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Work Large writing table or bureau plat

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo

Bureau plat dit «de Choiseul»

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Studio Sébert

Decorative Arts
18th century: rococo

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

This large writing table or "bureau plat", wrongly called 'bureau de Choiseul' for many years, is made up of small japanned panels richly ornamented with gilt-bronze mounts, making it eminently rococo in appearance. It is the work of Jacques Dubois and demonstrates how forms were continually evolving throughout the middle of the eighteenth century. It also reveals the marked taste for luxury materials that then existed.

From the Château du Raincy to the Louvre

At the time of the French Revolution, the bureau was in the Château du Raincy (Seine Saint-Denis) and was owned by Louis-Philippe-Joseph, Duke of Orléans, known as Philippe Égalité (1747-93). The château had been purchased by Philippe Égalité's father, Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans (1725-85) in 1768, but the date at which it entered the château is not known. The bureau was confiscated and assigned in 1796 to the Ministry of Justice, where it was known as the 'bureau de Choiseul'. In 1907, it was transferred from the Ministry of Justice to the Louvre. In exchange, the Friends of the Louvre donated a copy of it to the Ministry. The bureau proved to be extremely popular during the nineteenth century, and many imitations were made.

The taste for lacquered furniture

Chinese and Japanese lacquers were very popular during the eighteenth century. The Marchands-Merciers (dealers) of the time would import chests and screens from the Far East to sell, but then they had the idea of breaking them up to salvage the lacquer panels and adapt them to Western furniture. Commodes were embellished in this way, as were bureaux. The dealer would supply the lacquer panels to the cabinetmaker, who then had the task of mounting them on pieces of furniture. In his role as middleman, the dealer himself sold the finished item on to his clients, who often never knew the identity of the cabinetmaker. The lacquer panels were usually held in place with gilt bronzes, which were often very finely chiseled and worked during the rococo period. The areas not ornamented with lacquer were painted with varnish made to imitate it, giving the illusion that the piece of durniture was lacquered all over.

Jacques Dubois' contribution

Jacques Dubois appears to have worked regularly for the Marchands-Merciers, producing several pieces of furniture with a lacquer veneer. The "de Choiseul" bureau marks a development in lacquering technique, since Dubois has overlaid the entire width of the short sides with a japanned panel, placing the gilt bronzes on top, instead of compartmentalizing the panels to fit in with the bronzes, as had previously been the custom. The black-painted decoration on the legs and sides is designed to harmonize with the bronzes. As regards the development of form, the bureau could be said to be continue the régence style, on account of its central, projecting section, still very much in evidence. However, its other features - the curved legs, the intricately chiseled top, and the abundance of bronzes which, in their sheer exuberance, are like a foreshadowing of the fantasies of Art Nouveau - make it totally rococo.

Bibliography

L'objet d'art de la saison, n 12, mars 2000.

Alcouffe Daniel, Dion-Tenenbaum Anne, Lefébure Amaury, Le mobilier du musée du Louvre, Dijon, Editions Faton, 1993, pp. 158-161.

Pradère Alexandre, Les ébénistes français de Louis XIV à la Révolution, Paris, Editions Le Chêne, 1989, p. 169.

Technical description

  • Jacques DUBOIS

    Bureau plat dit «de Choiseul»

    Vers 1750

    ParisEstampillé : Jacques DUBOIS

  • Ebène, laque de Chine, bronze doré

    H. : 0,82 m. ; L. : 1,86 m. ; Pr. : 1 m.

  • Provenance : château du RaincyVersement du ministère de la Justice, 1907 , 1907

    OA 6083

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

Stamped "G. JUGE"