11 December 2020 | Galerie Atena
The secretary was created in the mid-18th century, during Louis XV's reign. It had drawers and lockers, and sometimes secret drawers for documents. It was first known as "secrétaire en armoire". The lower body had two doors, several drawers inside or a shelf dividing the space in two. The secretary was crafted of natural wood, veneer or marquetry. Created after the chest of drawers, it was one of the most popular pieces of furniture, and quickly undergone practical modifications.
The secretary or rolltop desk was a new type of bureau designed around 1760 by Jean-François Oeben (1721-1763), cabinetmaker of Louis XV and pupil of Charles-Joseph Boulle, who became famous for his mechanical furnitures. The writing area could be covered by a shutter made of flexible slats, which was rolled round a cylinder hidden behind the top tier of drawers.
The most famous example of this type of desk is the monumental cylinder desk for King Louis XV, housed in the Château de Versailles, which was begun in 1760 by Oeben with the construction of the frame, the design of the secret mechanisms and the plasters of the future bronzes. The desk was finished by Riesener, his successor, and was delivered in 1769.
In 1769, Riesener began to supply the Furniture Warehouse of the Crown and five years later he received the official title of ébéniste du roi (Cabinetmaker to the King). Almost immediately, he began supplying richly decorated pieces covered with mahogany veneers, floral marquetry, and gilt bronze mounts. Student of Oeben, Riesener was also known for his ingenious mechanical fittings, which allowed desk and tabletops to be raised or lowered by a singled button.
Riesener made several rolltop desks. The one for Thierrry de Ville d'Avray in 1784 indicates that the Louis XV style was not yet regarded as outmoded in the 1780s. But Riesener made also other rolltop desks in a more Neoclassical style, notably the writing desk for Marie-Antoinette in the Tuileries which inspired Atena's desk.
In 1784, Marie-Antoinette moved into a small apartment in the Tuileries refurbished in the latest fashion. Jean-Henri Riesener delivered several pieces of furniture for the bedroom, including a chest of drawers, a bedside table, and a toilette table, as well as a rolltop desk for the closet, housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The desk was composed of an apron with four drawers decorated with four gilt-bronze low reliefs, and a roll top, surmounted by a shelf with a foliage frieze gallery. All the panels of the desk are inlaid with a diamond pattern. In the center of the roll top is a garland of flowers, laurel branches, and ribbons framing an inlaid trophy representing the attributes of Poetry. This exceptional decoration was completed by various gilded bronzes including four bas-reliefs featuring three allegories of Arts: Music, Painting and Sculpture.
Galerie Atena's writing desk reproduces the lower part of Riesener desk, with its three drawers decorated with allegorical gilt bronze low reliefs, as well as the tapered legs. The upper part is slightly different. The roll top is inlaid with an abstract decorative motif and the upper part, under the gallery, has three additional drawers. The interior reveals six small drawers and has no other storage compartment. This model, which interprets Riesener's famous cylinder desk, is attributed to the Maison Beurdeley.
The Beurdeley family is one of the most important dynasties of furniture makers in the 19th century, operating for three generations from 1818 to 1895. They became famous thanks to the quality of their gilded bronzes and the choice of precious materials for the manufacture and decoration of their furniture and objets d'art. During the Second Empire, Louis-Auguste-Alfred Beurdeley was one of the main suppliers of the Imperial Garde-meuble and supplied the royal houses of Europe. He also received commissions from Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, as well as many distinctions at the World Fairs.
Alfred-Emmanuel-Louis Beurdeley succeeded his father in 1875 and specialized in the manufacture of luxury furniture copied after the antique furniture of the Mobilier National. He made many replicas of well-known models, among which probably Riesener's rolltop desk for Marie-Antoinette. Beurdeley closed its doors in 1895. Its rich stock of more than three thousand nine hundred pieces of furniture and objets d'art was then dispersed during five auctions.