This splendid rolltop desk is distinguished by having six legs instead of the usual four. The added pair and the lavish mounts changed the frontal view into a more facadelike structure. The presence of the mounts and the use of exotic marquetry woods point to an affluent patron. Even so, it is not the most elaborate desk designed by David Roentgen during this period. Traditionally, however, it is considered a preeminent example of his technical skill and artistic creativity. The monogram DR inlaid on the drawer above the kneehole indicates the cabinetmaker’s satisfaction with what he must have considered an exceptionally refined desk, as access to its inner secrets can be gained only via the keyhole above his initials.When the key is turned to the right, the compartment to the right of the kneehole slides forward. A button underneath can be pressed to release its front half. This swings aside to reveal two drawer panels, each with four Birmingham Chippendale-style pulls (see fig. 70). Not every pull is functional, however, for the compartment contains only two deep drawers, not four shallow ones. The veneer, which was cute from matching sheets, has a curtain-like look, even though the grain lines are broken by brass moldings. Pressing in and turning the key to the left opens the compartment to the left of the kneehole; pressing it in halfway and turning it to the left disengages the writing surface, which can then be pulled forward by means of the drop-loop handles; simultaneously, the curved top opens, revealing the interior. The rectangular structure above the rolltop consists of a single side drawer. It is crowned on three sides by a pierced gilt-bronze gallery chased on both the front and the reverse and decorated with gilt-bronze acanthus cones, ornaments that were favorited by the workshop during the entire neoclassical period. The sparkling ormolu and brass moldings have preserved some residue of their original gold-lacquered surface.The colorful chinoiserie marquetry on the desk’s front and sides is set into large panels of maple wood, which may originally have been stained a shade of blue gray. In this case, a blue-gray background would have been exceptionally striking, for the visible grain of the maple would have evoked a steel-blue fabric that was popular in the late 1770s. Like a theater scrim, it would have set off the lively scenes of Chinese life, confining them within an apparently shallow, three dimensional space. The workshop used the vignettes on numerous pieces; they are based on drawings by Januarius Zick.By the last quarter of the eighteenth century, Parisian cabinetmakers had largely abandoned rococo chinoiserie marquetry in favor of plain veneer with a beautiful grain. This desk must date to a transitional period in the Neuwied workshop, for the interior is decorated entirely in the restrained French neoclassical style. The disparity may indicate that Roentgen was doing "market research" into his customers’ opinion of the new style. Because the Roentgen workshop was famous for its chinoiserie marquetry David discarded it only with great hesitation.[Wolfram Koeppe 2012]Footnotes: The text of this entry is a reworked version of an entry by Wolfram Koeppe in Daniëlle O. Kisluk-Groscheide, Wolfram Koeppe, and William Rieder. European Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection. New York, 2006, pp. 172-76, no. 72. On the more typical example illustrated in Wolfram Koeppe. Extravagant Inventions: the princely furniture of the Roentgens, 2012, fig. 69, see also Dietrich Fabian. Abraham und David Roentgen: Das noch aufgefundene Gesamtwerk ihrer Möbel- und Uhrenkunst in Verbindung mit der Uhrmacherfamilie Kinzing in Neuwied. Leben und Werk, Verzeichnis der Werke, Quellen. Bad Neustadt, 1996, pp. 104-7, nos. 227-33. With an eye to cutting costs, Roentgen used stained local woods to simulate bois des Indes in many areas of the desk. See, for example, John Morley. The History of Furniture: Twenty-five Centuries of Style and Design in the Western Tradition. Boston, 1999, p. 288, pl. 593. See also Christian Baulez. "David Roentgen et François Rémond: Une collaboration majeure dans l'histoire du mobilier européen." L'estampille/L'objet d'art, no. 305 (September 1996), pp. 96-118; Alain Gruber. "Chinoiserie." In The History of Decorative Arts: Classicism and the Baroque in Europe, ed. Alain Gruber. Trans. John Goodman. New York, 1996, p. 297; Christie’s, London, sale cat., July 7, 2005, pp. 174-79, lot 400 (the Metropolitan’s piece is illustrated on p. 176). The gilded mounts are neoclassical, with the exception of these pulls, which were part of sizable purchases that the Roentgens made from metal merchants in Birmingham, England. A letter of 1775 from David Roentgen to Karoline Luise von Baden-Durlach describes the differences in price between mercury-gilded mounts and the gold-lacquered (or polished brass) English mounts; see Dietrich Fabian. Roentgenmöbel aus Neuwied: Leben und Werk von Abraham und David Roentgen. Bad Neustadt, 1986, pp. 357-58, doc. No. 2.141. On English mounts of different qualities, see Nicholas Goodison. "The Victoria and Albert Museum's Collection of Metal-Work Pattern-Books." Furniture History 11 (1975), pp. 1-30; Wolfram Koeppe. "'...mit feiner Bildhauer-Arbeit verfertigte Stücke': Zu einem bislang unbekannten Schreibmöbeltypus der Roentgen-Werkstatt." Kunst & Antiquitäten, 1989, no. 4, pp. 32-38. The gallery feature also appears on royal furniture: see Dietrich Fabian. Abraham und David Roentgen: Das noch aufgefundene Gesamtwerk ihrer Möbel- und Uhrenkunst in Verbindung mit der Uhrmacherfamilie Kinzing in Neuwied. Leben und Werk, Verzeichnis der Werke, Quellen. Bad Neustadt, 1996, p. 105, no. 230, pp. 112-14, nos. 245, 246, 251; Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel. Versailles: Furniture of the Royal Palace, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Vol. 2. Dijon, 2002, pp. 139-42, no. 47; Achim Stiegel. Präzision und Hingabe: Möbelkunst von Abraham und David Roentgen. With contributions by Burkhardt Göres. Exh. cat. Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; 2007. Bestandskatalog des Kunstgewerbemuseums 24. Berlin, 2007, p. 101, fig. 12b. See also Wolfram Koeppe. Extravagant Inventions: the princely furniture of the Roentgens, 2012, fig. 34 (Dietrich Fabian. Abraham und David Roentgen: Das noch aufgefundene Gesamtwerk ihrer Möbel- und Uhrenkunst in Verbindung mit der Uhrmacherfamilie Kinzing in Neuwied. Leben und Werk, Verzeichnis der Werke, Quellen. Bad Neustadt, 1996, p. 114, no. 250). For the acanthus cones, see Wolfram Koeppe. Extravagant Inventions: the princely furniture of the Roentgens, 2012, fig. 49 and cat. 53. For the gold lacquer, see Muriel Prieur. "‘Für Guss, Ziselierung und matte Vergoldung…’: Die Rechnungsbücher des Pariser Bronzegiessers und Vergolders François Rémond in Zusammenhang mit der Roentgen-Werkstatt in Neuwied." In Bernd Willscheid and Wolfgang Thillmann. Möbel Design: Roentgen, Thonet und die Moderne. Exh. cat. Roentgen-Museum, Neuwied; 2011, Neuwied, 2011, pp. 141, 151, no. 55. I am grateful to Yannick Chastang for bringing this detail to my attention on March 21–23, 2004, when he, Mechthild Baumeister, Conseverator, Department of Objects Conservation, Metropolitan Museum, and I examined the present desk. For the gray stain, see Hans Michaelsen. "Painting in Wood: Innovations in Marquetry Decoration by the Roentgen Workshop." In Wolfram Koeppe. Extravagant Inventions: the princely furniture of the Roentgens, 2012, pp. 228-233, and Mechthild Baumeister, Jaap Boonstra, Robert A. Blanchette, Christian-Herbert Fischer, and Deborah Schorsch. "Gebeizte Maserfurniere auf historischen Möbeln/Stained Burl Veneer on Historic Furniture." In Katharina Walch and Johnn Koller, with contributions by Mechthild Baumeister et al., Lacke des Barock und Rokoko/Baroque and Rococo Lacquers. Arbeitsheft (Bayrisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege) 81. Munich, 1997, p. 263, fig. 1, p. 266, fig. 2a. In turn, Zick’s drawings for the Neuwied workshop are based on prints by French artists François Boucher, Jean Pillement, and Gabriel Huquier. See Alain Gruber. "Chinoiserie." In The History of Decorative Arts: Classicism and the Baroque in Europe, ed. Alain Gruber. Trans. John Goodman. New York, 1996, pp. 256, 275,-323; Iris Reepen and Edelgard Handke. Chinoiserie: Möbel und Wandverkleidungen. Exh. cat. Bestandskatalog der Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten Hessen 5. Bad Homburg, 1996, pp. 54-56. See also Perrin Stein. "Les chinoiseries de Boucher et leurs sources: L’art de l’appropriation." In Pagodes et dragons: Exotisme et fantaisie dans l’Europe rococo, 1720–1770, pp. 86-95, Exh. cat. Musée Cernuschi, Musée des Arts de l’Asie de la Ville de Paris; 2007. Paris, 2007, for prints by these artists depicting chinoiserie subjects. Alain Gruber. "Chinoiserie." In The History of Decorative Arts: Classicism and the Baroque in Europe, ed. Alain Gruber. Trans. John Goodman. New York, 1996, p. 297.
Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings
Signature: Inlaid beneath keyhole escutcheon on central drawer: DR interlaced (maker's monogram of David Roentgen)
unnamed Marquis (until 1890; sale, Hôtel Drouot, February 10, 1890, no. 352; sold or 18,500 francs)
; M. Mialhet (after 1890–after 1901) ; Madame de Polès (until 1927; sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June 22–24, 1927, no. 277, pl. CXVI; sold to Arnold Seligmann); [ Arnold Seligmann, Rey and Company, New York , Paris, 1927 ] ; Mrs. Henry Walters , New York (until 1941; sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, April 26, 1941, no. 731; sold to Jacques Helft, Paris (?) ); [ possibly Jacques Helft , Paris, in 1941 ] ; [ Seligmann, Rey & Co. , New York, 1941; sold to MMA ]