André-Charles Boulle, appointed Ebéniste, Ciseleur, Doreur et Sculpteur du Roi in 1672.
BOULLE'S BUREAUX PLATS
First conceived in 1684 by Furretière as 'une table garnie de quelque tiroirs ou tablettes ou les gens d'affaires ou d'étude écrivent et mettent leurs papiers,' the bureaux plats of André-Charles Boulle began to appear circa 1710. The first recorded bureau plat is that listed in the inventory of the grand marchand Paul Verani in 1713. By 1720 Boulle's workshops were engaged in producing several bureaux plats - interestingly all of which appear to be between five and six pieds or 160 to 195 cm. long. The Wildenstein bureau plat is, therefore, arguably the grandest in scale of the whole series.
The list of items destroyed in the fire in Boulle's workshop in 1720 records:-
'(Ouvrages de Commande Brûlé et Péris) cinq bueaux de cinq à six pieds de long de marqueterie d'écaille de tortue et de cuivre, et deux de bois de couleur très avancés (Ouvrages qui ne sont Point de Commande, Brûlé et Péris) douze bureaux de six pieds de long plus ou moins avancés'
(Ouvrages Sauvés Appartenant au duc de Bourbon) un bureau de six pieds de long couvert en maroquini
The duc de Bourbon's example, representing the culmination of the bureau Boulle and identical to the Wildenstein example, is now conserved in the château de Versailles, having been siezed at Chantilly durning the Revolution.
The Wildenstein bureau plat is closely related to two designs:- one, in red chalk and now in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, is inscribed Oppenordt, while the other, alternatively attributed to either Boulle or Oppenordt, is in the musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
This bureau plat belongs to the celebrated group executed in the Boulle workshops between 1710-25, all of identical form but with distinct variations in the design of the angle mounts. Those with satyr-mask angles, which may be of slightly later date, include a pair of bureau plats in the Wallace Collection (F427), another in the Getty Museum (85.DA.23) and a further example in the Frick Collection (see A. Pradère, French Furniture Makers, London, 1989, p. 102, nos. 78-85 for the complete list). Those with female-mask angles are listed below:
THE TETE DE FEMMES ANGLE MOUNTS
The sculptural female-mask angle mounts that visually support the Wildenstein bureau plat were first conceived by Boulle for the commodes supplied for the King's Bedchamber at the Grand Trianon in 1708-09. Arguably Boulle's most famous and revolutionary design, the Grand Trianon commodes were separated during Louis XV's alterations in 1750 but have now been brought back together at Versailles. They are illustrated and discussed in D. Meyer, Versailles Furniture of the Royal Palace, Paris, 2002, Vol.1, p.54.
BOULLE'S TETE DE FEMMES BUREAUX PLATS
The Wildenstein bureau plat, at over 6 feet 8 inches, is the biggest of all the recorded examples of this model. These comprise:-
EN PREMIERE PARTIE
(1) Delivered with a cartonnier to the duc de Bourbon at Chantilly by Boulle in 1720; now at the château de Versailles.
(2) Delivered to Machault d'Arnouville circa 1719, together with a cartonnier; subsequently inherited by the marquis de Vogué, it was sold from the estate of Wendell Cherry at Sotheby's New York, 20 May 1994, lot 80.
(3) The collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle
(4) With a cartonnier, previously in the Foulc Collection in the 19th Century and offered here from the Wildenstein Collection (lot 210), illustrated in E.Molinier, Les Arts appliqués à l'industrie, Paris, p. 69.
(5) The collection of Earl de Grey, Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, thence by descent to the Earls Cowper, Panshanger, sold Christie's London, 15 June 1995, lot 33.
(6) The duc de Gramont Collection, then Galerie Etienne Lévy, illustrated in Connaissance des Arts, November 1963, p.92.
(7) The collection of the Earls of Warwick, sold anonymously at Christie's New York, 18 May 1989, lot 93.
(8) The collection of the duchesse de Talleyrand, with a Boulle top, sold anonymously at Sotheby's Monaco, 4 March 1989, lot 268.
(1) The Vyner Collection, Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, sold by Commander Clare Vyner Christie's London, 19 May 1966, lot 15 and again at Sotheby's Paris, 23 June 2004, lot 38.
(2) The collection of the Prince de Wagram, sold from the Jaime Ortiz Patiño Collection, Sotheby's New York, 20 May 1992, lot 59.
(3) An English collection, sold anonymously at Sotheby's London, 27 June 1988, lot 74.
(4) With B. Fabre et fils, published in Connaissance des Arts, 1974.
(5) With cartonnier surmounted by a clock with a sleeping figure of time, sold in Paris, 23 May 1924, lot 133.
Bearing in mind the Wildenstein bureau plat's apparently unique scale, it can be confidently identified with that sold by Albert Wellington, 3rd Earl Brownlow, removed from Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire and 8 Carlton House Terrace, London, Christie's London, 3 May 1923, lot 91:
'A BOULLE WRITING TABLE, with three drawers, inlaid with arabesque foliage in brass, and mounted with or-molu female busts and foliage chasings at the corners, the top covered with green velvet - 6 ft. 7 in. wide 735 gns. to Touzain'. (The current leather is a later replacement)
Ashridge was built on the sight of a 13th century monastery. After the Dissolution, it became the residence of Royalty, then passed into the Egerton family during the reign of James I. The present house was built by John William Egerton, 7th Earl of Bridgewater (1752-1823) between 1808 and 1820 to designs by James Wyatt, and completed after his death by his nephew Jeffry Wyatt, later Sir Jeffry Wyatville. In employing such a progressive architect (Wyattville is best known for his transformation of Windsor castle in the gothic style for George IV) Egerton was clearly in the vanguard of contemporary tastes.
A tempting parallel can be drawn with the Francophile tastes of another Egerton connection - the Duke of Bridgwater. The latter had bought en bloc the finest Italian paintings from the fabled Orléans Collections. Perhaps he also acquired French furniture as part of this, or a related transaction? The Orléns pictures subsequently descended into the collections of the Dukes of Sutherland and the Earls of Ellesmere.
A LOUIS XIV ORMOLU-MOUNTED AND BOULLE BRASS-INLAID BROWN TORTOISESHELL BUREAU PLAT
Inlaid overall en première partie, the rounded rectangular tooled long-grain brown leather top with monumental pounced and moulded border with domed lambrequin and scallop-shell corner clasps, the inverted breakfront frieze with three walnut-lined frieze drawers, the central drawer with weeping Heraclitus handle, all inlaid with foliate arabesque marquetry within channelled borders, the kneehole flanked by gadrooned berried laurel swept mounts, the shaped side drawers with cartouche escutcheons and baluster handles, the arched ends with further arabesque panels with a Bacchic mask with ribbon-tied garlanded hair, with descending husk-trailed chutes and acanthus scroll sabots, the plain ebonised walnut moulding directly beneath the top almost certainly original but with one end section replaced, the central drawer with replaced support, the side drawers with later cross-struts to the interior to prevent tipping, the right-hand of the kneehole concealing a spring-loaded hidden secret drawer to interior, the underside of the top inscribed 'DEVA', the reverse of the frieze with simulated drawers with handwritten blue paper label numbered '8944'
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.
41¾ in. (80.5 cm.) high; 80½ in. (204 cm.) wide; 41¼ in. (105 cm.) deep
Probably acquired by either John William Egerton, 7th Earl of Bridgewater (d.1823), who rebuilt Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire, between 1808 and 1820, or acquired by either John Cust, 1st Earl Brownlow (d.1853), who married Lord Bridgewater's niece and heir, Lady Sophia Hume (d.1814) in 1810, or Charles Henry Cust, 2nd Earl Brownlow (d.1875), Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire .
Thence by descent to Adelbert Wellington, 3rd Earl Brownlow, Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire, Christie's London, 3 May 1923, lot 91 (to Touzain).
Acquired from L. Kraemer, Paris, 12 October 1928.