A cylinder bureau by David Roentgen
A cylinder bureau by David Roentgen
Lemon wood, mahogany, boxwood, pear, walnut, maple, and stained wood veneers on oak and softwood corpus. Gilt embossed leather writing surface (replaced), brass and ormolu mountings. The apron with an arch for the knees and the appearance of five drawers. On tapering square sectioned supports. The two rows of side drawers can be folded outwards to reveal two further drawers. The cylinder, which is opened by pulling out the writing surface, conceals an arch with three drawers behind steps that can be opened via a spring mechanism. Three drawers in the cornice, the outer two with knobs, the central one with a lock and outer panels overlapping with the two side drawers to keep them closed. The top with a continuous gallery of wood and pierced brass. Unusual veneer design with panels of rosewood and ebony surrounded by contrasting milleraies fillings. The cylinder inlaid with a fine chinoiserie depiction of seven large figures in a garden landscape, all contours and shading done in marquetry. The reverse with cassette-form marquetry mirroring the division of the front. Restored. H 129, W 119, D 66 cm.
From Roentgen's Paris workshop, circa 1780 - 85.
This chinoiserie scene can be found on several similar items of furniture. The central motif is derived from a design by Jean Pillement which Januarius Zick (1730 - 1797) adapted and drew up for Roentgen's workshop in Neuwied, although here the working drawing is tentatively attributed to Johannes Juncker. The most important piece of furniture with this motif is probably the cylinder desk housed in the Kunstgewerbemuseum of the Staatliche Museen Berlin (inv. no. W-1910,49). The piece was supposedly given as a gift to Pope Pius VI by the French Queen Marie Antoinette in 1779. A further cylinder bureau with the same chinoiserie can be found in the The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (acc.no. 41.82), and an earlier roll-front desk with this motif is kept in the Residenzmuseum in Munich. The present work follows directly in the footsteps of these items and, like them, represents a unique and highly prestigious piece.
The collection of the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen Berlin also houses a further cylinder bureau (inv. no. 1910,49) that can be brought into connection with David Roentgen's Parisian workshop. Athough Greber titled the Paris chapter of his 1948 publication “Surpassing France's ebenists”, Achim Stiegel's work of 2007 describes the difficulties which David Roentgen encountered when trying to establish himself as a cabinetmaker in the French capital.
“Since his successful first appearance in Paris in the spring of 1779, David Roentgen bore the prestigious title 'Mécanicien privilégié du Roi et de la Reine'”. He had already sent a “selection of new works” to the city in early summer as well as opening a warehouse. He entrusted Johann Gottlieb Frost with the running of this “comis”. Although over the years, David Roentgen was able to carry out a number of impressive commissions for the king and queen of France and gain numerous influential contacts through the assistance of the Austrian envoy Mercy d'Argenteau, in the face of strong resistance from the French cabinetmakers, his diplomatic endeavours failed to gain him the privilege, as he had hoped, of being able to import and sell his works in Paris without “heavy costs”. An interim solution was provided when he was given the chance to sell his pieces on commission through the luxury merchant (merchands-merciers) Brébant on the Rue St. Martin.
It was only in May 1780 that David Roentgen was able to acquire the costly rights of a master in the Paris guild of ebenists for 1,000 livres (circa 300 gulders) and was henceforth able to sell his furniture under his own name. An advertisement from January 1781 and an extant business card show that his shop on the Rue de Grenelle, near to the elegant St. Honoré, offered a wide selection of items: “Desks of various kinds, cabinet armchairs, dressing tables, safety deposit boxes, mechanisms, pianos, quadrille tables, tric-trac tables, and more”. The pieces were of “dernière perfection”, followed the latest fashions, and were made from “mahogany, carefully worked and polished like marble”. David Roentgen handed over the running of this shop to Gottlieb Frost in December 1785, who relocated to the Rue Croix des Petits-Champs. There he ran a workshop with ten employees and continued “to sell furniture which was highly sought after for its form and polish” until going bankrupt in the summer of 1789.
Like all cabinetmakers active in Paris, Roentgen was subject to the control provisions of the Paris guild. These stipulated that all items produced by their members should bear, preferably permanent, name stamps. However, this rule, which had been in place since at least 1751, appears to have been difficult to enforce due to the privileges of the merchands-merciers, as despite the fact that David Roentgen is known to have done business in Paris for over nine years, we know of only one piece of furniture with such a stamp."
The Arnault collection, Paris.
Albrecht Neuhaus art dealership, Würzburg.
Galerie de Beisac, Wiesbaden.
Auctioned by Koller, Zurich, 13th-19th June 1985, lot 1172.
Private collection, Copenhagen.
Auctioned by Bruun Rassmussen, Copenhagen, 21st September 2016, lot 195.
Private Collection Brussels.
Illustrated in Fabian, Roentgenmöbel aus Neuwied, Bad Neustadt, 1986, illus. 684 - 686.
Illustrated in Fabian, Abraham und David Roentgen. Das noch aufgefundene Gesamtwerk ihrer Möbel- und Uhrenkunst in Verbindung mit der Uhrmacherfamilie Kinzing in Neuwied. Leben und Werk, Verzeichnis der Werke, Quellen, Bad Neustadt 1996, no. 2, p. 269.
Cf. Fabian, Ein Rollschreibtisch aus der Roentgenwerkstatt von Gottlieb Frost in Paris (?), in: Schriften zur Kulturwissenschaft, 41/1986.
Cf. Greber, David Roentgen, Neuwied 1948, p. 84 ff.
Cf. Stiegel, Präzision und Hingabe. Möbelkunst von Abraham und David Roentgen, Berlin 2007, no. 6, p. 72 ff.
Cf. Koeppe, European Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection. New York, 2006, pp. 172-76, no. 72.
Cf. Gruber, Chinoiserie. In the History of Decorative Arts: Classicism and the Baroque in Europe, New York 1996, p. 256, 275 ff.