Desk (bonheur du jour)

Various artists/makers

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 539

This type of elegant lady’s writing desk was called a bonheur-du-jour, literally “happiness of the day” which may refer to the joys of letter writing.

Eleven of these desks are known of which The Met has four in its collection (see also 58.75.48; 58.75.49; and 1982.60.55). They are all either signed by the ébéniste Martin Carlin or, as in this case, are attributed to him. Carlin specialized in the production of small, precious pieces of furniture, working mainly for the marchand-mercier (dealer in luxury goods) Simon-Philippe Poitier, and for his partner and successor Dominique Daguerre, who provided him with designs, porcelain plaques, lacquer panels, and gilded bronzes for mounting.

Supported on slender cabriole legs, the desk has three drawers in the upper section. The single drawer in the lower part, its keyhole is concealed behind the hinged circular wreath and patera pull, contains on the right, a loose container for materials with the original gilt-metal inkwell, a pounce pot (for sand to blot excess ink) and a trough for a sponge, and on the left, the main compartment with a hinged writing panel inset with modern red leather, which could be lifted in order to store writing implements.

All of the known desks are mounted with seventeen Sevres porcelain plaques painted with floral decoration within a green and gold tooled border: the plaques range in date from 1765 to 1774. The majority of plaques on this desk are painted on the reverse in blue with the date-letter q for 1769 within crossed LL’s, and have the marks of four flower painters.

This bonheur-du-jour and the other one in the Linsky collection (1982.60.55) were in Spencer House, London, by 1862 and were exhibited at an exhibition at the South Kensington Museum when they were mistakenly described as a pair. They were acquired by Lord Astor for Cliveden where they remained until their sale to Mr. and Mrs. Linsky.

Desk (bonheur du jour), Attributed to Martin Carlin (French, near Freiburg im Breisgau ca. 1730–1785 Paris), Oak, mahogany, tulipwood, sycamore, ebony, box and harewood, gilt-bronze mounts, soft-paste porcelain, French, Sèvres

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1 = not Linsky = 48.75.48?