Lean-to writing desk
Attributed to Adrien Faizelot Delorme (1691-1768), cabinetmaker
Attributed to Étienne-Simon Martin (1703-1770), varnisher
Paris, c. 1749-1750
Carcase of poplar or linden wood, sycamore, walnut, plum and amaranth veneer; blue and red varnish, blue shot silk, blue paper, silver-plated bronze, gilt bronze, iron
Hot stamped: BV under a closed crown; inscription in ink: N°3./2703; inscription in lead pencil on the back of the drawers: 1, 2, 3, and M. Victoire; painted number: D.-W. 1404
88 x 69 x 43 cm
Gift of David and Flora David-Weill, 1937
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Furniture decorated with blue-ground “Japanese” lacquer came into fashion in the mid-eighteenth century, but only exceptional pieces – such as this small lean-to writing desk – were decorated in that color. The relief decoration on the drop front reproduces that on a precious Japanese lacquer panel, probably from a late seventeenth-century cabinet, later remounted on a corner cupboard by Martin Carlin that was delivered to Madame Adélaïde in 1782 by the marchand mercier (furniture dealer) François-Charles Darnault. In the middle of the century, therefore, the panel had served as a model in the workshop of the varnisher who decorated this small writing desk. The varnisher in question may have been one of the five Martin brothers – either Étienne-Simon or Guillaume (though the latter died in 1749), the only “varnishers to the king” who mastered a particular relief varnish technique that imitated Japanese lacquer. The relations between the Martin brothers and the cabinetmakers and cabinet dealers are difficult to ascertain, but it seems very likely that elegant pieces such as this were produced with the intervention of a marchand mercier. The carcase itself, which is not stamped, shows some characteristic features of the workshop of Adrien Faizelot Delorme, such as the pinched edges of the base and the parquetry on the inside of the plumwood chamber. This small blue-lacquered desk is one of the few furniture pieces identified as coming from the Château de Bellevue, on the heights of Sèvres, when it was home to the Marquise Madame de Pompadour who had supervised its construction from 1748 until its completion in 1750. The château was mainly furnished with lacquer pieces supplied, like many of the art objects, by the marchand mercier Lazare Duvaux in 1750 and 1751. Duvaux does not seem to have delivered the small writing desk, however, which may have been purchased from one of his colleagues as Duvaux was not the only dealer to deliver to the marquise. When Madame de Pompadour ceded the Château de Bellevue to the king in 1757, it was largely furnished, as the marquise kept the splendid furniture already in her Parisian residence, the present-day Élysée Palace. This is why this writing desk is listed in the 1763 inventory of the château under the number 3. Though the fashion for black-ground lacquer remained constant, the taste for furniture and objects with a blue or green lacquer decoration in relief was short-lived, and their production was limited by the intricacy required to make them. Reflecting this shift in taste, the desk stayed in the Château de Bellevue (which became the property of Mesdames the aunts of Louis XVI) until the Revolution; it was initially placed in the apartment of Madame Victoire on the first floor, before being relegated to the bedroom of Madame Adelaide’s first chambermaid.
Madame Pompadour et les arts, exhibition catalogue, Versailles, Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, 2002, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2002, no. 138, pp. 326-327.