A high quality and very rare Louis XVI Cuban mahogany and brass inlaid demi-lune card and tea table, when folded the demi-lune top displays three brass bands to the exposed semi-circular edge above a frieze enclosing three brass framed panels and a simple brass band below, above five tapering brass and mahogany fluted legs, each headed by brass caps and terminated by brass casters. The demi-lune table can then be converted to become a tea table or a card table. The first is achieved by pulling out a drawer and supporting leg at the back of the table and then folding the top two demi-lune flaps backward to expose a circular mahogany tea table top. When the table is required to become a card table, then the latter two flaps are folded back to their original position after which a choc on the upper edge of the drawer is raised so that the very top half-moon table flap can then be supported when folded back to reveal a circular top with green felt work surface
Height 77 cm, width 108 cm, diameter 54 cm.
Paris, date circa 1780-85
The elegance, ingenuity and quality of this versatile table can be compared to pieces made by the celebrated ébéniste Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) who, in addition to furnishings with highly elaborate marquetry and gilt bronze mounts, produced a series of handsome and ingenious pieces where decorations and lines were kept to a minimum. Amongst comparable examples by Riesener one can cite a table à écrire of 1783 in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris as well as a mahogany backgammon table with tapering legs of circa 1785 and a toilet table, with lifting central mirror, of circa 1785, from the Earl of Rosebery’s collection, Mentmore sale 1977 which was almost identical to one supplied to Marie-Antoinette in 1784 (each illustrated respectively in Claude-Paule Wiegandt, “Le Mobilier Français, Transition Louis XVI”, 1995, p. 82 and Alexandre Pradère, “French Furniture Makers”, 1989, p. 379, pl. 460 and p. 382, pl. 466).
Not only does the table look elegant from the front but equally so from the back. When closed in the demi-lune position, the reverse shows the full length of the three alternative table flaps above a rectangular frieze decorated with two elongated framed borders. Whilst other Louis XVI card tables of this basic design are known, few examples were made with the extra flap to enable it to also be converted into a tea table. No expense is spared to other details such as the storage drawer for the cards which doubles up as a support for the card and tea table surfaces.
Tea quickly became popular among the aristocracy when it first arrived in Paris in 1636, over two decades before it appeared in England. Card playing was equally popular amongst the French upper echelons, for instance Queen Marie Antoinette once wrote to her mother to say that when at Versailles she often played cards for up to two hours each evening during the week days.