Nol Grard, flourished 1690-1736
This bureau plat can confidently be attributed to the celebrated bniste Noel Grard on the basis of another very similar example stamped 'N.G.' (illustrated by A. Pradre in Les Ebnistes Francais de Louis XIV la Revolution, Paris, 1989, p.110), which displays these identical, distinctive handles and angle-mounts. These same female-mask angle-mounts are, however, more characteristically identified with the oeuvre of the bniste du Roi, Andr-Charles Boulle himself and feature amongst the latter's documented oeuvre on:- the bureau plat in the collection of H.M. The Queen at Windsor Castle, Berkshire; another delivered to Machault d'Arnouville circa 1719 and sold with its cartonnier from the estate of Wendell Cherry, Sotheby's New York, 20 May 1994, lot 80; another from the collection of the Earls of Warwick, sold anonymously at Christie's New York, 18 May 1989, lot 93; another from a Parisian private collection illustrated in A. Pradre, op. cit., p.82, figs. 34 and 35; and a further bureau delivered by Boulle to the Prince de Cond in 1720, which is now at Versailles. Such female angle-mounts had first been introduced by Boulle as early as 1708, however, when the latter employed them on the celebrated pair of Commodes Mazzarines supplied for the bedchamber of Louis XIV at the Grand Trianon.
The 1732 inventory taken following Boulle's death lists une boeste contenant un reste de bronze de bureaux anciens ttes de femmes, feuillages et rouleaux, as well as une boeste de modles des bureaux teste de femme et cartouches dans les entrejambes. Presumably, therefore, Grard purchased various Boulle models after the latter's death to enrich his finest pieces.
The half-brother of the bniste Jacques Dubois, Grard married the widow of a 'menuisier en bne' in 1710 and initially established himself as marchand-bniste in the rue Faubourg Saint-Antoine. His business prospered and in 1726 he became marchand-mercier, moving to the htel of the banker and connoisseur Jabach on the rue Neuve-Saint-Merry. He evidently specialized in all aspects of ameublement de luxe and numbered among his clients Stanislas Leszczynski, the King of Poland, who purchased tapestries from him, the comte de Clermont, who in 1734 owed him 139,672 livres and Mylord Wadgrave, the ambassador from England, who bought furniture from him in 1733. The inventory taken after his death in 1736 reveals the extensive nature of his business,
listing 80 clocks and 150 pieces of furniture in varying stages of completion, as well as mounted porcelains, bronzes and tapestries.
GEORGE DE LIGNE GREGORY AND HARLAXTON MANNER
Originally a modest Tudor manor house acquired by a De Ligne ancestor in the early 17th Century, Harlaxton was inherited through marriage by the Gregory's in 1750. Largely neglected by the latter until the early 19th Century and described in 1831 as being filled with antique looking furniture, old armour and flags, it was to the architect Anthony Salvin that George De Ligne Gregory turned for inspiration in that same year. The resultant mansion, 'the outstanding example of the Elizabethan revival', was finally completed in 1855, having already cost 100,000 by 1835.
Gregory was clearly a connoisseur, described in 1836 as for many years a collector of objects of vertu in France and Italy who made it the labour of his life to create a mansion and estate, with splendid garden and surrounding, which should be the pride of Lincolnshire (the latter quote from 'Harlaxton Manor', Country Life, 1906). It was undoubtedly the latter who acquired this bureau plat in the second quarter of the 19th Century, possibly on one of his sorties onto the Continent. Included in the sale of The Gregory Heirlooms CONSISTING OF Pictures, Sculpture, Tapestry, Silver-plate, Old French Decorative Furniture of the time of Louis XIII, XIV, XV, and XVI, Rare Marbles, Fine Or-Molu Work, Rock-crystal Chandelier, and other Decorative Objects, being a portion of the Collection formed by the late GREGORY GREGORY, ESQ., For the adornment of his Seat, Harlaxton Manor House, Lincolnshire at Christie's London, 17 June 1878, as lot 95, it was described as:-
A FINE LOUIS XV. LIBRARY-TABLE, of rosewood, with three drawers, mounted with terminal female busts, scrolls, and foliage, and border of or-molu, on claw feet, the top covered with leather - 6ft. 5in. long, and fetching 315 Guineas to 'Annon' (sic.).
Interestingly, the subsequent owner of Harlaxton Manor, Violet van der Elst, also displayed similar Francophile collecting instincts and indeed owned the Boulle cabinet-on-stand now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, California (illustrated in C. Bremmer-David, Decorative Arts, Malibu, 1993, no.7, pp.14-15).