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A gilt-bronze-mounted ivory, polychrome stained horn and mother-of-pearl

  • GBR
  • 2015-07-08
About the object
With a bowed gilt-bronze-banded top centred by a roundel depicting figures hunting rabbits in a landscape flanked by latticework cartouches suspending floral swags with squirrels eating nuts in the manner of Jean Berain and strapwork and scrolling foliage, with a flower-filled vase at each front corner, above two short and two long drawers inlaid with a vase of flowers flanked by scrolling foliage with spirally-twist handles terminating in a foliate cast backplate, the corners mounted with a bearded male mask entwined by a serpent and with bat's wings and scrolls, the sides similarly decorated and inlaid with a geometric cartouche, the whole applied with gilt-bronze trelliswork banding throughout on scrolled foliate cast feet
This sumptuous boulle commode with its exquisitely inlaid top, distinctive gently bowed form, curved corners and intricate boulle marquetry composed of rinceaux and cartouches with engraved tortoiseshell and stained horn is attributable to Nicolas Sageot (1666-1731), due to its striking similarities to other pieces either stamped by or attributable to him. It belongs to a group of boulle commodes which traditionally have always been attributed to another of his contemporaries Noël Gérard. However, the discovery of Sageot's stamp in 1999, on the Clumber Park commode, see post, has resulted in the realisation that he has been responsible for this group of boulle commodes and not Gérard. Furthermore, other factors lead one to this conclusion, including the increased importance of the marchand-merciers in the early years of the 18th century, as Sageot and Gérard were dealers as well as ébénistes, therefore, it is reasonable to assume that they sub-contracted either the whole or part of the production of these commodes to other marqueteurs. The influence of Jean Bérain (1637-1711) cannot be understated and is reflected in the whimsical and fluid designs inlaid over most of the offered lot. Bérain’s work is legendary and he was one of the pivotal figures in the creation of the Louis XIV style. There is a lightness of touch and attention to minute detail in his work which may come from the very start of his career when he produced designs for the metal components on small arms and locks-it demonstrates an understanding of not only the limitations of the engraver but how much these specialist metal workers were capable of achieving through the excellence of design. His printed designs have a theatricality which is perhaps derived from 1674 when he was Architecte Dessinateur de la Chambre et du Cabinet du Roi, as in this role he produced designs for festivals, ballets and other festive diversions. Bérain's work was widely disseminated and on the year of his death in 1711, a collection of his engraved designs was published in Paris, Oeuvre de Jean Bérain, Recueillies par les Soins du Sieur Thuret. Apart from set designs and engraved metal work, his influence can be seen in architecture, works of art, ceramics and tapestries from the Beauvais manufactory.
It is also worthwhile considering the top of a boulle marquetry bureau plat in the Wallace collection, London, illustrated by Hughes, op. cit., p. 793 (no. 169 (F60)) with virtually identical marquetry and a roundel depicting the rabbit hunt scene in reverse to that on the top of this commode, reproduced here in fig. 1. Although a mid 19th century transformation of a boulle marquetry commode circa 1715, the top of the original commode now forms the central part of the top with virtually identical marquetry and a roundel depicting the rabbit hunt scene in reverse to that on the top of this commode. The same author also states that a chest of drawers stamped AG for Aubertin Gaudron (active 1690-1700) had a top of the same design as the central part of the top of the Wallace bureau plat only in première-partie and with the rabbit hunt scene in reverse.
The Nicholas Sageot attribution:
This commode is of a model which Grand, op. cit., cites no fewer than forty examples recorded in contemporary collections. Furthermore, the marqueteur Toussaint Devoye, who was close to Sageot both personally and professionally, was known to have manufactured boulle marquetry panels. This group of commodes have similar marquetry on the front and sides with the variation being in the design of the tops and the gilt-bronze mounts.
As already stated, this group were traditionally attributed to Noel Gérard on the basis of similarities with a palissander commode stamped NG of almost identical design formerly in the collection of Madame Camoin, sold at Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 2nd April 1987, lot 133 and two other marquetry commodes, one sold Sotheby's, Monaco on 25th June 1983, lot 290, the top of which was decorated with a central oval with a bacchanalian scene and the other from the Kotschoubey collection, sold on 13th June 1906, lot 382, which had a marquetry top with a river scene in its central oval and similar marquetry on the drawers to that on this commode.
Furthermore, there is a commode from this group in première-partie boulle marquetry stamped N Sageot which was formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Newcastle at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, with a different marquetry top but with identical corner mounts and feet and decorated with flower-filled urns on the drawer fronts, sold Christie’s, London, 16th December 1999, lot 50 (£287,500). More recently there has been a very similar commode to this example in polychrome horn and tortoiseshell première-partie boulle marquetry by Nicholas Sageot, stamped twice NS sold from the collection of Gregory de Ligne at Harlaxton Manor, lot 8, The Exceptional sale, Christie’s, London, 5th July 2012. It has similar masks on the top and flower-filled baskets, identical marquetry on the sides and drawers and feet mounts, but the decoration of the top varies as do the rest of the mounts.
Comparable boulle marquetry commodes:
-A commode in tortoiseshell and brass contre-partie boulle marquetry then attributed to Gerard, though almost certainly by Sageot, in view of recent research, from the collection of the Earl of Elgin and 15th Earl of Kincardine, K.T., sold Sotheby's, London 13th June 2001, lot 253 (£270,000). It had a virtually identical design on the top with a hunting scene with a hound and rabbits and drawers and virtually identical handles and escutcheons but different corner mounts and banding.
-A commode in tortoiseshell and brass contre-partie boulle marquetry attributed to Sageot sold in these Rooms, Treasures A Princely Taste, 4th July 2012, lot 17 (£180,000). The design of the marquetry on the top and sides and the design of the mounts differs to that upon this commode but the marquetry on the drawer fronts is virtually identical.
-A commode inlaid with mother of pearl, stained horn and tortoiseshell contre-partie boulle marquetry then attributed to Noel Gérard, with identical corner and feet mounts, similar marquetry on the drawer fronts, although with an associated marble top, sold in these Rooms, 11th December 2002, lot 33.
-A virtually identical commode apart from the design of the top in stained horn and contre-partie boulle marquetry attributed to Sageot offered for sale from The Greenberg Collection–Important French Furniture, Sotheby's, New York, 21st May 2004, lot 27, with similar marquetry on the drawer fronts, identical gilt-bronze corner, feet and handle mounts and borders.
-A commode although unattributed must almost certainly also be by Sageot, in stained horn and contre-partie boulle marquetry with four drawers and similar marquetry on the drawers and a different marquetry top, with identical corner mounts  but different feet and escutcheon mounts, sold from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Howard B. Keck, La Lanterne, Bel Air, California, Sotheby's, New York, 5th-6th December 1991, lot 245(374,000).
-The `Pigot commode' although unattributed must almost certainly be by Sageot, in stained horn and première-partie boulle marquetry as it is virtually identical with identical mounts, gilt-bronze trelliswork banding, marquetry on the drawer fronts and sides, however, it had a marble top, sold in these Rooms, from Stokesey Court, Shropshire, 28th September 1994, lot 154.
-A commode in stained horn and tortoiseshell contre-partie boulle marquetry attributed to Sageot, formerly in the Thyssen-Bornemiza Collection with a variation in the design of the top, similar marquetry on the drawers and decoration on the sides, gilt-bronze-banding and feet, sold Christie’s, London, 14th December 2000, lot 320.
-A commode in contre-partie marquetry, although unattributed, from the Collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, previously in the collection of the duchesse de Talleyrand, Palais Rose sold Sotheby's, Monaco, 15th June 1981, lot 149 and again sold Sotheby’s New York, 21st May 1992, lot 69. It had a marquetry top and two short and two long drawers with almost identical marquetry on the drawers.
-A commode although unattributed, in stained horn and tortoiseshell première-partie boulle marquetry depicting Pallas Athena on the top, with identical corner and feet mounts and marquetry on the drawers, sold from the collection of Monsieur X, Sotheby's, Monaco, 24th June 1984, lot 3053.
The Dubois stamp:
This could be of either Jacques Dubois or his son René Dubois.
Although this commode is not stamped by Sageot, it is stamped I. DUBOIS and this could be the stamp of either Jacques or René Dubois, who will have stamped this piece as a restorer and retailer. René was the younger son of Jacques Dubois and René inherited his father’s business which was extremely successful and also used his father’s stamp I. DUBOIS. He is also known to have specialised in the restoration of Boulle marquetry and his stamp is recorded on a number of Boulle pieces: a pair of cupboards at Waddesdon Manor, Hertfordshire and a console table in the Wallace Collection, London.
Jacques Dubois(1694-1763), received Master 1742 and René Dubois (1737-1799), received Master 1755.
Nicolas Sageot (1666-1731) received Master 1706:
He appears to have become active around 1690 and is first recorded as working in Grande rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine in 1698, where before being accepted by the cabinet-makers guild he had worked as an ouvrier libre. He married, in 1711, Marie Brigitte Roussel, the daughter of the ébéniste Jacques Roussel and his workshop appeared to prosper until around 1720 when he stopped working and sold his stock. His production seems to have principally consisted of important armoires, commodes and bureaux. He entered into a commercial arrangement with Léonard Prieur,`Marchand Mercier Grossier joaillier Priviligié suivant la Cour', 26th July 1720. As a result of this he sold furniture and various materials to him for 16000 livres; the armoires, priced from 400 to 1000 livres were the most expensive pieces (see Grand op. cit.,). Upon the death of his wife, in 1729, the inventory of their workshop records an important stock of brass and tortoiseshell. Other marqueteurs working for Sageot included Toussaint Devoye, a friend of Sageot's and the two men also had a business relationship. Toussaint probably supplied Sageot with marquetry but also supplied another cabinet-maker, Pierre Moulin, who was also connected with Sageot. Moulin had purchased part of Sageot's inventory in 1720, consisting of a stock of wood when Sageot retired. Moulin was in partnership in this transaction with his brother-in-law Claude-François Mainguet. Moulin had seven workshops at the time of his death and had enjoyed a thriving business specialising in brass and tortoiseshell marquetry and his success stemmed in part from his connection to Noël Gérard, his brother-in-law, whose work is similar in some respects to that of Sageot.

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* Note that the price doesn’t correlate with today’s value, but only relates to the actual end price at the time of the purchase.