Maker: Guillaume Beneman (French, active 1785died 1792); Decoration possibly by Gilles–François Martin, Étienne–Jean Forestier, or Pierre–Phillipe Thomire Forestier (17511843); Modelers of gilt–bronze mounts: Louis–Simon Boizot (17431809) and Pierre Michaud; Decorators: Tournay and Bardin; Gilder: Galle (ca. 178687); Factory director: Jean Hauré (active 1774after 1796)
Tulipwood, kingwood, holly, and mahogany veneered on oak; gilt–bronze, brèche d'Alep marble, leather; 63 1/2 x 32 x 15 in. (161.3 x 81.3 x 38.1 cm)
Signed: G. BENEMAN (stamped vertically on upper part of back, to the left)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1971 (1971.206.17)
This secrétaire à abattant (upright secretary or writing cabinet) was created by Guillaume Beneman, Parisian maître ébéniste to the crown (178492), in conjunction with a team of bronziers (gilt-bronze workers), ornamentistes (decorators), and a maître-doreur (gilder), all under the supervision of the woodcarver Jean Hauré (active 177496). Recognized as a leading exponent of the late Louis XVI style, Beneman has been discovered to have revised (adding more neo-Roman details such as legs in the shape of fasces), transformed, and added his stamp to a number of works by fellow ébéniste Joseph Stöckel (17431802).
Designed for Louis XVI and later owned by Napoleon Bonaparte, this secrétaire formerly stood in the Palais de Compiègne and the Palais du Luxembourg. Its rectilinear shape and trellis marquetry in combination with the antique decorations of full-length gilded bronze caryatid mounts, panels with foliated Vitruvian scrolls, feet mounted with chased floral swags and pendants over anthemion, and keyhole escutcheons of laurel-leaf and berry wreaths, all contribute to its stylish Neoclassical appearance. Aspects of this piece, including its overall restraint, upright form, and corner caryatid figures, prefigure the Empire style in which Beneman later worked.