Drop-front secretary (secrétaire à abattant or secrétaire en armoire)

Maker: Guillaume Benneman (active 1785, died 1811)

Modeler: Mounts modeled by Louis Simon Boizot (French, Paris 1743–1809 Paris)

Modeler: and Martin, possibly Gilles-François Martin (ca. 1713–1795)

Maker: and Michaud

Maker: Probably cast by Étienne-Jean Forestier (died 1768, master 1764)

Maker: Pierre-Auguste Forestier

Maker: Chased by Pierre Philippe Thomire (French, Paris 1751–1843 Paris)

Maker: and Bardin

Maker: and Tournay and others

Maker: Gilded by Galle

Factory director: Under the direction of Jean Hauré (born 1739, active 1774–after 1796)

Date: 1786–87

Culture: French, Paris

Medium: Oak veneered with tulipwood, kingwood, holly partly stained green, ebony, and mahogany; brèche d'Alep marble (not original); modern leather; gilt-bronze mounts

Dimensions: H. 63-1/2 x W. 32 x D. 15 in. (161.3 x 81.3 x 38.1 cm)

Classification: Woodwork-Furniture

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1971

Accession Number: 1971.206.17


This secrétaire á abattant (upright secretary or writing cabinet) was created by Guillaume Beneman, Parisian maître ébéniste to the crown (1784–92), in conjunction with a team of bronziers (gilt-bronze workers), ornamentistes (decorators), and a maître-doreur (gilder), all under the supervision of the woodcarver Jean Hauré (active 1774–96). Recognized as a leading exponent of the late Louis XVI style, Beneman has been discovered to have revised (adding more neo-Roman details such as legs in the shape of fasces), transformed, and added his stamp to a number of works by fellow ébéniste Joseph Stöckel (1743–1802)

Designed for Louis XVI and later owned by Napoleon Bonaparte, this secrétaire formerly stood in the Palais de Compiègne and the Palais du Luxembourg. Its rectilinear shape and trellis marquetry in combination with the antique decorations of full-length gilded bronze caryatid mounts, panels with foliated Vitruvian scrolls, feet mounted with chased floral swags and pendants over anthemion, and keyhole escutcheons of laurel-leaf and berry wreaths, all contribute to its stylish Neoclassical appearance. Aspects of this piece, including its overall restraint, upright form, and corner caryatid figures, prefigure the Empire style in which Beneman later worked.