Drop-front secretaire (secrètaire à abattant)

René Dubois

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 539

The form of this secretary, with its pierced pagoda-shaped top, is exceptional in French furniture. Although furniture in the Chinese taste was designed and executed in England during the second half of the eighteenth century, French chinoiserie was almost always limited to the surface decoration. The Oriental scenes in imitation lacquer on the front panels are based on designs for The Four Elements by François Boucher, known from engravings (1740) by Pierre Aveline. The element of fire, apparently the only one for which the original drawing by Boucher exists (now in the Metropolitan), shows a man pouring hot tea into the cup of a seated man who also appears twice on the front of the secretary. Charming tea-drinking scenes formed an important aspect of chinoiserie decoration.

Drop-front secretaire (secrètaire à abattant), René Dubois (1737–1799, master 1755), Painted and varnished oak, veneered with European lacquer, mahogany, purplewood, gilt-bronze mounts, French, Paris

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