Oval table

Maker: Attributed to David Roentgen (German, Herrnhaag 1743–1807 Wiesbaden, master 1780)

Date: ca. 1774–80

Culture: German, Neuwied am Rhein

Medium: Oak, walnut, pine, cherry, 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

Dimensions: 29 1/2 x 29 x 20 1/2 in. (74.9 x 73.7 x 52.1 cm.)

Classification: Woodwork-Furniture

Credit Line: Gift of Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1958

Accession Number: 58.75.39


An astonishingly large number of table forms were invented over the years by the Roentgens. David seems to have concentrated on small luxurious types with ingenious, useful features. This example reflects a step forward in the category of the multifunctional type represented by an example by Abraham and David Roentgen in a private collection (Wolfram Koeppe. Extravagant Inventions, the Princely Furniture of the Roentgens. Exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; 2012. New York and New Haven, 2012, cat. 19). The basic mechanical structure and much of the marquetry decoration en camaïeu has not changed. The pattern on both tabletops featuring nosegays, tied ribbon, and a suspended pruning knife, was a Neuwied staple during the 1770s, employed to embellish almost all furniture types the workshop produced.[1] In this example, too, the spring-loaded central frieze drawer encloses a leather-lined slide and several small drawers, and it is flanked on either side by a spring-released section of the frieze that swings open to reveal areas for storage.

A new feature on the present table is the shape of the leg. No longer the curving rococo cabriole type, it is square and tapered, has molded corners, alluding to brass moldings, and ends in block feet. The position of each leg is marked on the frieze by a tall rectangular block with two chamfered channels that are brass-filled; these are underscored by four guttae on the brackets between the legs and top. Both the channeling and the guttae allude to motifs of ancient classical architecture. Today the legs on this table are firmly attached, but an X-ray examination has shown that originally they could be taken off.[2] When removed, all four legs would fit underneath the top between the brackets. The result was a convenient package that was much easier to transport than an assembled table. This was one of the features Roentgen devised to steal a march on his French competitors.

When museums first began collecting Roentgen furniture, they sought out small oval tables in particular. An example that has belonged to Captain Charles Spencer Ricketts, described in 1867 as "inlaid with festoons of ribbons and bouquets of flowers," was acquired with the Jones collection by the Victoria and Albert Museum.[3] Metropolitan Museum curator James Parker discovered a similar table in a portrait by John Singer Sargent of Lady Sybil Eden, mother of the future prime minister Anthony Eden (fig. 61),[4] and possibly the same table type is shown in Sargent's Portrait of Mrs. Asher Wertheimer, of 1904, today in the Tate, London.[5] It should be noted that copies of Roentgen's oval tables made by various nineteenth-century cabinet-makers bore the stamp L.BONTEMPS/PARIS.[6]

[Wolfram Koeppe 2012]

[1] The pattern was probably inspired by Pierre-Gabriel Berthault, who was famous for his decorative vignettes and marquetry motifs featuring musical trophies and floral bouquets; see Charles A. Packer. Paris Furniture by the Master Ébénistes: A Chronologically Arranged Pictorial Review of Furniture by the Master Menuisiers-Ébénistes from Boulle to Jacob, Together with a Commentary on the Styles and Techniques of the Art. Newport, United Kingdom, 1956, p. 90. Two panels with the suspended knife motif were incorporated into a cabinet made by Gervais Durand in Paris in 1880 (Sotheby's, London, sale cat., October 28, 2009, lot 44). They may have originated on the sides of a Roentgen fall-front desk (secrétaire à abattant).

[2] Observed during an examination by Daniel Hausdorf, Assistant Conservator, and Mechthild Baumeister, Conservator, Department of Objects Conservation, at the Metropolitan Museum.

[3] The Ricketts table was auctioned at Christie's, London, on July 13, 1867, lot 105; see also Oliver Brackett. Catalogue of the Jones Collection. Pt. 1, Furniture. Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1922, pp. 24-25, no. 76, pl. 42. Other Roentgen oval tables were purchased by C.L. David, Copenhagen (C.L. Davids Samling: Nogle studier. Vol. 2. Copenhagen, 1953, pp. 206-7), and Francis Guérault, Paris (sold, Paris, March 21–22, 1935, lot 135). Another was sold from the collection of Lady Sackville, at Christie's, London, June 9, 1936, lot 67.

[4] James Parker in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Decorative Art from the Samuel H. Kress Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. With texts by James Parker, Edith Appleton Standen, and Carl Christian Dauterman. London, 1964, p. 102, fig. 89.

[5] Norman L. Kleeblatt, ed. John Singer Sargent: Portraits of the Wertheimer Family. Exh. cat. Jewish Museum, New York; New Orleans Museum of Art; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; and Seattle Art Museum; 1999-2001. New York, 1999, p. 57, pl. 2. I thank Daniëlle O. Kisluk-Grosheide for this information.

[6] The objects auctioned at the following sales were nineteenth-century and modern copies of this type of Roentgen oval table: Christie's, London, September 25, 1986, log 302; Ader Tajan, Geneva, April 28, 1992, lot 126; and Sotheby's Amsterdam, December 19, 1994, lot 1047.