Marie Antoinette's Desk Goes Up For Sale

A mahogany desk commissioned by Marie Antoinette around 1780 will be auctioned at Christie's on July 4, alongside several pieces of royal furniture from the Rothschild family's collection. 

Marie Antoinette's Desk Goes Up For Sale

An extraordinary collection assembled by the eminent Rothschild family, and in particular Baron Gustave de Rothschild (1829-1911), will go up for auction at Christie's in London on July 4. Comprising 57 lots of décor, fine paintings and furniture of exceptional provenance, the collection has been kept among the various residences of the family. 

The collection reflects "Goût Rothschild," an aesthetic championed by the wealthy banking family that has influenced many European and American interiors since the 19th century and continues decorative traditions established during the Renaissance and the Baroque eras.

Waddesdon Manor, a Rothschild estate, whose extravagant interiors depict "Goût Rothschild"
Waddesdon Manor, a Rothschild estate, whose extravagant interiors depict "Goût Rothschild"

"The Rothschild name is synonymous with collecting at the very highest level, with many of the world’s greatest works of art having a Rothschild provenance. Their fabled name is added to the extraordinary roll call of illustrious owners of these masterpieces, so many of them royal, from Louis XV and Marie Antoinette to William Beckford and Prince Demidoff. This sale is a celebration of connoisseurship and passionate collecting," said Charles Cator, President of Christie's International. 

Marie Antoinette's desk by Jean-Henri Riesener, circa 1780, image © Christie's via Bloomberg
Marie Antoinette's desk by Jean-Henri Riesener, circa 1780, image © Christie's via Bloomberg

A gilded mahogany desk, specially commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette, will be one of the masterpieces presented at the sale. This writing table dated around 1780 bears the mark of the queen's furniture storage, which was affixed to all her pieces of personal furniture after 1784. 

The object would have been commissioned for Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon, also considered her "palace of pleasures", a building on the grounds of Versailles but away from the pomp of the court that the queen decorated according to her own tastes.

Petit Trianon
Petit Trianon

For the design of her personal chateau and many other pieces of furniture of the court, Marie-Antoinette turned to Jean-Henri Riesener, a French cabinetmaker of German origin known for his rich decorations and lavish use of gilded bronzes. It was Riesener, with the help of Pierre-Élisabeth de Fontanieu, who transformed the Louis XV style into the Louis XVI style. 

Palace of Versailles, interior chambers of the Queen, one of Marie-Antoinette's offices by Jean-Henri Riesener, 1783, image © Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Palace of Versailles, interior chambers of the Queen, one of Marie-Antoinette's offices by Jean-Henri Riesener, 1783, image © Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Appointed as master cabinet maker in 1768, Riesener began to supply the royal family (especially Marie Antoinette) with his Neoclassical furniture the following year. He was appointed as the top cabinet maker to the king in 1774 and worked for the court until 1784. He is best known for his commodes, which take the name of "Commodes Louis XVI of Riesener", although his production includes various remarkable creations. As Marie Antoinette's desk on offer testifies, Riesener treated all of his pieces as true works of art, drawing the bronzes and ornaments himself, which because of their masterful quality of execution are almost goldsmith's work. The royal desk has a high estimate of £1 million ($1.26 million).

Pair of Flemish cabinets in marquetry, workshop of Henrick Van Soeast, circa 1713, image © Christie's
Pair of Flemish cabinets in marquetry, workshop of Henrick Van Soeast, circa 1713, image © Christie's

The collection also includes an exceptional pair of Flemish marquetry cabinets, commissioned in Antwerp in 1713 for the second son of the Grand Dauphin and the grandson of King Louis XIV, King Philip V of Spain. These two copies are part of a set of four cabinets commissioned for the Spanish ruler at the workshop of Henrick Van Soeast, one of the most prestigious manufacturers in Flanders, who worked in keeping with the traditions of Dutch marquetry.  The two tortoiseshell cabinets are estimated to fetch between £1.5-2.5 million ($1.9-3.1 million).

Header image: © Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

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