Jean-Henri Riesener (French, 1734–1806)
Oak veneered with ebony and black and gold Japanese lacquer, tulipwood, holly and black stained holly, amaranth, gilt-bronze mounts, white marble
H. 57 x W. 43 x D. 16 in. (144.8 x 109.2 x 40.6 cm)
Bequest of William K. Vanderbilt, 1920 (20.155.11)
Ordered from Riesener together with a matching commode and encoignure (corner cabinet) for use in Queen Marie Antoinette's cabinet intérieur at Versailles in 1783, the secretary and the commode were sent several years later to the Château of Saint Cloud. With their Japanese black and gold lacquer panels and exquisite gilt-bronze mounts, the secretary and the commode, now also in the Museum's collection, are among the best known pieces of royal furniture outside France.
Based on their superb quality, the mounts have been attributed to Pierre Gouthière (17321813), the most famous Parisian bronzeworker of the late eighteenth century who became doreur du roi (gilder to the king) in 1767. Composed of intertwined garlands of naturalistic flowers that incorporate the queen's monogram MA in the center, the jewel-like quality is a triumph of prestidigitation. Unlike the ribbon-shaped handles on the front of the secretary that give access to the drawer in the frieze, those on the sides did not have a function and are purely decorative.