Jean-Pierre Latz (1691-1754), appointed ébéniste privilégié du Roi in 1741.
Jean-François Oeben, maître in 1761.
THE COMMODE FROM THE CHAMBRE DE LA DAUPHINE AT THE CHÂTEAU DE CHOISY-LE-ROY
H. Sorensen first associated this commode with a description in the 1764 Inventory of the furniture at the château de Choisy (AN, O1 3380, fol. 37 recto). Listed in the chambre de la Dauphine, Marie-Josèphe de Saxe, it was described as:
Une commode de bois satiné et amarante formant des cartouches sur le devant et les côtés, celuy de devant d'une corbeille pleine de fleurs et ceux des côtés une plante d'où sortent différentes fleurs, le tout orné de cartels, coins, baguette et pieds de bronze doré d'ormoulu; lad. commode à dessus de marbre griotte d'Italie, bombée et chantournée et à deux tiroirs doublées de moire bleue et fermant avec une serrure, longue de 4 pieds 3 pouces (138cm) sur 22 pouces de large (59.4cm) et 33 pouces de profondeur (89.10cm).
In the margin of the Inventory, contrary to other pieces in the château, no inventory number is mentioned. The description and the dimensions exactly match this commode, and this explains the inscribed letters CH, which correspond to the château mark for Choisy-le-Roy. In fact, the commode has neither a château brand nor a black ink inventory number inscribed directly onto the carcase to obviously indicate its provenance, as is the case with most Royal furniture, thus enabling instant identification. This explains why in the course of the different inventories taken during the 18th century, the commode was not identified by a number from the garde-meuble de la couronne.
The same inventory of 1764 mentions two other similar commodes: the first, marked with the number 2060 from the chambre du Roi in the small château at Choisy had larger dimensions, a brèche-violette marble top, and was still at Choisy in 1787 before being sent to Saint-Cloud and sold in 1794. The second, marked with the number 2062, also from the small château at Choisy, was in the chambre of Madame de Pompadour. It was succinctly described in 1764 and then more precisely in the general inventory of 1775.
2062 une commode de bois satiné et amarante, placages représentant des fleurs à dessus de marbre griotte, bombée et chantournée, ayant par devant deux grands tiroirs fermant à clef chargés d'un grand compartiment et autres ornemens de bronze doré d'or moulu longue de quatre pieds et demy (148cm) sur deux pieds de profondeur et de trente deux pouces de haut.
The second commode was still at Choisy in 1787.
These two commodes were delivered by Jean-François Oeben soon after 19 August 1756 when the number 2056 in the inventory corresponds to a bureau delivered to the cabinet du Dauphin at Versailles (Inv. V5295) and 18 September 1756 when a table de chevet was numbered 2066. The six intermediary sheets from the inventory containing information about the other pieces are missing. This absence can in part be compensated for by the general inventory of 1775 in which the furniture of Choisy is described from numbers 2057 to 2065, including two commodes, numbered 2060 and 2062.
It is therefore probable that the commode was not delivered by the garde-meuble de la couronne but probably ordered directly by the Dauphine, which would explain the absence of 18th-century marks. The Dauphine Marie-Josèphe de Saxe was, like her father-in-law, Louis XV, an important client of Lazare Duvaux. At the time of Duvaux's death - if in fact Oeben delivered furniture to the marchand-mercier - the Dauphine owed him 2932 livres and the King, more than 4000 livres. It is, therefore, possible that the commode was ordered by the duchesse de Brancas, dame d'honneur de la Dauphine.
THE DAUPHINE'S COMMODE AFTER 1764
In 1764, the commode from the chambre de la Dauphine at the large château was accompanied by two other pieces of furniture delivered to the crown in 1756 that were numbered 2063 and 2064 in the inventory. In the Choisy inventory of 1787, the commode does not appear in her chambre but in the small château probably in appartement A or B. In fact, two commodes with the same description are found in the chambres of these two appartements (AN, O1 3381, fol. 224).
Une commode de bois satiné et amaranthe à placage représentant des fleurs et dessus de marbre griotte et chantourné avec ornemens de bronze doré d'or moulu.
Moreover, the commode is inscribed in black ink in an incontestibly old hand with the letters A.A.. The commode in Appartement B, that delivered for Madame de Pompadour, was described before being sent to Saint-Cloud on 24 Decembre 1787 (AN, O1 34326):
S.N. (sans numéro) une commode marquée B de 4 pieds 6 pouces (148cm) assortie à la précédente marbre griotte pour entre-fenêtre.
It is certainly this second commode marked B, first in the chambre of Madame Elisabeth and then relegated to the chambre de l'écuyer cavalcadour at Saint-Cloud.
Acquired in 1739 after the death of the princesse de Bourbon-Conti, Choisy was one of Louis XV's favorite residences where he never ceased to undertake building works. Built between 1680 and 1686 by Jacques-Jules Gabriel for the Grande demoiselle, the château was considerably reconfigured and enlarged by Ange-Jacques Gabriel for Louis XV. Gabriel transformed a pleasure house bought as a retreat for Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Mailly into a veritable Royal château where they could live away from the peering eyes of the court.
Situated to the South-East of Paris, on the way to Fontainebleau, in a bend of the Seine, and near the forest of Sénart, Choisy fulfilled from the first moment the King's need for intimacy. With several guests, the King revelled in the surroundings of the game-filled forests and the Seine, taking riverside walks past the boat launches.
The Queen having expressed her desire to come to Choisy, from 1746 the King undertook numerous refurbishments and enlargements to the château in order to ready it for the Royal family.
CHOISY AND THE DAUPHINE: A SENTIMENTAL ATTACHMENT
Choisy-le-Roi held a special place in the heart of the Dauphine because it was the place where she first met the Dauphin and Louis XV when she arrived in France before the wedding at Versailles. With her sprightly and generous manner and magnetic personality, she immediately appealed to the King, while the Dauphin remained in mourning for his first wife before before recognizing her great qualities and succumbing to her charm.
Welcomed at Corbeil near Choisy, she was received with great pomp at the château on 8 February 1747 (the archives detail the preparations). In her honor, the King gave a sumptuous banquet for fifty guests in the galerie (forty-eight according to the duc de Luynes, Mémoires sur la cour de Louis XV, Paris, 1860-65, Vol. VIII):
Le milieu de la table de 47 pieds de long sur 3 pieds de large formait le Dormant qui est resté pendant le souper et représentait Hébé, Déesse de la Jeunesse, à qui l'Amour rendait les armes; cette Désse (Allégorie de Madame la Dauphine) était sur un nuage porté par des Zéphirs; L'Amour à ses pieds lui présentait son arc et son carquois; plusieurs enfants au-dessous et autour, les uns s'efforçaient de joindre ses armes avec celles de la Dauphine, en les attatchant avec des guirlandes de fleurs au-dessus de leurs testes, d'autres les couronnaient de fleurs; dans le bas et autour du groupe étaient les Grâces en grand nombre, qui admiraient la Déese et son triomphe; plus loin, à la droite, était élevée une belle et grande cascade...
She spent her first night at Choisy with her new suite of furniture (duc de Luynes, Ibid.), while the King, the Royal family and the court returned to Versailles, the Dauphin and Dauphine not being allowed to sleep under the same roof before the wedding ceremony.
THE DAUPHINE'S CHAMBRE AT CHOISY
The Dauphine occupied appartement number eight, between the Dauphin's, with which it shared an antichambre, and that of Madame Louise, the King's youngest daughter. Her appartement, situated on the left side of the château was entered via the staircase from the chapel. As her appartement had been redecorated at the time of the princesse de Bourbon-Conti, before 1739, Louis XV did not deem it neccessary to renovate it. Since 1739, the appartement had been regularly occupied by a guest chosen by the King for his visit to Choisy. Only a trumeau was added to one of the rooms in 1746.
In 1752, taking advantage of the building works being carried out for the enlargement of the courtyard side of the château, Louis XV redecorated the appartements. However, the works did not advance as quickly as possible:
Si les mauvais temps ont pu recaler, forcez le travail jour et nuit, mettez moy par votre diligence en état de satisfaire aux désirs de sa Majesté comme il pourroit y avoir des plâtres neuf dans les appartements que doivent occuper Monsieur le Dauphin, Madame la Dauphine et Mesdames. Faittes les sécher avec les poeskes de feur et surtout observez le sureté nécessaire contre l'incendie. (AN, O1 1344 no. 271, letter from Billaudel).
In 1753, the chambre was decorated with boiseries made by Rivière, entrepreneur de menuiserie, carved with graceful rocaille cartouches by the sculpteur Verberckt, who in 1747, had sumptuously decorated the appartements of the Dauphin and Dauphine at Versailles which can still be admired there.
The suite of furniture for her chambre consisted of a lit
d'apparat à colonnes, the canopy covered with crimson silk
embroidered in gold thread with corncucopia, twelve folding X-stools,
two armchairs, a fire screen with the same upholstery, a six-leaf
folding screen covered with crimson silk and braid in silk and gold
thread, and several side chairs ordered and placed there in 1740. On
the walls hung four grotesque tapestries. Two portières
representing air and fire covered the doors; the room was lit by two
windows framed by crimson gros de Tours curtains.
The commode, surmounted by an Italian griotte marble top, perfectly matched the crimson upholstered furniture in the room. It is therefore natural that the commode was placed in her chambre during the summer of 1756, undoubtedly opposite the bed. At the same time, the Dauphine was given an encoignure. The commode with its marquetry decoration of a flowering basket and flowers renewed the other furniture while providing modernity, youth, and elegance and adding to its richness.
However, the Dauphine rarely came to Choisy as she was frequently
bed-ridden from giving birth. She had the ocassion, nonetheless, to
come for several events. The pious Dauphine attended on 23 September 1760 the consecration of the new parish church of Choisy. Moreover, she did not miss the large party, unfortunately interrupted by a storm, that Louis XV gave in June 1763, to celebrate the end of the hostilities of the Seven Years War. This war, which began on 28 August 1756, profoundly effected the Dauphine; in fact, she saw Saxony, her native country, invaded, burned, and bloodied by Frederick II of Prussia. She begged Louis XV to act and have France intervene in the conflict. The King did not cease to show her signs of his affection during this painful period.
THE MAKERS OF THE COMMODE: A STYLISTIC ANALYSIS
Stylistically, this unstamped commode displays characteristics of two ébénistes: Jean-Pierre Latz and Jean-François Oeben, both ébénistes du Roi.
THE WORK OF LATZ: THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE CARCASE AND THE MOUNTS
The quality of the construction of the commode, comparable to that of the commode made for Madame Infante and stamped by Latz, and the perfect balance between its form and the ormolu mounts, reveals the work of an accomplished ébéniste; furthermore, the identification of these characteristic mounts allows us to attribute this commode to the workshop of Jean-Pierre Latz (H. Hawley, 'Jean-Pierre Latz, cabinet-maker', The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, September-October 1970, pp. 203-60). In fact Latz, contrary to guild regulations, cast his own mounts, which allowed him to perfect his models, adapt them to specific pieces of furniture and retain their exclusive use. As such, a raid on his workshop in 1749 by the bronziers revealed the presence of 2,288 models of ormolu mounts.
Latz produced whole sets of rocaille mounts for his furniture, composed of taut curves and counter-curves. Strips of bronze outline the form of a given piece of furniture, large angle mounts protect the corners, and key-hole mounts and apron mounts provide the opportunity to create often jagged decorative compositions.
Virtually identical mounts are found on two commodes (A. Gonzáles-Palacios, Il patrimonio del Quirinale, Gli arredi Francesi, Milan, 1995, pp.108-111) of similar form, being both bombé and with two rows of drawers, one of which is stamped by Latz and has a complete and documented Royal provenance (Hawley, Ibid.). This commode was bought by Madame Infante, daughter of Louis XV, during her visit to Paris between 1748 and 1753, and is now with the other commode in the Quirinale Palace, Rome. The mounts bear the C couronné poinçon and thus date between March 1745 and February 1749 (González-Palacios, op. cit., pp. 108-111).
However, there is an important difference between the angle mounts of the Quirinale commode and those of the commode offerred here. More modern and decorated with strung piasters, the chutes prefigure the Louis XVI style and must be reattributed to the workshop of Jean-François Oeben.
Latz was highly esteemed and provided furniture to the duc de Penthièvre, the King of Prussia before the Seven Years War (1756-63), the Elector of Saxony, the King of Poland and Augustus III, father of the Dauphine.
A WORK BY OEBEN: THE FLORAL MARQUETRY DECORATION
The marquetry decoration features a basket of realistic flowers composed of numerous meticulously arranged specimens of woods; this composition is characteristic of Oeben's work of about 1755-60. The flowering basket, composed with great clarity and rigor, is a source of balance and harmony: it is composed of blooming flowers and closed flowers at the base, and delicate and flexible ones above; the flowers are offset by a ground of green foliage that is more evanescent in the upper section; several well-placed colorful flowers add nuances to the composition. The pierced wicker basket sits on a marquetry framing device parallel to the framing ormolu mount. On this plane, two scrolls linking the central cartouche and the apron mount are opposed and form, based on a calculated optical effect, the two ormolu feet of the central basket. The two lateral panels also have floral marquetry decoration and establish themselves in this space in accordance with their decorative importance: long-stemmed marguerites (daisies) fill the alloted space on the sides and flower in the upper section. The side panels follow the decorative composition of the central cartouche, a bouquet of flowers instead of a basket. This floral composition is comparable to that created by Oeben, one of the preferred ébénistes of Madame de Pompadour, on a table represented in a portrait of la favorite painted by Guérin before 1754 (A. Pradère, op. cit, p. 225, fig. 264), and thus before the production of the present commode.
Oeben also decorated other pieces of furniture with very similar flowering baskets (A. Boutémy, 'A la recherche de vrais Oeben', Connaissance des Arts, September 1960, no. 103, pp. 34-41).
LATZ'S WORKSHOP BEFORE 1756
Jean-Pierre Latz (d. 9 August 1754) had been dead for two years when his widow, Marie Madeleine Seignat, reopened the workshop and regained the commission ébéniste privilégié du roi (Latz was given the patent ébéniste du Roi before 1741) until her death, 20 December 1756; she downsized the workshop and only had seven ébéniste's workbenches, as compared with the nine ébéniste and three fondeur-ciseleur benches of before; she still had in stock several vieux modèles of clocks and commodes, ormolu mounts, quatre bâtis de commodes bombées de bois de chêne à deux tiroirs chacune sans serrure (No. 40 in Latz's Inventaire après décès published in González-Palacois, op. cit.). She must, therefore, have sold a portion of her husband's stock, as well as molds of ormolu mounts and clocks. The workshop and the furniture would finally be liquidated with the estate, in February 1757, by the tutor of Marie Madeleine Latz, their youngest daughter.
However, from 1749 Latz no longer had exclusive use of some of his models of mounts as the bronze-casters' guild had seized them, and the mounts cast from them and sold them in accordance with guild regulations. It was, in fact, prohibited to exercise the double activity of bronzier and ébéniste; the guilds were very divided and jealously kept watch over their respective domains.
OEBEN'S WORKSHOP BEFORE 1756
Ouvrier libre in July 1749 (R. Stratmann, 'Notices biographiques inédites sur la famille Oeben', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, March 1980, Vol. XCV, no. 1334, pp. 125-28), when he married Françoise-Marguerite van der Cruse, the sister of Roger van der Cruse (R.V.L.C.), Oeben worked in the enclos privilégié de Saint-Antoine. His reputation quickly grew beyond the faubourg. On 1 December 1751, he signed a contrat d'apprentissage with Charles-Joseph Boulle (the contrat-d'apprentissage signed in the presence of the notary Dutartre is mentioned in the répertoire des notaires; however, the name of the apprenti is not known because the records for this period have been burnt); in fact, already trained, Oeben rented part of the workshop and lodgings in the galerie du Louvre occupied by Charles-Joseph, one of the sons of André-Charles Boulle. From 1752, he delivered furniture through Lazare Duvaux to the marquise de Pompadour, who greatly admired his work. When Charles-Joseph Boulle died in October 1754, she must have intervened on Oeben's behalf in order to obtain for him the title of ébéniste du Roi and a lodging in the manufacture des Gobelins, which he was granted on 15 December 1754 (AN, O1 1268, 15 December 1754): sur les bons et fidèles rapports qui nous ont été faits de la bonne conduite de Jean Foy Oeben, compagnon gagnant Maîtrise et obligé par Brevet sous le feu S. Boulle ébéniste du roy aux gallerie du Louvre où il a travaillé sans discontinuation depuis 9bre 1751, l'avons choisi et nommé au Roy pour être l'un des menuisiers ébénistes de sa Majesté à l'hôtel de la manufacture royale des Gobelins et en conséquence luy avons accordé depuis le 1er 8bre de la présente année le logement occupé cy devant au hôtel par le sieur Formay; however, he would have to find a larger workshop, which he received in the enclos de l'Arsenal in 1756 (Stratmann, op. cit., p. 126).
Refered to as an ébéniste, Oeben made his first direct delivery to the garde-meuble de la couronne on 14 June 1756, several months before the delivery of the commode; for the cabinet du dauphin at Versailles he delivered:
2041. une commode de bois des Indes à placage à mosaïque dans un compartiment de bois d'amarante bombée et chantournée à dessus de marbre aiant par devant 2 battants fermant à clef avec entrées de serrures mains fixes et ornements de cuivre d'oré d'or moulu, longe de 5 pieds sur 3 pieds de profondeur compris l'arrièrecorps et 32 pouces.
It is, therefore, logical that Oeben, being the younger, executed the marquetry decoration of the commode, Latz having already built the bombé carcase and cast the bronzes, for which the model dates to 1749.
During the late 1740s and early 1750s, the Oeben and Latz frequented the same circle of ébénistes of Dutch origin in the faubourg Saint-Antoine, such as van der Cruse, Dautriche, Van Risen Burgh. It is probable that at this time, they had collaborated and that after his death, his widow wished to collaborate with Oeben again in one manner or another.
Did Latz's widow sell several commode carcases after her husband's death? She owned several when he died in December 1756. It is also possible that Latz's widow and Oeben collaborated in December 1756 because she owned similar carcases in oak to that of the commode being offered, whereas the carcases mentioned in her husband's inventory are made of oak and pine.
Moreover, the models of mounts on the Dauphine's commode, produced before 1749, as mentioned above, were available from the time of the seizure by the bronze casters' guild. Latz's widow kept, however, several older models. Did Oeben, who maintained relations with Marie-Madeleine Seignat, buy the models from a bronze caster or her? The question remains unanswered.
Who delivered the commode? The journal du garde-meuble would have revealed the identity of the maker. It seems that Oeben delivered the commode directly to the Dauphine. On 14 June 1756, the Dauphin received a bureau and a commode à vantaux for his cabinet at Versailles, ordered directly from Oeben. The bureau, still at Versailles today, is stamped by Simon Oeben and R.V.L.C.. A spendthrift, the Dauphine went through her dame d'honneur, the duchesse de Brancas. Several pieces of furniture stamped by Jean-François Oeben and ordered by the Dauphine through her lady-in-waiting are known.
Liveliness and balance, power and finesse; all of these qualities are displayed in this commode in a harmony equalled only by the richness of the materials and the inventiveness that bore it. This elegant thoroughbred commode, showing the rococo style in its final wise and calm state, particularly suited the serenity and broken will of the Dauphine, who certainly must have appreciated it at face value.
A ROYAL LOUIS XV ORMOLU-MOUNTED TULIPWOOD, AMARANTH, SYCAMORE AND FLORAL MARQUETRY COMMODE
Inlaid overall with ebony and boxwood stringing, of sinuous bombé form, with eared serpentine griotte marble top wtih molded undercut edge, with two drawers decorated sans traverse and locking by means of a single lock, with a basket of flowers within a scrolling ormolu cartouche cast with rockwork and acanthus scrolls, flanked by sunflowers, the drawers lined on the inside in blue watered-silk and veneered on the outside with amaranth, the angle mounts cast with piastres flanked by acanthus scrolls, the sides decorated with bunches of flowers issuing from leafy vases within ormolu frames, on cabriole legs with berried acanthus-scrolled sabots, inscribed in black ink with the Choisy mark C. H. and AA, R141, 1109 and in red ink R649, the marble top inscribed 3039 twice in blue ink and R.M.A. in black ink
A COMMODE SUPPLIED FOR THE CHAMBRE DE LA DAUPHINE AT THE CHATEAU DE CHOISY-LE-ROI, CIRCA 1757
35½in. (90cm.) high, 54in. (137cm.) wide, 23½in. (59.5cm.) deep
A. Pradère, Les Ebénistes Français de Louis XIV à la Révolution, Paris, 1989, p. 160, fig.135 (illustrated).
J. Whitehead, The French Interior in the Eighteenth Century, London, 1992, p.132 (illustrated).
F.M. Ricci, Quelques chefs-d'oeuvre de la Collection Djahanguir Riahi, Paris, 2000, pp.145-9 (illustrated).
Supplied to the chambre de la Dauphine, Marie-Josèphe de Saxe at the château de Choisy-le-Roi, circa 1757.
The collection of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Paris.
By descent to Baron Guy de Rothschild, Paris.
The collection of Mme. Gregor Piatigorsky, sold Ader Picard Tajan, Paris, 18 March 1981, lot 249.