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Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806)

Chest-of-drawers (commode), c.1774

Oak and marquetry, gilt bronze, marble | 91.0 x 153.0 x 63.0 cm (whole object) | RCIN 21213

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  • Rectangular commode with curved front, angled corners and red marble top. Two large drawers with large central gilt bronze frame inlaid with marquetry showing a basket of flowers, cornsheaths, hat and two birds; flanked by two smaller gilt bronze frames inlaid with marquetry of vases of flowers. Gilt bronze arabesque frieze above, centred by a male mask, covers three short drawers. Gilt bronze mounts include a female busts at each front corner.

    The history of this imposing piece of furniture was discovered by Pierre Verlet, whose pioneering researches in the 1930s first re-established the link between the numbers painted on certain pieces of French furniture and surviving royal inventories. This chest-of-drawers was ordered for the Chambre du Roi at Versailles shortly after the death of Louis XV in May 1774. It replaced the old-fashioned rococo commode (now in the Wallace Collection), made by Gaudreaus and Caffiéri in 1739, which had been taken as a perquisite of office by the Duc d'Aumont. In design and price (7,800 livres reduced to 7,180 livres), this commode compares very closely with several others in a similarly restrained neo-classical idiom made by Riesener for the French royal family in the 1770s. The careful construction, which includes central locking for the three short drawers in the frieze and two long drawers below, is typical of Riesener's best work.

    This chest-of-drawers was completed in slightly over three months and was in place before the return of the court at the beginning of September 1774. To achieve this, Riesener may have had to use some 'stock' elements, for example partly prefabricated marquetry panels (though presumably not the highly characteristic and exquisitely finished central panel representing la poésie pastorale), and perhaps some mounts. Whatever the case, the new commode was itself displaced a year later by a considerably more lavish example, which took Riesener fourteen months to make and cost the enormous sum of 25,356 livres. It was then transferred to the adjoining Arrière-Cabinet du Roi before moving in 1780 to one of the most important rooms at Versailles, the Cabinet Intérieur du Roi. At this point the original white marble top was changed to the present griotte d'Italie to harmonise with the existing chimneypiece in that room, and a pair of corner cupboards were made to match. The ensemble was sold in 1794, with a writing table from the same room (now at Waddesdon Manor), for the negligible sum of 5,000 livres. George IV bought this furniture, the corner cupboards and three other pieces by Riesener thirty-one years later at the sale of George Watson Taylor's celebrated collection, for use at Windsor. In 1855 it was recorded in the King's Bedroom, which was used during the State Visit of the Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie to Windsor.

    Inscribed No 2777

    Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002
    Provenance

    Louis XVI, made for the Chambre du Roi, Versailles, 1774; sold 1794; George Watson-Taylor; his sale Christie's, London, 28 May 1825; bought by Robert Fogg for George IV (56 guineas).

  • Medium and techniques

    Oak and marquetry, gilt bronze, marble

    Measurements

    91.0 x 153.0 x 63.0 cm (whole object)