4 September 2022, 00:33

Riesener's masterpiece: Marie Antoinette's secretary

Riesener's masterpiece: Marie Antoinette's secretary
Marie Antoinette of Austria, wife of King Louis XVI of France, often changed the decor in her rooms. And in 1783, the French furniture maker Jean-Henri Riesener made for the queen a secretary with a drawer, which stood in one of the offices in Versailles. Inside the secretaire, Marie Antounette kept a collection of Japanese caskets inherited from her mother, Maria Theresa.
The gilded bronze fittings and patterns contrast beautifully against the black background. Among the decorative elements in the form of garlands, you can see the Queen's initials (MA). For storing jewelry, the master made several secret drawers, each of which is locked separately. Most likely, they contained securities hidden by the queen.
In 1787, Marie Antoinette had the secretary moved to the summer palace at Saint Cloud. Later, the expensive piece of furniture was given as payment for services to Abraham Alcan, who supplied the Army of the Rhine and Moselle, a division of the French Revolutionary Army. In the 19th century, the secretaire was in the possession of several British collectors, belonged to George Watson Taylor, a member of the committee of planters and merchants of the West Indies, who opposed the abolition of slavery. The next owners were the Dukes of Hamilton, after which the secretary went to the USA. Today, this beautiful rarity is stored in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Other works by Jean-Henri Riesener

Riesener's early works were made in the rococo and marquetry style: he depicted flowers, fruits, vases and garlands that richly decorated furniture. After his Wilhelm Benemann became the main supplier of furniture to the royal court, Riesener decided to change his style. Straight lines appeared, along with ornateness, he began to use rectangular shapes with slight rounding.
Many of the master's works after the French Revolution were snapped up by British collectors. At the beginning of the 20th century, some of the furniture was resold in the United States, but most of the tables, chests of drawers and secretaries remained in British museums.
Today, Riesener's works can be seen in the following museums:

  • Waddesdon Manor (desks, chests of drawers, Louis XVI secretary);
  • Wallace Collection (secretary from Versailles, bureau, chest of drawers from the Marly Palace);
  • Royal collection (chest of drawers from the royal bedroom in Versailles);
  • National Gallery of Art (table from the Tuileries Palace).

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