Drop-front secretary (secrétaire à abattant or secrétaire en armoire)

Maker: Guillaume Benneman (active 1785, died 1811)

Modeler: Mounts modeled by Louis Simon Boizot (French, Paris 1743–1809 Paris)

Modeler: and Martin, possibly Gilles-François Martin (ca. 1713–1795)

Maker: and Michaud

Maker: Probably cast by Étienne-Jean Forestier (died 1768, master 1764)

Maker: Pierre-Auguste Forestier

Maker: Chased by Pierre Philippe Thomire (French, Paris 1751–1843 Paris)

Maker: and Bardin

Maker: and Tournay and others

Maker: Gilded by Galle

Factory director: Under the direction of Jean Hauré (born 1739, active 1774–after 1796)

Date: 1786–87

Culture: French, Paris

Medium: Oak veneered with tulipwood, kingwood, holly partly stained green, ebony, and mahogany; brèche d'Alep marble (not original); modern leather; gilt-bronze mounts

Dimensions: H. 63-1/2 x W. 32 x D. 15 in. (161.3 x 81.3 x 38.1 cm)

Classification: Woodwork-Furniture

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1971

Accession Number: 1971.206.17

Description

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.

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