amateur Ange-Laurent Lalive de Jully circa 1755, which included the bureau plat and cartonnier now in the musée Condé at Chantilly, as well as the set of four meubles d'appui including that sold by the Marquess of Cholmondeley, Works of Art from Houghton, in these Rooms, 8 December 1994, lot 80.
This bureau plat relates to the well-documented group of bureaux à la grecque stamped both 'I Dubois' (for René Dubois, 1734-1809), who employed his father's stamp, and 'Montigny' for Philippe-Claude Montigny (maître in 1766). Executed in either ebony or amaranth and tulipwood, often displaying the same distinctive ormolu mounts, this group reflects the close collaboration that existed between these two ébénistes - a link further underlined by the fact that Montigny and Dubois were not only cousins, but that the former even acted as a witness at the latter's wedding.
In view of the fact that 'une table de bois d'amaranthe à la grecque 60l' was recorded in the 1764 inventory taken following the death of Jacques Dubois, while Montigny himself was not elected maître until 1766, it seems fair to conclude that it was Dubois who initially devised this model, but in the face of excessive demand, he in turn - acting in the capacity of a marchand-ébéniste- subcontracted to Montigny to supply him with bureaux of this form. This hypothesis is further supported by a number of pieces stamped by both ébénistes, both at Waddesdon Manor and in the Wallace Collection, as well as a bureau à la grecque sold anonymously at Sotheby's Monaco, 17 June 1988, lot 741 (only Montigny's stamp noted in the catalogue).
The importance of René Dubois' atelier in the rue de Charenton is revealed not only by the 1772 inventory of his stock, but also in the announcements in Les Tablettes de Renommée - which stated 'Dubois rue de Charenton tient fabrique et fameux magasin d'ébénisterie, fait des envois en province et chez l'Etranger'. This latter inventory also revealed the extent to which Dubois had almost exclusively become a marchand, as he subcontracted work to ébénistes including Ancellet, Bury, Fromageau, Séverin, Bon Durand and Petit.
That Poirier supplied George, 6th Earl of Coventry (1722-1809) with 'un Bureau à la grecque' by Dubois on 12 March 1765 suggests that it was not until the late 1760's that Dubois' activities as a marchand were fully developed, but the mention of 'bureaux plats à l'antique' in the 1772 inventory certainly confirms the long-standing popularity of this model.
The 'bureaux à la Grecque' executed by Montigny tend to be characterized by their slightly larger size, with three drawers and a unified veneer, particularly ebony - such as that in the Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris and another sold anonymously at Sotheby's Monaco, 17 June 1988, lot 741. It is, therefore, a possibility that this bureau was actually made by Montigny and sold by Dubois.