This unusually well documented secretary—known as a secrétaire en armoire because the section below the drop front, or abattant, is fitted as a cupboard (armoire)—beautifully illustrates the collaborative nature of high-quality furniture production in eighteenth-century France. Because of strict guild regulations that enforced high standards of workmanship and stimulated a high degree of specialization, many different artists were involved in its creation. Intended for Louis XVI’s study at the Château de Compiègne, a palatial hunting lodge fifty miles northeast of Paris, this piece was ordered to match an existing commode made by Gilles Joubert for Louis XV in 1770. Jean Hauré (b. 1739), a sculptor and entrepreneur des meubles to the court, supervised the work and engaged the German-born Guillaume Benneman, who had been named king’s cabinetmaker in 1785, to execute the frame and the marquetry. The curvilinear latticework pattern of the marquetry was originally enriched with small gilded rosettes.
The gilt-bronze mounts went through the hands of many different artists and craftsmen (listed above) during successive modeling, casting, chasing, burnishing, and mercury-gilding procedures. Jean-Pierre Lanfant supplied the original top of dark red Italian griotte marble, which has since been replaced. The detailed receipts for the work also record payments for leather to cover the writing surface and for the gilt tooling of its edges, as well as for the services of a locksmith. Although this secretary was supposed to match a nearly twenty-year-old commode, the mounts, especially the large caryatids—veritable sculptures in their own right—and the interior—veneered with mahogany—are expressions of the latest Neoclassical taste.
Signature: Stamped vertically on upper part of back, to the left: G. BENEMAN
Marking: Painted at top of back in center and larger, below: No. 13
Louis XVI, King of France , Château de Compiègne, France ; Directeurs of the Directoire (Directorate) , Palais du Luxembourg, Paris ; Napoléon Bonaparte (until 1808) ; Archichancelier Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès (1808–24) ; Baron Henri de Rothschild , Paris ; Edith Chester Beatty , London ; J. Guedes de Souza , Lisbon ; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman , New York (until 1971; to MMA)
Artist: Jean Henri Riesener (French, Gladebeck, near Hessen 1734–1806 Paris)Date: 1783Medium: Oak veneered with ebony and 17th-century Japanese lacquer; interiors veneered with tulipwood, amaranth, holly, and ebonized holly; gilt-bronze mounts; marble top; velvet (not original)Accession: 20.155.12On view in:Gallery 524
Artist: Jean Henri Riesener (French, Gladebeck, near Hessen 1734–1806 Paris)Date: 1783Medium: Oak veneered with ebony and 17th-century Japanese lacquer; interiors veneered with tulipwood, amaranth, holly, and ebonized holly; gilt-bronze mounts; marble top; velvet (not original)Accession: 20.155.11On view in:Gallery 524
Artist: Adam Weisweiler (French, 1744–1820)Date: ca. 1790Medium: Oak veneered with ebony, amaranth, holly, ebonized holly, satinwood, Japanese and French lacquer panels; gilt-bronze mounts, brocatelle marble top (not original); steel springs; morocco leather (not original)Accession: 1977.1.12On view in:Gallery 524
Artist: Martin Carlin (French, near Freiburg im Breisgau ca. 1730–1785 Paris)Date: ca. 1775Medium: Oak and pine veneered with tulipwood, sycamore, holly, boxwood and ebony; Carrara marble; gilt-bronze mounts; accessories of Sèvres porcelain, rock crystal, silver gilt, and lacquerAccession: 1976.155.99a, bOn view in:Gallery 523