With its rich inlays, beautifully chased bronze mounts and precise construction, this splendid pair of cabinets is evocative of the finest French furniture created in the mid-19th century. These cabinets both recall the 18th century and, with their hinged tops and subtly reflecting marquetry, give new life and functionality to the renowned models on which they are based. This mélange would, no doubt, have appealed to their illustrious former owners: the Rothschild and Beaumont families.
The present cabinets are based on well-known models attributed to André-Charles Boulle, today in the collections of the Louvre (OA 5453-4; illustrated D. Alcouffe et al., Furniture Collections in the Louvre, vol. 1, Dijon, 1993, pp. 64-69, cat. 18). One of the most celebrated cabinetmakers of all time, Boulle created a wide array of furniture for his era's most important patrons, including Louis XIV.
The pair of cabinets in the Louvre (one in première-partie and one in contre-partie inlay) was created in Boulle's atelier, almost certainly based on a preparatory drawing in the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris for a cabinet-on-stand (723 C 2; fig. 1). In the upper register of the design, dated circa 1685, the form, distinctive mounts and inlay of the Louvre cabinets are visible. Like many pieces by Boulle, the Louvre cabinets were restored and altered in form several times between their creation and the late 19th century, including the addition of the rectangular plinths separating the case from the feet, which were not replicated in the present lot (D. Alcouffe, op cit., p. 68). With the exception of the later-added plinth, the present cabinets reproduce, in almost exact detail, the front and lateral sides of the première-partie Louvre cabinet (OA 5453).
The enduring popularity for this model - and, indeed, for 'Boulle' furniture - gave rise to imitations in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Notable comparisons to the present lot include a cabinet begun in the early 18th century and completed by Adam Weisweiler in the Jones Collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (1118:3-1882), a pair of side cabinets dated to the late 18th century in the Wrightsman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum (1974.391.1a-b) and a pair of English cabinets from the mid-19th century in The Frick Collection (1916.5.04-05). Another cabinet of similar proportions but different decoration was in the Hamilton Palace Collection, sold Christie's, June-July 1882, lot 174.
The present cabinets are first documented in the possession of Sir Anthony Nathan de Rothschild, first baronet (d. 1876) and are believed to have entered his collection in the mid-19th century. Anthony was the second son of Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild, founder of the English branch of the legendary family which established some of the most successful trade and banking firms in history. Unlike his father, who was not an avid collector, Anthony amassed a spectacular collection of fine and decorative arts evocative of the 'goût Rothschild' for objects with extraordinary provenance. The present cabinets were displayed at his palatial country estate, Aston-Clinton in Aylesbury, where he entertained distinguished guests including the Prince of Wales.
In 1923, these cabinets were purchased by the London dealers, Lewis & Simmons, who later formed a partnership with Robert W. Partridge. They were likely sold soon thereafter to Hélène Beaumont, an opera singer by training who married Louis Dudley Beaumont, an American businessman with a considerable retail fortune. In 1927, the couple purchased La Villa Eilenroc, a Côte d'Azur retreat on the Cap d'Antibes where they hosted legendary parties frequented by the haute monde, including Florence Gould and the Aga Khan. In a manifestation of their lavish tastes, the Beaumonts assembled an outstanding group of 18th and 19th century French decorative arts, buying in bulk from the sales of the English Rothschilds, including the aforementioned sale of Sir Anthony de Rothschild's collection on 13 and 14 June 1923 at Christie's, London.
Though having been thoroughly dismantled during inspection, the present lot appears to be unmarked. However, their splendid marquetry inlays and illustrious provenance are no doubt befitting of one of the century's preeminent ébénistes. While Rothschild frequently ordered furnishings from the English firm of Blake, which also specialized in Boulle, the clean, precise construction of the oak carcass and the stamps on the lock-plates for the serrurerie of Souchet are traditionally associated with the workshop of Charles-Guillaume Winckelsen (d. 1871). Winckelsen was active in Paris primarily in the 1850s and 1860s, and was particularly known for his unsurpassed virtuosity in 'Boulle' marquetry. An example of this includes a commode he created based on the celebrated models by Boulle made for Louis XIV at the Grand Trianon, sold Sotheby's, New York, 26 October 2010, lot 377 ($434,500). The lock-plate to that commode also bears the stamps of Souchet, and demonstrates similar carcass and drawer construction. In addition, both the aforementioned commode and the present cabinets have elaborately inlaid tops, effectively separating them from most 'Boulle' cabinets made in the 19th century, and more closely aligning the present cabinets to Winckelsen's oeuvre. In a further embrace of the 'Boulle' fashion, Winckelsen also made a pair of commodes based on the model for Louis XIV, sold Christie's, New York, 7 June 2011, ($458,500).
Similar cabinets were created by other makers in the period, including Alexandre-Georges Fourdinois whose cabinet was illustrated in the 1878 Exposition Universelle catalogue (fig. 2). Fourdinois also created a pair of commodes which reside in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen. Henry Dasson, who purchased Winckelsen's atelier upon his death in 1871, also produced a pair of cabinets, sold Sotheby's, New York, 20 April 2007, lot 213 ($360,000). Another pair, finished with simple ebony veneers and probably by Joseph Cremer, sold Bonham's, San Francisco, 1 November 2004, lot 5388, $204,250.