Attributed to Martin Carlin (French, near Freiburg im Breisgau ca. 1730–1785 Paris)

Sèvres Manufactory (French, 1740–present) (soft-paste porcelain plaques)
Unknown French artists, Paris
ca. 1781–85
Oak veneered with tulipwood, amaranth, holly, ebonized holly, and other marquetry wood; brass; green-colored metal; gilt-bronze mounts; marble top. Soft paste porcelain plaques from the Sèvres Manufactory.
H. 120.3 cm, W. 80 cm, D. 45.7 cm
Credit Line:
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This upright, rectangular drop-front secretaire has Ionic fluted columns in the indented fore corners and Ionic pilasters on the rear corners, resting on a lower stage with a slightly projecting top of conforming shape. This stage is supported by four straight tapering and fluted octagonal legs fitted with gilt-bronze chandelles. The white marble top of the upper section is surrounded by a gilt-bronze molding chased with laurel leaves and berries surmounted on the sides and back by an openwork gilt-bronze gallery. The frieze consists of three recessed panels with green colored metal mounted with gilt-bronze floral garlands tied with flower heads and ribbons interspersed with shaped cartouches, the center one of which on the front houses the lock for the shallow drawer that fills the entire width of the frieze. The fall front is mounted with two rectangular porcelain plaques, each decorated with a basket of flowers and leaves suspended from a knotted ribbon painted in a white reserve, edged with a gilded band and a gilded border over green ground, and framed with a gilt-bronze waterleaf molding. Each side of the upper section is mounted with a rectangular porcelain plaque decorated with a bunch of flowers and leaves, tied at their stems by a bow, similarly framed (see detail ills.). The interior is fitted with six pigeonholes and six drawers, the fronts of which are veneered with tulipwood. The lower right drawer has a loose tray fitted for writing materials. The lower part of the secretaire below the fall front is fitted with a single drawer with a breakfronted central panel mounted with two porcelain plaques decorated with floral sprays framed with giltbronze waterleaf moldings, with two smaller, similarly decorated porcelain plaques and frames at either end. Each side of the frieze in the lower stage is mounted with a rectangular porcelain plaque similarly decorated and framed. The fore corners of the lower stage are mounted with gilt-bronze female masks enframed with leaves, berries, and garlands of beads; the rear corners are mounted with gilt-bronze lion masks. Martin Carlin made several drop-front secretaires of similar design mounted with Sèvres plaques decorated with baskets of flowers on the front. Representatives in public collections are in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (ex coll. Samuel H. Kress),(1) Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire,(2) and the Palacio Real, Madrid.(3) The present work, which was created between about 1781 and 1785, may be the latest in the series and is the only one with rectangular plaques on the drop-front section; the other three have oval plaques on the upper part. The plaques mounted on the piece in the Metropolitan Museum are dated 1773, those on the secretaire at Waddesdon are thought to have been painted in about 1775, and those in Madrid are of unknown date. Carlin probably first produced these secretaires for the dealer Simon-Philippe Poirier, who was working in partnership with Dominique Daguerre at their shop à la Couronne d’or on the rue Saint-Honoré. Poirier, however, retired in 1777, leaving the firm to Daguerre, who must have designed and commissioned the present piece. A drawing of the sort that Daguerre would have shown to prospective clients for a similar work is from the illustrated inventory of Duke Albert of Sachsen-Teschen in the Metropolitan Museum (Fig. 137.2).(4) Secretaires of this type belonged to Madame du Barry (possibly the Kress work), the comte de Provence at the Palais du Luxembourg, and the comtesse d’Artois. Carlin repeated some of the mounts, most notably the female and lion masks, on other pieces of furniture.(5) This secretaire was probably acquired by Baron Lionel de Rothschild in the 1850s when he was rebuilding and furnishing his house at 148 Piccadilly in London.

    Catalogue entry from: William Rieder. The Robert Lehman Collection. Decorative Arts, Vol. XV. Wolfram Koeppe, et al. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Princeton University Press, 2012, pp. 213-15.

    1. Metropolitan Museum, 58.75.44 (ex coll. Samuel H. Kress; Metropolitan Museum of Art 1964, pp. 144 – 49, no. 26 [entry by Parker and Dauterman]).
    2. Bellaigue, Geoffrey de. Furniture, Clocks and Gilt Bronzes. 2 vols. The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor. Fribourg, 1974, vol. 1, pp. 342 – 47, no. 68.
    3. Nino Mas, Felipa, and Paulina Junquera de Vega. Illustrated Guide to the Royal Palace of Madrid. 3rd ed., 1956, p. 40, pl. liv.
    4. Metropolitan Museum, 59.611.4 (Decorative Art from the Samuel H. Kress Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Tapestry Room from Croome Court, Furniture, Textiles, Sevres Porcelains, and Other Objects. Texts by James Parker, Edith Appleton Standen, and Carl Christian Dauterman. London, 1964, fig. 127).
    5. Both mounts are on the famous set of furniture in the Louvre, Paris, decorated with lacquer panels made by Carlin in 1781 – 82 for the dealers Charles Darnault and his brother and supplied to Madame Adélaïde and Madame Victoire, Louis XV’s daughters, for the Château de Bellevue at Meudon. See Alcouffe, Daniel, Anne Dion-Tenenbaum, and Amaury Lefebure. Furniture Collections in the Louvre. 2 vols. Dijon, 1993, vol. 1, pp. 250 – 53, nos. 79, 80.

  • Provenance

    Baron Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879), London; Baron Nathaniel Mayer de Rothschild (1840-1915); Baron Victor Rothschild (1910-1990); Victor Rothschild sale, Sotheby's, London, 21 April 1937, lot 400; [Duveen Brothers, New York]. Acquired by Robert Lehman through Duveen, May 11, 1956.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History