The type and format of these meubles d'appui ('à hauteur d'appui'), their tripartite composition, as well as the use of over-sized bronze casts from Boulle's workshop (in this case, allegories of the Seasons), combined with neoclassical elements are all typical of the neoclassical Boulle revival production of the marchand Claude-François Julliot (1727-94) from the 1760s-1780s. From that time on, Boulle furniture was being sought after avidly by collectors to be used and displayed in a masculine context of studies, libraries and art galleries, where it was associated with paintings and sometimes, sculpture collections. This new taste was illustrated in the rooms of Blondel de Gagny, Radix de Sainte-Foix, and Grimod de la Reynière, among others. A passage from a letter from the marquis de Marigny, Mme. de Pompadour's brother, to his ébéniste, Pierre Garnier concerning the choice of furniture for his library is very revealing of the preference for ebony:
'Vous conviendrez avec moi que les meubles en ébéne et bronze sont beaucoup plus nobles que les meubles en acajou.'
This association of Boulle furniture and cabinets d'amateurs lasted well into the early, XIXth century, as demonstrated by the remark in the catalogue of sale of Mme Lerouge on 27 April 1818:
'Le genre de ces meubles magnifiques est de toute nécessité pour l'ornement et la richesse des cabinets de tableaux'.
The need for wall space for hanging the now fashionable collections of Dutch and Flemish paintings - with small formats - meant that Boulle furniture then in demand was expected to be lower than the models favoured in the time of Louis XIV. Therefore, some pieces including the series of cabinets-on-stands were turned into low cabinets. Obviously, the series of low bookcases with three doors produced by Boulle's workshop were most adapted to the new trends in interior decoration. Accordingly, they were much in favour, as can be demonstrated by their repeated sales at high prices in the 1750s by Lazare Duvaux to such clients as Voyer d'Argenson, the comte du Luc and Grimod de la Reynière, and by their presence in one of the most interesting collections of that time, that of Blondel de Gagny in the place Vendôme. Early models being scarce and the demand for them increasing, Paris dealers and restorers specialising in Boulle furniture started from the early 1760s to produce pastiches. The main dealer responsible for this Boulle revival movement was Philippe-Claude Julliot, while the cabinet-makers entrusted with these creations were the same ones who were restoring the older pieces: J.L.F. Delorme, P.C. Montigny, Levasseur, Joseph Baumhauer and A. Weisweiler.
These neoclassical Boulle bas d'armoires used old elements (coming from the cannibalised tall wardrobes or cabinets), such as marquetry panels or drawer fronts or bronze motifs (mainly figural), applied on a modern breakfront structure following the tripartite division invented by Boulle. Whilst on Boulle's models, that tripartite division took the form of an opposition between a rich central marquetry panel flanked by two plainer (generally glazed) doors, it took alternative shapes on the new models: either a central marquetry panel flanked by two glazed or ebony doors; or a central plain door with a strong bronze element (figure or mask), flanked by two marquetry doors.
The gilt-bronze figures of the Seasons on the Wildenstein meubles d'appui are cast from models first used by Boulle for a set of bas d'armoires with two doors, a pair of which, seized during the Revolution from the Noailles family, is now at Versailles. This set was designed and engraved by Boulle for his album published by Mariette (Nouveaux Deisseins de meubles et ouvrages de bronze et marqueterie inventés et gravés par André-Charles Boulle). He reused the Seasons on several tall wardrobes (Wallace Collection) and they were popular with the following generations of Boulle imitators who used them on low cabinets (with one door), bas d'armoires or bookcases (with two or three doors). In particular, one finds them associated with the same ebony panels (inlaid with pewter bands and fan-shaped floral motifs at the corner), on several neoclassical pieces, all generally signed by (or attributed to) Weisweiler:
BAS D'ARMOIRES WITH THE SEASONS
- a pair of cabinets in the Wallace collection (F 393-394), stamped Weisweiler;
- another pair from the Wormser collection (sold Christie's New York, 14 November 1985, n0194A);
- another cabinet, stamped Weisweiler, illus. by P. Lemonnier (Weisweiler, Paris, 1983, p. 97);
- a pair of bas d'armoire with three doors from Schloss Schillersdorf (sold Christie's New York, 27 May 1999, lot 250);
- a smaller bas d'armoire with three doors at Waddesdon Manor (G. de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, London, 1974, Vol. 1, no. 40, p. 190-191);
- a bas d'armoire with three doors at the Getty Museum (72 DA.71) with figures of Ceres & Bacchus;
This latter bas d'armoire at the Getty Museum (72 DA.71), although with different ebony doors, shows the same arrangement of the Seasons (Ceres and Bacchus) on the side doors and the same acanthus frieze with egg-and-dart in the centre. Finally, the attribution to Weisweiler can be strengthened by comparison with a cabinet of the same shape, and same ebony panels (from the Madame Duplessis sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 1917, no.125), where the figures of the Seasons have been replaced by gilt-bronze caryatids that one finds on pietra dura cabinets stamped by Weisweiler.
The only other example where the panels with the Seasons flank a set of three drawers is that of a pair of smaller bas d'armoires, unstamped but almost certainly executed in the same atelier, sold by Lord Trevor at Christie's London, 14 April 1983, lot 96. Subsequently resold from the Ojjeh Collection, Christie's Monaco, 11-12 December 1999, lot 50, the Brynkinalt bas d'armoires were probably acquired by Arthur Hill-Trevor, 2nd Viscount Dungannon (1763-1837) in Paris immediately after the Peace of Amiens in 1803 from Bonnemaison for Brynkinalt, the Trevor seat in Clwyd. Displaying the same acanthus frieze, the Brynkinalt bas d'armoires are mentioned in the sale of Philippe-François Julliot's stock in 1802, where they were described as :-
'Deux bas d'armoires de marqueterie, genre de Boule, sans marbre, les cuivres dorés, les panneaux du milieu figurant des tiroirs non placés.'
Several pieces - like the Brynkinalt pair cited above - remained unfinished at the time of the sale, either without their bronzes gilded or without marbles. This reinforces the fact that this type of Boulle furniture remained fashionable continuous from 1760 - 1800 for a full discussion of Julliot's activities, see Alexandre Pradère's introductory essay to volume III.
A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI ORMOLU-MOUNTED BRASS, PEWTER, EBONY AND TORTOISESHELL BOULLE MARQUETRY SIDE CABINETS (BAS D'ARMOIRE)
Each with a stepped rectangular verde antico marble top above a breakfront frieze decorated with acanthus and fitted with a central spring-operated drawer, mounted with an egg and leaf-tip moulding, above a central door simulated as three drawer fronts and mounted with a Bacchic mask flanked by scrolling foliage within moulded borders enclosing one shelf, flanked by panelled cupboard doors, each centred by a standing figure representative of a Season, one cabinet mounted with figures of Ceres and Bacchus, representative of Summer and Autumn, the other with figures of Flora and Saturn, representative of spring and Winter, within flowerhead and husk-engraved borders decorated to the angles with foliate fans and mounted with leaf-tip borders, the breakfront frieze centred by a stylised foliate panel and mounted with square foliate paterae, the panelled sides decorated with conforming borders, on turned feet mounted with gadrooned collars, the latter with remains of blue-bordered oval paper label '...DU PONT DE N...' and with rectangular blue-bordered paper label to marble inscribed in ink '3490', the simulated drawer fronts Louis XIV and re-used, minor differences in construction, one constructed primarily with re-used Louis XIV elements, the feet replaced
This lot will require a CITES licence if it is to be shipped outside the EU. For more information please contact Leah Heneghan ++44 (0)20 7389 2828 in Christie's Art Transport Department.
38¾ in. (98.5 cm.) high; 58 in. (147.5 cm.) wide; 20¼ in. (51.5 cm.) deep (2)
Acquired from Léon Helft, 4 November 1912.