L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Jewel cabinet of the comtesse de Provence, Jean-Henri Riesener, circa 1787

Mahogany and gilt bronze on oak base. Surmounted by sculptural group with enjoined coat of arms, flanked by vases of fruit. Body includes
three drawers and two cabinet doors with trophy, flanked by two female figures, enclosing eighteen drawers and three shelves. On eight legs.

From the website of the Royal Collection, of which this remarkable work of art has been a part since the first quarter of the nineteenth century:

Long regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of furniture in the Louis XVI style, this objet de luxe combines cabinet-making virtuosity of a high order with quite exceptional gilt bronze mounts. The well-figured, plain mahogany veneers, characteristic of Riesener's output in the later 1780s, provide a deliberate foil to the mounts, jewel-like on the doors (as befits the purpose of the cabinet) and treated as sculpture-in-the-round at the front angles and on the cresting.

Although signed, the cabinet bears no French royal inventory number. However, the prominent coat of arms identifies the first owner as Marie-Joséphine-Louise of Savoy, who married Louis XVI's younger brother, the comte de Provence (the future Louis XVIII), in 1771. We know that, as ébéniste du roi, Riesener supplied furniture for the royal couple in the 1770s, and that he was working for them directly in the early 1780s. The jewel-cabinet stood in their apartments in the Palais du Petit-Luxembourg, but was originally made for the Princess's bedroom at Versailles. The maker of the bronzes is unknown, although the bronzier François Rémond, who certainly worked for Riesener, is a possible candidate. 

The subsequent history of the cabinet provides a fascinating commentary on changing tastes. Confiscated with the rest of the Provence property in 1793, it was initially reserved for display in a national museum. Three years later, as the financial situation in France worsened, the cabinet was sold off. In 1809 it was offered to the Imperial household for 30,000 francs by the then owner, who was said to have paid over 60,000 francs for it. Napoleon was strongly encouraged to acquire the cabinet for Saint-Cloud, but this advice was unequivocally rejected in 1811: 'S.M. veut faire du neuf et non acheter du vieux'. George IV had no such inhibitions when it came up for sale[...]; he purchased it for 400 guineas with the intention of using it at Windsor Castle.

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