Baroness Lambert. Sotheby’s Monaco, “Important Mobilier et Objets d’Art”, 26-27th May 1980, lot 652, noted as from the “appartement à la Baronne Lambert”. The Georg Waechter Memorial Foundation, Geneva. Sotheby’s Zurich, “Feine Keramik, Möbel und Zierstücke”, 5th June 1996, lot 336.
Literature: Pierre Verlet, "Le Mobilier Royal Français, Meubles de la Couronne Conservés en France", vol. II, 1955 pl. XX, illustrating an extremely similar bureau plat by Guillaume Benneman of the same overall form, with identical lion mask handles but with additional mounts on the legs and central drawer, in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. And pp. 112-114, describing the latter bureau and another also commissioned in 1786, most probably that which was formerly in the Schloss Museum, Berlin but destroyed in World War II. Seymour de Ricci, "Louis XVI Furniture", 1913, p. 127, illustrating the bureau plat by Guillaume Benneman in the Musée du Louvre, noted as belonging to the Garde-Meuble, Paris. F. J. B. Watson, "Louis XVI Furniture", 1973, p. 126, no. 107 and pl. 107, describing and illustrating an extremely similar bureau plat by Guillaume Benneman of the same overall form, with identical lion mask handles but with additional mounts on the legs and central drawer and with intricate marquetry on the two outer drawers and on the sides, formerly in the Schloss Museum, Berlin. Alexandre Pradère, "French Furniture Makers", 1989, p. 407, pl. 503, illustrating the bureau plat by Guillaume Benneman in the Musée du Louvre. Peter Hughes, "The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Furniture", vol. III, 1996, p. 1538, fig. 1, illustrating a photograph of circa 1910 of the grande galerie at rue Laffitte, former home of Sir Richard and Lady Wallace, which includes a bureau plat that is very similar to the example in the Musée du Louvre. And p. 1560, fig. 18, with an illustration from The Sphere, 9th March 1912, p. 278, showing another view of the grande galerie with the Wallace bureau plat in situ.
A large and important Louis XVI gilt bronze mounted mahogany bureau plat attributed to Guillaume Benneman after an order by Jean Hauré with superb mounts attributed to Forestier (most probably Pierre-Auguste Forestier), Pierre-Philippe Thomire, Feuchère (most probably Pierre-François Feuchère) and Bardin, the rectangular gilt tooled green leather-inset writing surface above three frieze drawers comprising a central drawer flanked by a pair of deeper drawers, that on the right with an inner lockable compartment, each drawer with a mille-raies border decorated in the corners with a rosette and centred by an escutcheon ornamented with a ribbon-tied laurel wreath swag, the two side drawers with magnificent lion-mask garland-hung handles, the back of the bureau with three dummy drawers, the sides with pulling writing slides, the front and back with three vertical gilt mounts above square tapering legs ornamented with horizontal mille-raies panels and terminated by angular gilt bronze feet
Paris, date circa 1786
Height 77 cm, length 162 cm, depth 96 cm.
This magnificent bureau plat, which has been attributed to the maître ébéniste Guillaume Benneman (d. 1811) by Alexandre Pradère, is not only of the finest quality but also boasts a fascinating recent provenance that reflects its intrinsic importance. When working as ébéniste du Roi Benneman (also spelled Beneman) made a very similar bureau which was commissioned in 1786 by the Garde-Meuble de Couronne through the fournisseur du roi Jean Hauré (1739-post 1796) for Louis XVI and is now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. It also compares with another bureau plat by Benneman which was in the Schloss Museum, Berlin until it was destroyed during the Second World War. Interestingly it also appears similar to another bureau plat that was once owned by the great art collector Sir Richard Wallace (1818-90) which after his and his wife's respective deaths remained in their former Parisian residence at 2 rue Laffitte, (Hughes, op. cit.). The Wallace bureau plat, which is remarkably similar to the one now in the Musée du Louvre, will be discussed in due course.
Before describing the history as well as the numerous makers involved in the creation of the bureaux plats in the Musée du Louvre and Schloss Museum, Berlin, it is useful to outline their similarities with the present piece. Firstly, all three are of the same overall angular Neo-classical form, having the same three frieze drawers and square tapering legs. Furthermore, the escutcheons as well as the beautiful lion-head handles on the two frieze drawers are identical. Both the bureau plat in the Musée du Louvre and the one formerly in the Schloss Museum feature Vitruvian scroll mounts on the central frieze drawer and have additional foliate mounts at the top and base of each leg. However, as Watson op. cit. notes the one in the Louvre has four side pulls on which books could be placed while the Berlin piece had far more elaborate marquetry inlays. Despite differences between all three, their overall design corresponds as does their high quality of execution.
The records for Benneman's bureau plat in the Louvre is well documented by Pierre Verlet, op. cit. based on Haurés own notes and the Garde Meuble records. From these we know that it was ordered by the Garde Meuble de Couronne in 1786 via Jean Hauré and was intended to stand in Louis XVI's Cabinet Intérieur at Château de Compiègne. However, it was taken back to Paris on 17th September 1786 and less than a month later, on 7th October, it was transported to Château de Fontainebleau where it was placed in the Bibliothèque du Roi. Orders for a second bureau plat followed within months of the first. This was destined for the Cabinet Intérieur at Château de Compiègne and was most probably the piece that later stood at the Schloss Museum, Berlin. The Garde-Meuble's description of it, 12th October 1786 notes its similarity with the preceding piece: Service de Compiegne. 12 9bre 1786. No 15… Appartement du Roi… Cabinet interieur. Un bureau pareil à celui fait en 1786 et qui est placé dans la biblioteque à Fontainebleau, en observant de faire la tablette tirante devant et derriere pour plus de commodité, les bronzes, quart de ronds et autres ornemens semblables ainsy que les mesures au préecédent bureau, evalué…2,400 l.
The first piece costing 2,888 livres, was overseen by Hauré who then organised the various craftsmen involved with the intention that it should accord with an earlier commode, supplied in 1771 by the marchand-ébéniste Gilles Joubert (1689-1775) to Marie-Antoinette's Salon des Nobles at Versailles. For this Hauré employed the model maker Martin, possibly Gilles-François Martin (c. 1713-1795) or Jacques-Charles Martin, to make a model in wood and wax. This was then executed by the ébéniste Benneman. The model for the bronzes were by the esteemed fondeur-ciseleur Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) which were then cast by Forestier - most probably Pierre-Auguste Forestier (1755-1835), after which they were finally chased and gilded by Thomire, Feuchère - most probably Pierre-François Feuchère (1737-1823) and Bardin, of whom little is known. Only the names of Hauré, Benneman, Bardin and the bronzier Galle are noted as working on the second piece.
Their creation came about at an intriguing period in the history of royal French furnishings since during the years 1784-85 the Garde-Meuble de Couronne imposed a number of reforms since they considered the king's current ébéniste Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) was too expensive and perhaps outdated. They therefore gave Hauré responsibility for supplying all furniture to the royal residences. Hauré, who up until then had been working as a wood carver, decided to order luxury pieces from the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre and then have the rest made by a team of craftsmen to include an ébéniste, casters, chasers, gilders, locksmiths and marble carvers. When it came to the first category, Benneman was at that stage was working independently in rue Faubourg-Sainte-Antoine, having been born and trained in Germany. Though he was virtually unknown, Benneman's native birth and training was to his advantage since French royalty and aristocracy had long admired other German-born ébénistes such as Jean-François Oeben, Adam Weisweiler and of course Riesener, whom Benneman was to replace as the crown's chief ébéniste. Benneman was then received as a maître in September 1785 with a special dispensation from the police waiving the 'necessary rights and conditions of residence.' The Garde-Meuble also provided him with tools and nine craftsmen, which later rose to sixteen in 1788.
At first Benneman set about repairing existing pieces and making functional furnishings such as fire-screen or bidets. Then followed the bureau plat now in the Louvre which, along with other pieces supplied to Compiègne, 1786-87, were modelled on the earlier commode by Joubert. In addition to a smaller replica of Joubert's piece and the bureau plat in the Louvre, Benneman made a secrétaire à abattant (Wrightsman Collection, Metropolitan Museum, New York) and a writing-table (Petit Trianon). From the same period came four commodes (Musée du Louvre) after those by Joseph Stöckel as well as a bureau plat (Waddesdon Manor, Oxfordshire). The latter, which was made for Louis XVI's Cabinet Intérieur at Versailles, followed the design of the lower part of Riesener's famed Bureau du Roi for Louis XV. Other commissions included copies of a Riesener commode for Marie-Antoinette's bedchamber at Versailles as well as Louis XV's bureau at Choisy attributed to Bernard III van Risenburgh (BVRB).
As principal ébéniste to Louis XVI, Benneman worked on many pieces for the Châteaux de Versailles, Fontainebleau, Saint-Cloud and Compiègne, of which the latter was a particular favourite of Louis XVI who loved to hunt in the surrounding forest. In addition to the king, Benneman supplied the nobility and aristocracy but then during the Revolution was employed by the new Republican government to remove 'insignia of feudality' from existing royal pieces.
Toward the end of the 1780's Benneman moved to 6 Rue Forest, where he was still working when he rose to fame once more under Napoleon, providing the latter with a number of fine pieces. Today Benneman's work is prized among some of the finest collections, which in addition to the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Waddesdon Manor includes the Wallace Collection, London, the J. Paul Getty Museum, California and the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
Given the close similarity between the present bureau plat and those described by Verlet, we can assume that ours was also ordered through Hauré after a model by Martin and that the bronzes were created by the same, or at least some of those bronziers involved in the other two pieces. Since Hauré's and the Garde-Meuble records simply referred to these craftsmen by their surnames in some instances their identity is uncertain. Firstly, there was the model maker Martin, who may have been Gilles-François Martin, a decorative sculptor who produced the boiserie (wood panelling) for several grand residences around Paris such as the duc de Bourbon's Château de Chantilly; he was also probably the creator of the architectural decorations on the École de Médicine in Paris. On the other hand, the model maker may have been the sculptor Jacques-Charles Martin, who was received into the Académie de Saint-Luc in 1731, was living in rue Neuve Saint-Martin in 1767 and confusingly has also been credited as the author of the decorations on the École de Médicine. Again there is ambiguity as to which Forestier cast the bronzes since both Pierre-Auguste and his brother Etienne-Jean Forestier (maître 1764) were Parisian fondeur-ciseleurs whose names, generally without any distinguishing initials, often appeared in the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne accounts during the later years of Louis XVI's reign. However, it is more likely that it was Pierre-Auguste Forestier since he was involved in the creation of other mounts for Benneman's furniture, such as a commode for the Cabinet de Conseil at the Château de Compiègne delivered in 1787 as well as four commodes originally by Joseph Stöckel which Benneman extensively modified for royal use in 1786 and 1787.
The next fondeur-ciseleur mentioned is Pierre-Philippe Thomire, who provided the models for the mounts and was also involved in their chasing and gilding. As the greatest craftsman of his age to work in gilt bronze, Thomire's firm was patronised by Louis XVI, Napoleon, Louis XVIII as well as foreign monarchy and aristocracy. His fame and notoriety was propelled to even greater heights after the Revolution when in 1806 he became the first bronzier to be awarded a gold medal at the Exposition des Produits de l'Industrie. In 1809 he won another gold medal and was also appointed ciseleur de l'Empereur.
After Thomire, Verlet refers to Feuchère; this was almost certainly Pierre-François Feuchère (1737-1823) who is noted as having worked with Benneman on other pieces for Compiègne. Among them was a set of four commodes, made by Stöckel but then extensively altered by Benneman. Pierre-François Feuchère, who was received as a maître ciseleur-doreur in 1763, was the son of Pierre Feuchère who had been attached to the royal stables where he made gilt bronzes and other works for carriages and coaches. In turn Pierre-François was employed by the Garde-Meuble to execute many works for the royal châteaux. In 1784 he was joined by his own son Lucien-François (fl. 1784-1824), who subsequently became a director of the business and continued to work alongside his father at their Paris workshop at rue Notre Dame de Nazareth during the early years of the nineteenth century.
Finally, Verlet notes that the mounts on both bureaux plats were worked upon by Bardin. Although virtually nothing is known of this ciseleur, his surname (without initials) frequently appears alongside Benneman and Hauré in the accounts of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne during the latter part of the eighteenth century. Among them is a companion piece to the Bureau du Roi which stood in Louis XVI's study at Versailles (1786; Waddesdon Manor, Oxfordshire) as well as a commode after a model by Riesener, ordered by Hauré in 1787 and made by Benneman, for Marie-Antoinette's Salon des Nobles at Saint-Cloud.
Mention has already been made to a very similar looking bureau plat, once owned by Sir Richard Wallace which, with many other pieces of furniture from his family's famous collection, appears in photographs (illustrated Hughes, op. cit.) of the grand galerie of their former Parisian apartment at 2 rue Laffitte. The photos roughly coincide with the death of Sir John Murray Scott (1847-1912) who had been Sir Richard's secretary and subsequently Lady Wallace's chief adviser. After her death in 1897, John Murray Scott inherited the various Wallace residences and their contents. The bureau plat is listed in the inventory of items at rue Laffitte, dated 20th February 1912 where it is described as Grand bureau plat en bois de placage et marqueterie orné de bronzes dessus en cuir style Louis XVI prisé deux mille francs. John Murray Scott bequeathed those items from the Wallace collection at rue Laffitte to his friend Lady Sackville of Knole, who in turn sold them to a Paris dealer. However, the bureau plat's subsequent history is not known nor if it was stamped but judging from the photograph it bears the hallmarks of Benneman's authorship rather than being Louis XVI style.
Like Sir Richard Wallace and his father Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, Baroness Lambert, who once owned the present bureau plat, belonged to a family with a great passion for the arts. Frustratingly when this piece was sold at Sotheby's Monaco, 26-27th May 1980, the catalogue merely noted that the bureau plat had come from the 'appartement à la Baronne Lambert'. Although it is unclear which Baroness was referred to, it is thought that it was probably Baroness Marion Lambert, formerly de Vries (b.1943). An active patron of the arts, she married Baron Philippe Lambert (1930-2011), who with his brother Léon ran the historic family banking concerns. Léon was also a great collector, whose works by René Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Andy Warhol and other modern masters was offered at Christie's in 1987 while in 2004 Baroness Lambert's photography collection was also sold. On 14th October 2015 Christie's in association with Simon de Pury auctioned over 300 objects from the Lambert Art Collection which was described as 'spanning eight different categories, across three different centuries' and having 'a democratic and contemporary spirit that is a testament to a pioneering collecting vision of Baroness Marion Lambert, who was greatly encouraged by her late husband Baron Philippe Lambert'. In addition to contemporary works of art there were a number of important historical pieces, notably a Louis XV ebony bureau plat attributed to André-Charles Boulle or Boulle Fils with matching cartonnier by BVRB incorporating a clock by Michel Stollewerck. Like a number of other eighteenth as well as early nineteenth century pieces in the Lambert Art Collection, these had entered the family via Baron Gustave de Rothschild (1829-1911), whose daughter Zoe (1863-1910) and her husband Baron Léon Lambert (1851-1919) were Baron Philippe Lambert's grandparents. Among other pieces with the same provenance was a pair of Louis-Philippe mahogany bergères as well as a mantel clock with movement by Charles Le Roy and case attributed to Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain. One wonders if the present piece had also been acquired by Gustave de Rothschild and was then passed down through the family line.
After Baroness Lambert, the bureau plat entered the collection of the Georg Waechter Memorial Foundation. This charitable trust was set up in 1931 by Alfred Waechter (1921-84) and his wife Blanka née Blaukopf (1921-94) in memory of Alfred's father Georg Waechter. As philanthropists with a passion for the arts the Waechters began amassing an impressive collection of fine and decorative arts. Many of their paintings were by contemporary and modern artists including examples by Mary Cassat, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Egon Schiele as well as Oskar Kokoschka who lived close to them at Villeneuve above Lake Geneva. However, like the Lambert Art Collection, theirs also incorporated a number of late eighteenth century pieces of furniture which in addition to the present example included a set of twelve Louis XVI chairs by Claude Chevigny (sold at Sotheby's Zurich 5th June 1996, lot 322).