Oeuvre

TWO SMALL MARQUETRY CASKETS


PARIS, circa 1675-1680.
By André-Charles BOULLE.

Ebony, rosewood, wood marquetry, tortoiseshell, brass, copper, pewter and steel hinge

Height: 13.8 cm (5 ½ in.)
Length: 24.8 cm (9 ¾ in.)
Depth: 18.2 cm (7 ¼ in.)

Provenance :
- Sale palais Galliera, Paris, 22 October 1968, lot 89, ill.
- Jean Pétin collection, hôtel Gouffier de Thoix, Paris

Exhibition:
Louis XIV faste et décors, musée des Arts décoratifs, May-October 1960, cat 180, exhibition catalogue, p. 36.

Literature: Literature:
- Pradere (A.), Les ébénistes français de Louis XV à la Révolution, Paris, Editions Le Chêne, 1989.
- Ronfort (Jean Nérée), André Charles Boulle, un nouveau style pour l’Europe, Paris, 2009, p. 66, ill.
- Wilson (Gillian) & al., French furniture and gilt bronzes Baroque and Régence, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2008.

Each rectangular casket with a bulging lid is adorned, inside the top, with wood marquetry representing a bunch of flowers in a vase framed by foliaged scrolls above which is a bird. A shell is behind the vase. The same pouncing pattern was used for each casket. Outside, each casket is decorated with Boulle marquetry against tortoiseshell background for one and ebony background for the other. The lid is topped by a forged steel handle.
The first casket, with tortoiseshell background, is decorated on the lid, at the center of each side, of two faced grotesque masks that extend in foliated scrolls. The spandrels are adorned with stylized fleur-de-lis and a ribbon frieze coiled around an axis frames the whole scene. The brass marquetry is highlighted with pewter. Each side of the casket is adorned with foliated scrolls centered on a keyhole motif framed by two masks.
The second casket, with ebony background, is adorned on the lid, at the center of each side, with Satyr and Maenad masks framed with foliated scrolls that end, at the corners, with stylized fleur-de-lis. A frieze frames the lid. The side is adorned with a mask with bat wings in a palm leaf cartouche topped by the keyhole and surrounded by two eagles and two lions emerging from scrolls. On either side, false keyholes are surrounded by foliated scrolls and lion heads. At the back, the hinges are extended by Boulle marquetry imitating hinges.


These two extraordinary small Boulle marquetry caskets are characteristic of André-Charles Boulle’s production circa 1675-1680. They are the only known of this size. While identical in size and shape, they probably originally did not form a pair but were paired up as a set in the early 20th century. Their exceptional condition including the subtle metal engravings must be noted.

André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) was the son of Johan Bolt called Jean Boulle, cabinetmaker born in the Duchy of Guelders who settled in Paris in 1637. Trained by his father, he was received a master circa 1666. In 1672, he was granted an apartment in the Louvre and circa 1667, the year of his wedding, a workshop in the galleries of the Louvre. In 1685, he added a foundry in his workshop in order to make his own bronzes: it was not legal according to the Parisian guilds statutes but possible within the Royal Enclos. Since 1680, Boulle’s royal commissions were numerous; including in 1682 the commissions for the Cabinet du Dauphin regarded as his most remarkable work. The inlaid work is called Boulle marquetry in reference of André-Charles Boulle who developed this pre-existing technique with fulfillment and excellence. Tortoiseshell, exotic and European woods, together with brass, copper and pewter were enhanced by refined bronzes finely cast and chiseled by him in his workshop. The very complex designs reveal Boulle’s knowledge attested by his large library and his important collection of engravings. His works are a synthesis of French taste.

Each element, design and execution, of the décor of these two caskets reveals Boulle’s creation. The quality of the pattern including, for instance, the foreshortening of the lions and eagles on the front side of the casket with ebony background, the liveliness of the birds framing the vases with a wide variety of wood marquetry flowers inside each casket, the quality of the adjustment of the marquetry, and of the chiseling of the metals show Boulle’s genius.

These two caskets must be dated very early in Boulle’s career and in the reign of Louis XIV, circa 1675-1680. The marquetry with flowers in a vase and birds is characteristic of the beginning of his production. This floral period, which earned him acknowledgment, ended circa 1675. Moreover, he stopped using red copper, which is found in the ornamentation of the present caskets, circa 1685.

Few pieces of furniture of this period are listed. Among them is a larger casket, adorned with bird marquetry on scrolls framed with flowers, housed in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles (fig. 1).



Fig. 1: Casket attributed to André Charles Boulle, circa 1675-1680,
Getty Museum, Los Angeles (84.DA.971)



Moreover, the birds, shells, eagles and lions can also be found on a contemporary cabinet housed in the Getty Museum (Wilson & al., French furniture and gilt bronzes Baroque and Régence, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2008, pp. 22-49, cat. 3) and a second cabinet in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch at Drumlanrig Castle (Ibid., p. 37).

The presence of the lion with the eagle and rooster in these two cabinets is generally read as an allegory of the Treaties of Peace of Nijmegen signed in 1678, which confirms the early dating of these works. Furthermore, a contemporary table (fig. 2) housed in the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco presents ornamentation comparable to the one of the two caskets, including woods, pewter, brass, and red copper against an ebony background.



Fig. 2 : Table, André Charles Boulle, vers 1675-1680,
Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco.


Only one other kind of small caskets is known, including a casket formerly in the Lopez-Willshaw collections and then in Lily and Edmond Safra collections (Fig. 3 – Lily and Edmond J. Safra sale, Sotheby’s New York, vol. II, 3 November 2005, lot 150). It is representative of André-Charles Boulle’s production a decade later, repeating in smaller the celebrated model created for the Grand Dauphin.



Fig. 3: The casket from the former Lopez-Willshaw and Safra collections.