From a European collection.
Literature: Janine Leris-Laffargue, "Le Mobilier Français Restauration Louis-Philippe", 1994, p. 42, illustrating an almost identical secrétaire à abattant by Jean-Jacques Werner of circa 1820, in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
A very important and superb quality Empire gilt bronze mounted mahogany, amaranth, satinwood and rosewood secrétaire à abattant attributed to Jean-Jacques Werner, the moulded rectangular grey veined white marble top above gilt bronze egg and dark banding and a panelled frieze drawer centred by a magnificent gilt bronze mount featuring an anthemion and scrolled frame enclosing a classical winged figure, personifying Clio, Muse of history who writes on a tablet and is seated in front of a trumpet, fasces and a crown of laurels, flanked at either end of the drawer by an extremely fine mounted plumed helmet against an oak leaf spray heading ribbed columnar fasces with gilt bronze straps and terminated by gilt bronze axe heads, each cast with a mask and a lion head, the upper fall-front door featuring a central escutcheon concealing the keyhole behind comprised of a pair of winged putti kneeling either side of an armorial relief composed of a plumed helmet, a shield and spears, the fall-front door opening via an unusual triple locking devise to reveal a gilt tooled brown leather writing surface, the interior headed by marquetry inlays to create a tent-like effect flanked by spear-headed columnar fasces set either side of a large central compartment above a small central drawer with two further drawers either side, the fall-front above a pair of doors each mounted with the bust of a Roman centurion with helmet of which the right hand bust slides to the right to reveal the keyhole, the doors centred by a ribbon-tied armorial sheath that overlaps the opening between the two lower doors, on a shaped rectangular base with gilt foliate banding
Paris, date circa 1815-20
Height 147 cm, width 100 cm, depth 43 cm. (depth when open 69 cm).
This magnificent secrétaire à abattant was almost certainly made by Jean-Jacques Werner (1791-1849) due to its striking similarity to another by him of burr elm and a matching companion commode, which by 1844 were in L'appartement du Gouverneur des Invalides and are now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (illustrated in "Connaissance des Arts" vol. 129, 1962, pp. 87-89 and Janine Leris-Laffargue, "Le Mobilier Français Restauration Louis-Philippe", 1994, pp. 42-43).
Not only does this piece closely correspond to the latter secrétaire in respect of its overall design and the armorial mounts but the interior is similarly intricate in its finish and likewise features inlays of an architectural nature. In addition to that example one can also site another unsigned and comparable secrétaire at Powis Castle, Wales, belonging to the National Trust. Another typical and extremely refined characteristic of Werner's work are the superb quality bronze mounts which, as here, he often used to hide keyholes or the division between two doors. Likewise his work was always of the highest quality, distinguished for the finest gilt bronze mounts. As evident here, one Werner's greatest strengths was the exceptional quality of his wood. The majority of his pieces were made from indigenous French woods especially ash and elm as well as yew and mulberry. However here he has used the highest quality mahogany, which he was also known to do. Werner was very knowledgeable about the attributes of different wood types and took great care in their preparation. Following the example of his father, who had been involved in the timber trade for 48 years, from about 1815 Werner began preparing his own wood. He set up four timber yards throughout France where he would season the wood, sometimes for nine to ten years in advance and some of which he sold to his contemporaries.
Although the original owner of the present piece is not known, it would certainly have been made for a distinguished client. Owing to its abundant armorial motifs, it was possibly made for a military leader or if not for a royal residence since Werner supplied various foreign princes such as Prince Eugène Napoleon King of Bavaria as well as the duchesse du Berry and the French royal household. Werner was undoubtedly the most celebrated ébéniste of the Restauration period, who specialized in the production of luxury items and won silver medals at the expositions of 1819, 1823, 1827 and 1834. His pieces both followed and determined fashion; while his furniture was inspired by Antiquity, as here his forms and lines were more robust than those of the earlier Empire style.
A freemason of Swiss original, Werner was born in Berne, the son of a timber merchant from Coinan in the Swiss Canton of Vaud. Like many aspiring furniture makers he travelled to Paris, where in December 1812 he married Marie-Louise Chassan, a seamstress, by whom he had a son Jean-Louis, born the following year. By the time of his marriage Werner had established a business in rue Saint-Dominique-Saint-Germain, Paris advertising himself as tapissier de la princesse d'Eckmulh and as a décorateur and furniture maker in indigenous French woods. In 1819 he moved to rue de Grenelle-Saint-Germain and the following year became a member of the Société d'encouragement pour l'industrie nationale and also a supplier to the Garde-Meuble. Hoping to obtain French citizenship, in 1823 he wrote to the maréchal de Lauriston, minister of the Royal House, stating that his two uncles had been loyal to Louis XVI and had died in the service of France. His endeavour was successful and in 1826 he was made a French national.
1819 marked Werner's first exhibition success when he won a silver medal at the Exposition de l'Industrie Française for his superb display of works which included a commode-secrétaire which is now in the Grand-Trianon. In response to certain inquiries from the jury that year a number of his new works at the Exposition of 1823 featured indigenous marbles, notably vert de mer, Vosges porphyry and bleu-turquin. He was duly rewarded with another silver medal and continued to attract commissions from the French nobility and foreign princes, attaining the title of fournisseur et décorateur de sa maison to the King of Bavaria and circa 1825 furnished his palace as well as Château de Rosny for the duchesse de Barry. His exhibits at the 1827 exposition included his newly invented elasticized chairs without springs as well as some mechanical seats and other pieces. Again he won a silver medal, as he did in 1834, when he showed several secrétaires, commodes and a fauteuil with a collapsible seat and back. His stand also included a mechanical locking bureau, a cherry wood dining table with extendable leaves and a dining chair fitted with a drawer.
Despite favourable reviews and particularly specific praise from King Louis XVIII, Werner was often disappointed. Firstly, he had always aspired to win a gold medal and secondly though the king personally admired his work, up until 1823 he had not made any purchases. Between 1822 and 1827, Werner constantly wrote to the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne and the director des beaux-arts about the matter. Meanwhile on the recommendation of the préfet de la Seine, the minister of the King's House drew up a report of recommendation in 1823, which resulted in Werner selling a number of pieces to the King for 4000 francs. Other orders followed in 1828 during Charles X's reign but never to Werner's satisfaction since he still had over 1000 pieces of stock in his workshop. He also asserted that there was a conspiracy between his rivals prohibiting him from attaining a gold medal. He even considered accepting a position in a foreign court.
However, he should not have been disheartened since he was much appreciated by the French, notably by the duchesse de Berry. In 1827, she wrote a letter to Werner noting that she was enchanted with the pieces that he had supplied since 1819 and mentioned how the woods and marbles had preserved their colour, beauty and lustre. The same can still be said today since the exceptional quality of Werner's woods and bronzes have more than stood the test of time. A number of his works can still be found among notable private collections and in addition to those at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Grand Trianon, they can be admired at the Musée de Château de Versailles and the Palais Leuchtenberg in Munich.