JOSEPH EMMANUEL ZWIENER
Born in Herdon, Germany in 1849, Zwiener is recorded as having worked in Paris at 12 Rue de la Roquette from 1880 to 1895. His successful atelier executed elegant pieces of furniture replicating articles from the Garde-Meuble National of France. Working mainly in a vigorous interpretation of the French Rococo style, Zwiener's furniture is often inset with the finest marquetry, vernis Martin panels and flowing gilt-bronze mounts. At the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, Zwiener received a gold medal and was lauded by the jurists who noted "dès ses débuts d'une Exposition universelle, [il] s'est mis au premier rang par la richesse, la hardiesse et le fini de ses meubles incrustis de bronzes et fort habilement marquetis". On receiving a royal commission from Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, Zwiener left Paris in 1895, returning to Berlin where he was known as Julius Zwiener. Many of the pieces executed by Zwiener for the Prussian royal palaces were brought to Huis Doorn in Utrecht in 1918, where the Kaiser lived in exile until his death in 1941.
Zwiener did not stamp all of his work, but the quality of craftsmanship from his ateliers is well recognized from the few stamped pieces that are documented. In addition to the stamp ZJ, which appears on some of his bronze-work, the branding E. Zwiener was employed in the workshop. The mark J. Zwiener that appears on German-produced furniture was once regarded as proof of collaboration between two brothers or cousins. More likely, the discrepancy is a result of the ébéniste adopting a more French moniker when working in Paris, a common practice among foreign craftsmen at the time.
Exquisite ormolu mountings, or sculpture, is a characteristic of the finest late 19th century furniture. The present cabinet was almost certainly created in collaboration with the enigmatic sculptor Léon Messagé (d.1904). Messagé excelled in creating lively, high relief allegorical figures and groups linked by delicate organic frames of bronze doré. Although he published a book of designs in 1890 from his address at 40 rue Sedaine near the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, and was cited in reviews of the time as being well known, little information exists about Messagé. As shown here, he evidently collaborated with Zwiener and other significant ébénistes of the time, including François Linke and Gervais-Maximillien-Eugène Durand. This explains the appearance of similar bronze-work on pieces originating from different ateliers.
Although apparently unsigned, the sinuous lines, finely cast mounts and delicate floral marquetry of this magnificent cabinet are strongly characteristic of Zwiener's best work. Although less flamboyant in its execution, the current example relates closely to a cabinet stamped Zwiener, Paris, shown at the 1889 Paris Exposition universelle and sold Christie's East, 2 November 1989, lot 265 ($375,000). Similarities exist not only in the form and function of the two pieces, but also in the finely-chased recumbent female figure, emblematic of Abundance, surmounting each cabinet. Furthermore, similar case-flanking putti are present on both pieces, and have been noted on other similar examples. Another closely-related, but substantially smaller and less elaborately-mounted cabinet, fitted as a secretaire and inscribed Zwiener, Paris 1888, was sold Christie's East, 30 April 1992, lot 369 ($100,000).
Both the present cabinet and the smaller example sold in 1992, are partially inspired by the celebrated bureau du Roi by Jean-Francois Oeben (maître 1761) and Jean-Henri Riesener (maître 1768), supplied in 1769 for the cabinet intérieur of Louis XV at Versailles. The superstructure of both cabinets bears an ormolu plaque that can be seen on the reverse of the bureau du Roi. The relief plaque depicts the Seven Cardinal Virtues as putti, surrounding the head of Minerva. Like the bureau du Roi, the elegant lower section of the cabinet incorporates laurel-swag mounts and horns of plenty, after designs by Jean-Claude Duplessis (d. 1774), and in celebration of 'abundance through labour'. The back legs of the present example are hung with lion pelts (the original with pelts on all four legs), symbolizing the labours of Hercules.
Several versions of furniture inspired by the bureau du Roi have been produced since the 1850's. Zwiener is recorded as producing a rendition of the bureau à cylindre for Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1884. Another copy by Zwiener was exhibited at the Exhibition of 1889, and later presented to Grand Duke Paul of Russia. Henry Dasson and François Linke are known to have made several desks very similar in execution to the companion piece for the bureau du Roi supplied to Versailles by Benneman in 1786 (see Christie's London, 26 February 1998, lot 202).