This rectangular writing table is veneered with tulipwood of contrasting grain with a serpentine top covered with morocco leather supported by four cabriole legs, with three drawers on the front and three corresponding false drawer fronts on the back. The whole is extensively mounted with gilt bronze, including a stepped molding around the top, eight flat, shaped moldings on the frieze granulated in the center and burnished on the edges mounted with rosettes at the corners, enframing respectively four and two shaped reserves. The moldings alternate around the frieze with the four reserve frames at the center of front, back, and each side, the eight frames covering twenty-four inlaid panels of conforming shape with acanthus quatrefoils. The center drawer and its dummy on the back are flanked by S-shaped acanthus mounts. Each corner of the writing table has a scrolled mount chased with leaves and flower heads, which continues down the forecorner of each cabriole leg with a flattened molding terminating at the foot in a scrolled acanthus shoe, the lateral edges of each leg mounted with a simple ribbed molding of conforming shape. This writing table was initially mounted with twentyfour plaques of Sèvres porcelain, which were replaced, probably in the early twentieth century, with the present marquetry panels of acanthus quatrefoils. Three nearly identical writing tables by Joseph Baumhauer with their original Sèvres plaques are known: in the James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire; in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch at Boughton House, Northamptonshire; and in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.(1) These plaques are painted with bunches of flowers within white quatrefoil reserves on a green ground and are of two different shapes: one group asymmetrically formed with serpentine outlines set in the carcase in complying, recessed panels (Waddesdon and Boughton), and another set of square plaques in square panels (Philadelphia). The present table had asymmetrical plaques, as seen in the traces of the original serpentine-shaped recesses that are visible at the edges of the replacement marquetry panels beneath the gilt-bronze frames. The Sèvres Manufactory made such plaques from 1758 until at least 1765. Those on the Waddesdon and Boughton writing tables are dated 1760 and 1761, respectively; the ones on the Philadelphia piece are undated. Using his given name, Joseph, Baumhauer may have executed this model of writing tables in cooperation with the dealer Simon-Philippe Poirier, who specialized in furniture mounted with Sèvres plaques. The presence of the serpentine variety behind the square ogee-shaped bronze frames on these works is a puzzling feature. Poirier may have had a supply of the expensive, shaped plaques in stock, which were used by Baumhauer, even though considerable alterations were needed to accommodate them. As the plaques were the same height as the drawer fronts, each front had to be enlarged with an additional molding on the top and sides. Sèvres plaques of serpentine shape may have been originally intended for a commode rather than a writing desk, but only one instance is known: a Louis XV work by Bernard II van Risenburgh (after 1696 – ca. 1766), in a private collection in Paris, embellished with ninety plaques, mostly dated 1758, which were bought by Poirier in 1760. They are mounted on the front and sides of the commode and are held in place by gilt-bronze moldings of serpentine outline.(2) Possibly the first piece of French furniture mounted in such fashion, the commode was commissioned for Louise-Anne de Bourbon-Condé, Mlle de Sens. Baumhauer may have continued to make writing tables of this model until his death in 1772. A version with eight panels of Japanese lacquer instead of porcelain plaques is in the Louvre, Paris.(3) A posthumous inventory mentions a writing table that was probably of the same type.
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. 263-64.
1. On the Waddesdon writing table, see Bellaigue, Geoffrey de. Furniture, Clocks and Gilt Bronzes. 2 vols. The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor. Fribourg, 1974, vol. 1, pp. 428–33, no. 89. On the Boughton House table, see Hughes, Peter. “The French Furniture.” In Boughton House: The English Versailles, edited by Tessa Murdoch, pp. 118 – 27, 222 – 23. London, 1992, pp. 124 – 25, 223, pl. 75. On the writing table in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, see Rieder, William. France, 1700 – 1800. Guides to European Decorative Arts 3. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 1984, pp. 28 – 29. Another example of this model was in the collection of Viscount Powerscourt, Powerscourt, County Wicklow, Ireland, until 1974, when the house was destroyed by fire. Two other writing tables of similar form by Baumhauer are at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California (Bennett, Shelley M. and Carolyn Sargentson, Eds. French Art of the Eighteenth Century at the Huntington. New Haven, 2008, pp. 70 – 77, nos. 11, 12). A nineteenth-century replica of the model stamped by Edward Holmes Baldock with imitation Sèvres plaques is in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon.
2. Pradère, Alexandre. French Furniture Makers: The Art of the Ébéniste from Louis XIV to the Revolution. London, 1989. [Translation of Les ébénistes français: De Louis XIV a la Révolution. Paris, 1989.], pp. 196 – 98, ill. no. 189.
3. Alcouffe, Daniel, Anne Dion-Tenenbaum and Amaury Lefébure. Furniture Collections in the Louvre. 2 vols. Dijon, 1993, vol. 1, p. 189, no. 59.