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Work Cylinder fall secretary

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: neoclassicism

Secrétaire à cylindre (cylinder desk)

© 1990 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
18th century: neoclassicism

Barbier Muriel

This cylinder fall secretary adorned with marquetry and porcelain plaques is the work of the cabinetmaker Jean-François Leleu (1729-1807). A former apprentice to the illustrious Jean-François Oeben, Leleu assimilated his master's technical and formal innovations. Probably commissioned by the 'marchand-mercier' (dealer) Poirier, this secretary is one of the earliest creations by Leleu that can be dated and one of the first furniture pieces decorated with porcelain.

An enduring form

About 1760, Jean-François Oeben created a new type of writing desk, the cylinder fall secretary, in which the writing surface can be covered with a flexible shutter composed of slats of wood that roll up around a cylinder hidden behind the cabinet of drawers. The most famous example of this type of furniture is the King's great desk in the Château de Versailles, which was designed by Oeben and completed by Riesener. An apprentice to Oeben, as was Riesener, Jean-François Leleu produced several cylinder fall secretaries including the one in the Louvre. Standing on four slightly curved legs, this desk is composed of a rail with five drawers decorated with porcelain, a sliding writing flap and a rigid cylinder adorned with marquetry and closing with a key. On the inside, the secretary is fitted with six drawers.

Marquetry and porcelain

The secretary is veneered with rosewood on the outer side of the rail, on the sides and on the legs. The back and the top, on the other hand, are adorned with a geometric mosaic and rosace marquetry pattern, which Leleu was to use again in 1772 on the commode commissioned by the Prince de Condé for the Palais Bourbon. The cylinder is decorated with a marquetry motif representing a flower garland held up by three ribboned pegs, a torch and a quiver. The virtuoso quality of the marquetry work reveals the imprint on Leleu of the training he received from Oeben while he was his apprentice. The rail and the sides of the secretary are adorned with porcelain plaques bearing the dates 1767 and 1768. These twenty-six plaques have a polychrome decoration depicting, on a white ground framed with a blue border, a bow, a quiver and a torch tied together by a flower garland. The decoration of the porcelain plaques is based on the same theme as that of the marquetry.

One of the earliest pieces by Leleu that can be dated

This piece of furniture is one of the earliest works by Leleu that can be dated. Leleu's beginnings are not well known. At that time, the young cabinetmaker was still profoundly influenced by the art of his master Oeben. Another secretary by Leleu, similar to this one, is kept in the Huntington Collection at San Marino. These two secretaries are also among the oldest large-size pieces of furniture adorned with porcelain. It is likely that they were commissioned by the 'marchand-mercier' Poirier, the same dealer for whom the first documented porcelain pieces of furniture were created. These were the commode of Mademoiselle de Sens by BVRB (Bernard van Riesen Burgh), dating from around 1760, and the bonheurs-du-jour and the chiffonières by Martin Carlin. Leleu's secretaries are the only known porcelain cylinder fall secretaries within this category.


- Nouvelles acquisitions du département des Objets d’art 1990-1994, Paris, 1995, p138-140.

- ALCOUFFE D., DION-TENENBAUM A., LEFEBURE A., Le Mobilier du Musée du Louvre, t 1, Paris, 1993, p 190-193.

Technical description

  • Stamped by Jean-François LELEU (?, 1729 - Paris, 1807)

    Secrétaire à cylindre (cylinder desk)

    C. 1768-70


  • Oak frame; rosewood veneer; marquetry of barberry, holly-wood, maple burl and boxwood, on a tobacco-coloured stained maple ground; soft-paste Sèvres porcelain; gilded bronze

    H. 1.05 m; W. 0.98 m; D. 0.53 m

  • Provenance: Barons Hillingdon collection; Miriam-Alexandrine de Rothschild (1884-1965)

    OA 11295

  • Decorative Arts

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury
    Room 617

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Additional information about the work

Stamp under the front rail, on the upper right side: J. F. LELEU/JME. Blue painted marks on the porcelain: a double 'L" framing the letter-date "O" (1767) on three plaques, and P 1768 on one plaque.