Low cabinet (meuble à hauteur d'appui) (one of a pair)

after a design by André Charles Boulle French

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 524

This pair of low cabinets (see also 1974.391.2a, b), or meubles à hauteur d’appui, demonstrates the strong influence that André Charles Boulle and the exuberant style of marquetry known as Boulle-work exerted upon furniture production in France well after his death in 1732. Dating to the mid-to late-eighteenth century, each cabinet is veneered with ebony panels richly decorated with Boulle’s signature usage of marquetry, consisting of tortoiseshell, brass, and sometimes pewter, and integrated into a floral and foliate design. The central panel of each cabinet is surmounted by a portrait medallion, with the first piece (1974.391.1a) featuring Henri IV, King of France (1589–1610), whose head is turned in profile to the right; the matching piece (1974.391.2a) contains the portrait of Maximilien de Béthune, duc de Sully (1560–1641), in profile turned to the left. The decision to incorporate medallions of France’s first Bourbon monarch and his minister of finance and agriculture respectively may have been to symbolize the dynastic stability of the House of Bourbon, which was beset by financial and political instabilities, particularly under the reign of Louis XVI. Each piece is further embellished with gilt- bronze mounts shaped into acanthus leaves, rinceaux, and saytrs’ masks, and rests upon four tapering feet of gilt bronze with spiral flutes. The cabinets are covered by black and gold Portor marble tops.

Although the models are based on a Boulle workshop design from 1710–25, the practice of repairing, updating, or incorporating marquetry panels made by A.C. Boulle and his workshop into new pieces of furniture was a common practice during the second half of the eighteenth century, making it sometimes difficult to determine with precision the original date of a piece of Boulle furniture. Proof of the continuing fashionability of Boulle’s designs well into the nineteenth century can be seen in a copy of the Wrightsman cabinets produced in England, found today in the Frick Collection.

Low cabinet (meuble à hauteur d'appui) (one of a pair), after a design by André Charles Boulle (French, Paris 1642–1732 Paris), Oak and pine veneered with ebony and marquetry of tortoiseshell, brass, and pewter; gilt bronze; Porto marble, French

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1974.391.2a, b