The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Chest-of-drawers
  • Chest-of-drawers
  • Jean-Henri Riesener (1734 - 1806)
  • France
  • 1780
    by 1865 (various alterations made, eg. current marble top added, cornice changed and new mount fixed on apron)
  • Oak, veneered with amaranth, green-stained sycamore, burr walnut, stringings of ebony and box, fret-pattern marquetry of satiné, holly and stained sycamore, oval marquetry medallion in stained woods on a ground of sycamore originally stained blue, top of vert des Alpes marble, steel lock plate in between main drawers, steel key.
  • Object size: 92 x 122.4 x 54.8 cm
  • Inscription: 'No 3063' Painted
    Inscription: '14/5/43 / F.F' In chalk
  • F247
  • Study
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Recent conservation work has allowed us to understand much more about this piece of furniture, which was supplied for the use of Marie Antoinette in her private study at Versailles in December 1780. Like other furniture of the 18th century, the original colours of this chest-of-drawers ('commode') have faded considerably over the years and what we now know is that the wood behind the gilt bronze mounts on the frieze would have been stained a bright turquoise, and the pastoral trophy on the front would have been similarly highly coloured. The reddish and purple tones of the other woods would have made this a really colourful piece of furniture, blending harmoniously with the embroidered silk wall hangings and the highly-decorated Sèvres porcelain displayed in the room. In fact the pastoral emblems on the medallion were designed to match one of the trophies in the wall-silk, a special fabric that was designed by Jacques Gondoin (1737-1818) in 1779 for the room and woven at Lyons by Jean Charton. Originally this commode would have had a top of veined white marble, much more in keeping with neo-classical taste.

    When Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) delivered this commode, he called it 'a new model', and it marks a change in the pieces he went on to make for Marie Antoinette and other royal patrons. The gilt-bronze mounts have become almost jewel-like in their exquisite form and detail, with perfectly-formed flowers flanking the Queen's cypher, and the more heavily neo-classical mounts of previous royal furniture have disappeared. This seems to be a reflection of Marie Antoinette's taste, which can perhaps be characterised as an elegant neo-classicism softened by flowers and pastorals, and Riesener remained her favourite cabinet-maker even after the royal administration made attempts to end his position as privileged supplier to the king in 1785.