Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object
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Drop-front desk (secrétaire à abattant or secrétaire en cabinet)

Maker:
Attributed to Adam Weisweiler (French, 1744–1820)
Manufactory:
Porcelain plaques made by Sèvres Manufactory (French, 1740–present)
Decorator:
Porcelain plaques decorated by Edme François Bouillat père (French,1739/40–1810, active 1758–1800)
Decorator:
Porcelain plaques decorated by Geneviève Taillandier (active 1774–98)
Factory:
Jasperware medallions by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons (1759–present)
Maker:
Some mounts by Pierre Rémond (French, Paris 1747–1812 Paris)
Date:
ca. 1787
Culture:
French, Paris and Sèvres
Medium:
Oak veneered with burl thuya, amaranth, mahogany, satinwood, holly, and ebonized holly; painted metal; one soft-paste porcelain plaque; fifteen jasper medallions; gilt-bronze mounts; marble; leather (not original)
Dimensions:
Overall: 51 × 27 × 16 in. (129.5 × 68.6 × 40.6 cm)
Classification:
Woodwork-Furniture
Credit Line:
Gift of Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1958
Accession Number:
58.75.57
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 529
After an angry mob stormed the palace of Versailles during the night of October 5–6, 1789, Gouverneur Morris recorded in his diary that “Many Circumstances of Insult to the royal Personages” had occurred. “The Queen obliged to fly from her Bed in her Shift and Petticoat with her Stockings in her Hand to the King’s Chamber for Protection, being pursued by the Poissardes [fishwives].”[1] Following this shocking incident, the royal family was forced to return to Paris, where they lived for three years under house arrest in the Château des Tuileries. A few days after their arrival, the queen consigned to the dealer Dominique Daguerre and his partner, Martin-Eloi Lignereux (1750–1809), a number of her most treasured possessions for safekeeping. Among those objects was a porcelainmounted secretary, which may, in fact, have been this one and possibly was the last piece of furniture Daguerre had delivered to Marie-Antoinette for use at Versailles. Nevertheless, in 1794 an inventory of the seized royal furniture stored at the palace was drawn up by the new regime, and among the pieces listed was a secretary, its drop front mounted with a large Sèvres plaque and ten medallions forming garlands—a description that seems to fit the Museum’s piece. It was among the former royal objects that Abraham Alcan, the leading military contractor, selected as payment for his services during the Revolution. During the nineteenth century Charles Mills (1792–1872), a London banker and art collector with a taste for Sèvres porcelain and furniture mounted with Sèvres plaques, acquired this secretary. His collection remained intact until the 1930s, when the Lords Hillingdon, descendants of Mills, sold it to the well-known art dealer Joseph Duveen, who in turn offered it with a group of artworks from the Hillingdon collection to the businessman and philanthropist Samuel H. Kress (1863–1955).

The interlaced stretchers and bulbous, downward-tapering legs of this graceful secretary are characteristic of the work of Adam Weisweiler; moreover, the gilt-bronze female half-figures used as corner mounts appear on other pieces by this cabinetmaker. Born in the Rhineland, Weisweiler settled in Paris in the late 1770s, and there he is known to have worked for Daguerre. Edme-François Bouillat the Elder, one of the most talented flower painters at Sèvres, was responsible for the ribbon-tied bouquet on the central plaque. According to a label pasted on the back, the price was 336 livres, and we know that Daguerre purchased a plaque for that amount in 1782. The pointillé (stippled) borders are attributed to Madame Vincent Tallandier, who with her husband specialized in this kind of decoration. Framed in gilt-bronze garlands that lend them a jewel-like quality, fifteen Wedgwood jasperware cameos decorate the front and sides of the desk. Some show classical scenes based on antique gems. Others depict mothers and children engaged in domestic pursuits. They formed part of a so-called Domestic Employment series first advertised in a Wedgwood catalogue of 1787, which suggests a date for the secretary, as does the fact that in the same year Daguerre signed an agreement with Josiah Wedgwood (1730– 1795) to sell his wares in Paris.

[Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide, 2010]

[1] Morris 1789 – 93/1939, vol. 1, p. 245.
Marking: Painted in blue enamel on reverse: [1] crossed Ls (Sèvres actory mark); [2] y (decorator's mark for Bouilliat); [3] B (decorator's mark for Boulanger).
Sir Charles Mills, Baronet ; The Lords Hillingdon ; The Samuel H. Kress Foundation (until 1958)
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