The desk is curved on all faces, which are covered in a marquetry of end-grain wood over a background of chevrons in red lustred Bronsinum. The inlaid patterns represent flowering branches along the apron, the back and sides. The top and slope-flap have a serpentine cartouche in violet wood framing birds perched on flowering branches. The reverse side depicts a large multifoil shell flanked by floral branches. The end panels are veneered in amaranth.
The desk is opened by a sloping flap covered in brown leather edged with amaranth underneath, disclosing a tier of three rows of drawers arranged on two levels. The façades of the drawers are curved.
The whole is adorned with flowering branches in end-grain wood over a background of red lustred Bronsinum inside an amaranth frame. The six drawers are in walnut ; the one at the bottom right contains writing materials, with a powder-box, inkwell and pen tray in brass.
Concealed at the back of the interior, which is decorated in a similar inlaid pattern of end-grain wood and red lustred Bronsinum, are two secret compartments with partitioned wells. The one on the right opens by pressing the central screw of the hinge in the middle. As for the one on the left, it is necessary to open the well on the right, push the central partition towards the back of the desk and lift a small cleat while pushing the sliding cover. Each compartment contains two big drawers with a curved façade, veneered in chevrons of red lustred Bronsinum.
The desk is decorated with an ormolu ornamentation:
The border frieze on the slope-flap is formed of leafy rinceaux, with a Rocaille cartouche enclosing the keyhole at the top and a basket of flowers at the bottom.
A surrounding frieze of leafy rinceaux outlines the top, with mangnificent corner mounts formed of palms, waves and rockery, prolonged by vertical falls of foliage flowing down to the caps of the legs decorated with leafy open-work ormolu.
The bottom of the desk, the corners of the legs and the slope-flap are emphasized by a reed.
A knob on each drawer and three decorative rocaille elements fixed to the bottom of the desk (one in front and one on each side) complete the ormolu ornamentation.
It stands on four curved five-faced legs.
Although this desk, which goes back to the years 1745-55, does not bear any mark, it is very likely that it once belonged to the Imperial Russian collections. It is not known when it entered Russia. During that period, sovereigns would often move from one residence to another, followed by their furniture. In Russia, Parisian furniture was considered to be the height of luxury and sophistication.
The sales catalogue of 12 June 1973, in which this desk is illustrated, makes reference to a gift from Louis XV to Czarina Elisabeth Petrovna, but the size of our desk does not match that of the writing desk bought by the King from the dealer Thomas-Joachim Hébert for 7255 pounds, which was offered to the Empress on the advice of his Ambassador the Marquis de La Chétardie, in the hope of winning her support in the Austrian war of succession.
Throughout her reign (1741-1762), Empress Elisabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, commissioned numerous pieces of furniture for the palace she had built or refitted in Saint-Petersbourg. Her close circles imitated her and as a result, there was a proliferation in the Russian capital of palaces in the latest style, filled with French furniture and paintings from the best schools.
Count Mikhaïl Illarionovitch Vorontsov (1714-1767), the Chancellor of Elisabeth, who was very much in favour of a French alliance, travelled to France in 1745, under the name of the Count of Maslow, accompanied by his wife Anna, a first cousin of Elisabeth. He was received by the Queen at Versailles, where Louis XV offered him furniture and tapestries.
In 1758, he sent his tapestry-maker Corner to Paris to make purchases for his palace, which was built by Bartolomeo Rastrelli from 1749 to 1757.
In her memoirs, Princess Dashkov, the niece of Vorontsov, who was President of the Academy of Science under Catherine II, speaks of the courtesy and refined elegance of the society frequented by the house of her uncle, as well as the entirely European taste that had prevailed over its furnishing and decoration, magnificent enough to be justifiably ranked as a princely residence
Furthermore, the ambassadors of France felt obliged to furnish their residences in splendour, and on leaving left the country, they would sell the furniture they had brought with them, thus creating another source of supply for the Russian market.
Sales of artworks by the Soviets.
From the 1920s onwards, the obvious economic failure of the Soviets, associated with the collapse of the gold reserves in the USSR, the decrease in production and the fall in prices of raw materials, led the Soviets to seek new sources of foreign currency to finance their industrialization and purchases of equipment from abroad. It was therefore decided to follow the example of the Convention which had proceeded with massive sales of artworks in 1793. The sale of artworks had actually started with the arrival of the Bolsheviks, but the Soviets decided to multiply such operations.
In 1928, the Antikvariat assumed the task of selecting, evaluating and scattering art collections. Major works from Imperial collections, museums or spoliations were consequently put on sale through the intermediary of auction houses, including the auctioneer Rudolph Lepke in Germany. Other sales were held by mutual agreement, to the benefit of foreign dealers and leading collectors (including Callouste Gulbenkian).
Stamp: GARNIER (François Garnier, active from 1730 to 1774 or Pierre Garnier, received as Master in 1742) and the JME mark of the Jurande des Menuisiers Ebénistes parisiens.
François and Pierre Garnier:
The initial on the stamp is almost illegible and it is therefore impossible to determine wherther it is a P or F. On the occasion of the Lepka sale, our desk was attributed to François Garnier, although subsequently there was a tendency to attribute it to Pierre, whose production was, on the whole, much more luxurious than that of his father, whose stamp is rarely encountered.
At present, it seems to be acknowledged that our desk should be classified as being a creation of Pierre Garnier (1720-1800), received as Master in 1742, who was one of the most brilliant cabinetmakers of his time, with a a production that reflected the way the Rocaille style developed from its most picturesque form to the purest neoclassicism. He was one of the initiators of the « Greek » style. Pierre Garnier’s production was both rich and abundant, and thanks to his talent, he was able to attract a carefully chosen clientèle. The Marquis de Contades commissioned from him furniture for the Château de Montgeoffroy and the brother of Madame de Pompadour, the Marquis de Marigny, Directeur Général des Bâtiments, Jardins, Arts, Académies et Manufactures du Roi, ordered furniture for his official residence.
When he passed away, Les Petites Affiches of II Germinal Year VIII announced his death by stating that « any eulogy would be superfluous ».
Pieces of furniture bearing the stamp of Pierre Garnier are the pride of the finest collections.
• Probably the Imperial Russian Collections before 1917 (sale by the Soviets)
• Rudolph Lepke Kunst-Auction-Haus Berlin sale, Kunstwerke aus den Beständen Leningrader Museen und Schlösser, second part, 4 and 5 June 1929, lot 200.
• Founès Collection, sale in Paris, Galerie Charpentier, on 27 June 1935, lot 118, auctioned at 35,100 Francs.
• Bensimon Collection
• Mr. and Mrs. G. Collection, sale in Paris, Palais Galliera, 12 June 1973, lot 102.
« Grands ébénistes et menuisiers parisiens du XVIIIème siècle », December 1955-February 1956, Paris, Musée des Arts décoratifs.
• André Boutemy, « Les vraies formes du bureau dos d’âne », Connaissance des arts, N° 77, July 1958, pp. 38-43.
• Exhibition catalogue « Grands ébénistes et menuisiers parisiens du XVIIIème siècle », Paris, Musée des Arts décoratifs, December 1955-February 1956, N° 112, pl. XV.
Height 91 cm. 3 ft.
Width 102 cm. 3 ft 4 in.
Depth 56 cm. 1 ft 10 in.