Jean-François Oeben, maître in 1761
Jean-Henri Riesener, maître in 1768
This magnificent secrétaire, dating from circa 1763-1768, belongs to a celebrated group of eight secrétaires stamped by both Jean-François Oeben (maître in 1761) and, subsequently, by his compagnon Jean-Henri Riesener (maître in 1768). Born in Galdbach, Westphalia in 1734, Riesener came to Paris in 1754 and was apprenticed to Oeben. On the latter's untimely death in 1763, Oeben's widow ('La veuve Oeben') took over the reins of the business, retaining both her husband's stamp and the extensive ateliers documented in the 1763 inventory. Initially concerned with the execution of unfinished commissions (such as the Bureau du Roi started by Oeben in 1760 and finally delivered by Riesener in 1769), as well as the resourceful use of already prepared carcasses, which often had to be modified to comply with the ever-shifting dictates of fashion and urgency, from circa 1764-65 'la veuve Oeben' became increasingly dependent upon Riesener, culminating in their marriage in 1767. Riesener established himself in Oeben's ateliers at the Arsenal and, following his maîtrise in 1768, the Oeben stamp was finaly abandoned in favour of his own.
Certain constructional features confirm that the Luton Hoo secrétaire was executed by Riesener in the period after Oeben's death in 1763. The interior fittings can be removed, but only through the back of the piece - a feature unique to Riesener's oeuvre. However the secrétaire must date from before 1768 when Riesener became a maître and would have stamped the piece himself. The combination of both patinated and gilt bronze mounts is highly unusual and unique to this secrétaire within the group, while the distinctive key-pattern frieze is reminiscent of the celebrated secrétaire supplied by Oeben to the duc de Choiseul and now in the Louvre. The arrangement of the interior is also particularly striking with hinged flaps in brilliantly stained maplewood imitating marble.
THE OEBEN/RIESENER SECRETAIRES.
This impressive model of secrétaire, which was probably initiated under Oeben, although Riesener's likely involvement in the genesis of the design can by no means be ignored, enjoyed immediate success. Executed in subtle variations and predominantly supplied to the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, two for the exclusive use of the Royal family, the group of eight secrétaires comprises, in chronological order:-
THE ROSEBERY SECRETAIRE. Depicting the figure of Silence to the fall-front and stamped Oeben, thus dating from before 1768, probably circa 1763-7, this is now in the collection of the Earl of Rosebery, Dalmeny House, Scotland (G. Jackson-Stops, catalogue of the exhibition, The Treasure Houses of Britain, November 1985-March 1986, no. 508, p. 570). With its freer, floral trellis arbour marquetry to the lower doors and certain constructional features that have traditionally been more closely associated with Oeben than Riesener, particularly the lack of the characteristic Riesener oak flange to the door, the Rosebery secrétaire is probably the earliest of the series and may conceivably be by Oeben himself.
THE WERNHER SECRETAIRE. This is unique in the group in that it is the only one whose marquetry panels combine both the figure of Silence and the Allegory of France, and as noted above, its unusual combination of patinated and gilt bronze mounts is also unique within the group, and virtually unprecedented. It is stamped Oeben, thus dating from before 1768.
THE BERGSTEN SECRETAIRE. Sold in these Rooms, 23 June 1999, lot 134. Stamped by Riesener, and also signed in the marquetry, the secrétaire probably dates from circa 1770-75. Although the exact date of its commission remains to be discovered, the distinctive cube parquetry decoration of the sides is clearly a legacy of Oeben and would suggest an earlier dating in Riesener's oeuvre.
THE GUERAULT SECRETAIRE. Almost identical to the Bergsten secrétaire except for the flower spray marquetry of the lower doors and also stamped Riesener, this also probably dates from circa 1770-5 and was sold from the collection of François Guérault, Paris, 21-22 March 1935, lot 94.
THE FONTANIEU SECRETAIRE. This was supplied to P.E. de Fontanieu, Intendant Général des meubles de la Couronne, by Riesener on 23 December 1771. Inlaid with a musical trophy to the fall-front, the Fontanieu secrétaire was almost certainly that subsequently at Lansdowne House, London, and sold anonymously in these Rooms, 5 December 1974, lot 84. (P. Kjellberg, Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1989, p. 703).
THE MICHELHAM SECRETAIRE. Stamped Riesener and dating from circa 1775, depicting an almost identical marquetry panel celebrating Lyric Poetry to the fall-front as the Bergsten secrétaire, this formed part of the Michelham Bequest to the Musée de l'Art et de l'Histoire, Geneva (A. Pradère, Les Ebénistes Français de Louis XIV à la Révolution, Paris, 1989, p. 380).
THE WADDESDON SECRETAIRE. Depicting the figure of Silence, this was delivered by Riesener on 6 August 1777 for King Louis XVI's cabinet at the Petit Trianon. Supplied at a cost of 8,880 livres, this 'secrétaire en armoire' was completed with remarkable speed, possibly from an existing carcase, having only been ordered on the 17 July! Now at Waddesdon, it is discussed in G. de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, Furniture Clocks, Gilt Bronzes, London, 1974, I, no. 69, pp. 348-357.
THE WALLACE SECRETAIRE. Depicting an Allegory of France and stamped by both Riesener and Beneman, the latter acting as a restorer, this was delivered by Riesener on 8 July 1780 for Queen Marie-Antoinette's Cabinet Intérieur at Versailles. Subsequently removed to King Louis XVI's Cabinet Intérieur at Saint-Cloud in 1785, it was restored by Beneman and Galle in 1788 and is now in the Wallace Collection, London (P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996, II, pp. 969-979, no. 196).
Executed between circa 1763-1780, this celebrated series of secrétaires displays a remarkable continuity of both form and ornament of the marquetry. Corresponding to an overall pattern with a large marquetry panel to the fall-front above a pair of doors inlaid with flowered panels below (except for the Wernher example), such as featured as early as 1765 in J.-R. Lucotte's engraving published in Diderot and Alembert's Encyclopédie, all except for the Fontanieu secrétaire display either the silhouetted figure of Silence (Rosebery, Wernher and Waddesdon), the Allegory of France (Wernher and Wallace) or the Triumph of Lyric Poetry (Michelham, Guérault and Bergsten). However the Wernher secrétaire is the only example to combine both the figure of Silence and the Allegory of France. As G. de Bellaigue commented with regard to the figure of Silence (op. cit., p. 355), the template and even the cutting of the veneers themselves was almost identical between the Rosebery, Wernher, Waddesdon, and Comte d'Orsay desks in spite of the fact that they span at least ten years (i.e. from 1763-7 to 1777).
A distinctive characteristic of this group are the herm-caryatid mounts heading the canted pilaster angles, of which those on the Wernher, Bergsten, Waddesdon and Guérault secrétaires are of identical model, although of both gilded and patinated bronze on the Wernher piece. Described by Riesener as termes antiques in his 1777 Mémoire for the Waddesdon secrétaire, delivered for King Louis XVI at the Trianon, there is a possibility that Riesener himself may have cast his own mounts. The Arsenal was an enclos privilegié which freed its craftsmen from many of the restrictions of the guild system that would have otherwise prevented an ébéniste such as Riesener from casting bronzes d'ameublement, and the Waddesdon secrétaire displays Riesener's fragmentary trade card alongside that of Madame Drocourt - a Maître Doreuse-Argenteuse sur tous Métaux. Riesener's statement ...Ebénisterie en Marquetterie Méchanique & bronzes on this trade card would appear to confirm Pierre Verlet's long-held conviction that Riesener was, at least in part, responsible for his ormolu mounts (G. de Bellaigue, op.cit., p. 356), although he is known to have worked with the bronzier François Rémond (1747-1812) in the 1780s and 1790s. He may well, however, have employed Madame Drocourt as the gilder for the Waddesdon mounts.
That Riesener did not own the exclusive rights to the models for certain mounts is confirmed by the commode executed by his wife's brother-in-law, Martin Carlin, which was almost certainly acquired from the marchand-mercier Simon-Philippe Poirier by Viscount Stormont, later 2nd Earl of Mansfield between 1772-8 (sold fomr the collection of Sir Charles Clore, Christie's, Monaco, 6 December 1985, lot 54), which displays identical angle and apron-mounts to the Michelham and Rosebery secrétaires. Likewise, the apron mount of the Bergsten secrétaire can be seen on Transitional commodes by Oeben, RVLC and d'Autriche.
A LATE LOUIS XV ORMOLU-MOUNTED MARQUETRY SECRETAIRE EN ARMOIRE
The Carrara marble top with a three-quarter Greek key pattern ormolu gallery and moulded ormolu border, the frieze with applied matted Greek key design centered by a plaque in gilded and patinated bronze designed as a bearded man's mask in scrolled cartouche held by two putti with foliate bodies, the frieze fitted with three spring-operated concealed drawers, the fall-front with central locking mechanism and inlaid with an oval medallion with a figure of Silence, a girl with her finger to her lips, surrounded by festoons of berried foliage and sprays in a pale fruitwood on a stained sycamore ground; the interior with five compartments covered by hinged flaps and four small cedar-lined drawers flanking a pigeon-hole, one fitted with a removable encrier, veneered with green-stained maplewood in tulipwood borders mounted with ormolu rings, bosses and borders, the lock teeth covered by matted ormolu plates, the lower part with two tambour shutters inlaid with a crowing cockerel, an Allegory of France, surrounded by laurel foliage and flanked by crossed batons and caducei; enclosing tooled leather cartonniers stained to resemble burr maple and inscribed No.1 and No.2, with a coffre-fort compartment below, both marquetry panels framed by a matted ormolu border chased with overlapping foliage and paterae, the chamfered angles formed as pilasters with ormolu fluting and headed by classical busts of a man and a woman respectively with draped shoulders and elaborately dressed hair, the flesh parts of patinated bronze, the sides inlaid with an unusual trompe l'oeil motif centered by marquetry paterae and framed with ormolu, the reverse with printed Royal Academy exhibition label, stamped 'J. F. Oeben' five times, three times beneath marble, twice to inside of removeable interior (right side), one ormolu ring handle lacking from interior, one ormolu roundel lacking from right side, two ormolu roundels missing from left side, the upper drawer section with tenons to upper and lower panels between the two outer drawers, indicating a change of heart during construction as the locking mechanism is designed for three drawers, the top with four holes at front to underside of marble, previously for fixing screws, the putti flanking central mask of frieze drawer possibly previously entirely gilded
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1913.
London, Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition, 1968, France in the 18th Century, fig. 168.
London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1972, The Age of Neo-Classicism.
57 in. (144.5 cm.) high; 44 in. (114 cm.) wide; 18 3/4 in. (45 cm.) deep
1913 Bath House Inventory, p. 75, no. 389, in the Pink Drawing Room.
1947 Grosvenor Square Inventory, p. 22, in the Drawing Room.
F.J.B. Watson, Louis XVI Furniture, London, 1960, p. 119, fig. 77.
S. Eriksen, Early Neo-classicism in France, London, 1974, no. 113.
Sir Julius Wernher, 1st Bt. (1850-1912), Bath House, London, in the Link Drawing Room, by whom bequeathed, with a life interest to his widow Alice, Lady Wernher, subsequently Lady Ludlow (1862-1945), to his son
Sir Harold Wernher, 3rd Bt., G.C.V.O. (1893-1973), Grosvenor Square, London, in the Drawing Room, before being moved to Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, in the Saloon, and by descent.