Jean-Henri Riesener, maître in 1768 (probably in the capacity of restorer).
David Roentgen, maître in 1780.
With its unusual architectural form and fine mechanical construction, this spectacular desk was probably originally executed by one of the most sophisticated German emigré cabinetmakers working in Russia, such as David Roentgen (1743-1807) or Christian Meyer (b. 1750), either as a collaboration with or later adaptation by the great cabinet-maker Jean-Henri Riesener, who stamped the carcase in this capacity. This is further reflected through the fact that it does not feature the signature elements of Riesener's constructional technique, for instance the distinctive filleted panels he employed for the base panels of drawers.
COLLABORATION BETWEEN RIESENER AND ROENTGEN
As a result of his first stay in Paris in 1774, Roentgen not only developed his French clientele, but was inspired by the work of Parisian ébénistes and bronziers. A list of some ébénistes had been provided to him by the engraver Jean-Georges Wille, and Riesener, as one of his German compatriots, could naturally have been one of these. Evidence of the relation between the two is seen in the late 1770's when Roentgen used the same bronze motifs as Riesener. For example, the frieze of scrolls found on the Roentgen royal commode from the Linsky collection at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, was repeatedly used by Riesener at the time.
After 1785, when he stopped working for the Royal Garde Meuble, Riesener turned to the famous dealer Daguerre for the commercial outlet of his production, therefore collaborating with Weisweiler and even with Roentgen. Traces of a closer collaboration between Riesener and Roentgen can be found in those years: both were using the same bronzier, François Rémond (1747-1812 ) and both were working with (or for) Daguerre. The commercial Journal of Rémond (partly preserved for the period after 1779) lists several cases of bronze elements being invoiced to Roentgen, for furniture made in connection with Riesener:
'26 novembre 1786, pour fourniture de 64 tigettes pour pied de table de M. Daguerre, 80 livres ; pour dorure mate de la garniture d'un secrétaire et partie de dorure d'une table de toilette, ensemble de M. Riesener, 528 livres ; pour dorure mate de moulures de la table de M. Riesener, 144 livres ; pour façon de ciselure et dorure mate de 6 anneaux de laurier pour meuble du même, 30 livres (M. Christian Baulez in 'David Roentgen et François Rémond', L'Estampille, September 1996, pp.109-110).
It is not clear whether Roentgen was paying for bronzes on pieces made by Riesener which he intended to sell (and finish) himself, or for pieces made by him to be sold (and finished) by Riesener.
Comparison of the present bureau à gradin with the lower section of several mahogany cylinder desks made by Roentgen, such as the one in Versailles (probably purchased by Louis XVI in 1781) or the one at Buckingham Palace, would lead one to attribute this bureau to Roentgen and date it around 1785-1786. The elaborate concealed and hinged drawer structure is also a characteristic found on a number of Roentgen pieces (see J.M. Greber, Abraham und David Roentgen, Möbel für Europa, vol. II, 1980, figs. 374, 400, 434, 538, 544, 665.) A cylinder bureau with the same distinctive base was sold anonymously at Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 7 January 1955, lot 318. Related stepped spring-loaded drawers are seen on the superstructure of a cylinder bureau by Roentgen (illustrated in J.M Greber, op. cit. pls. 683-84).