David Roentgen (German, 1743–1807)
Oak, walnut, pine, cherry, cedar, and maple, veneered with maple, hornbeam, holly (all partially stained), cherry, mahogany, tulipwood, and other woods; gilt bronze, iron, brass, steel; partially tooled and gilded leather; 29 1/2 x 29 x 20 1/2 in. (74.9 x 73.7 x 52.1 cm)
Gift of Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1958 (58.75.39)
The Roentgens invented an astonishing number of table shapes. Evocative of an ancient cameo, the long, oval shape of this Neoclassical model, a marvel of mechanical inventiveness and virtuosity, became extremely popular in the 1760s. The front apron hides a drawer with a leather writing surface. When the drawer is pulled out to the point of resistance, both sides of the frieze swing open, revealing areas for storage. Originally, the legs could be removed (now glued into place on this example) and fit underneath the carcass between the brackets. The result is a convenient package, ideal for traveling in style, a feature Roentgen devised to outsell his French competitors. The trip from Neuwied am Rhein to the residences of potential clients involved days of travel on harsh roads. Objects that could easily be dismantled for transport were of paramount importance. If a member of the workshop was not able to deliver an item, a manual—not much different from those of today—was provided to guide the buyer through the assembly. When museums first began collecting Roentgen furniture, they sought out refined small tables in particular. A related example belonged to Captain Charles Spencer Ricketts and was described as “inlaid with festoons of ribbons and bouquets of flowers” in 1867, when it was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum.