18th Century Furniture
Chronology : 18th Century 1720-1729 1740-1749 1750-1759 1760-1769 1770-1779 1780-1789 1790-1799
1700 The Art of Collecting Shells or Medals
2012 SOLD 2.85 M€ including premium (auction was declared fraudulent in 2014)
The classical tall armoire was not appropriate. Boulle, always inclined to create furniture adapted to practical needs, develops around 1700 a model of low cabinets with many thin drawers.
The collection hobby is the prerogative of an elite of rich courtiers. Made in pairs and inlaid in partie and contre-partie, these small pieces of furniture are among the most lavishly decorated works of the master.
One of these pairs, 102 cm high, is estimated € 1.5 M, for sale on September 26 in Paris by Europ Auction. It is dated from Louis XIV reign without further accuracy.
Each cabinet has twelve drawers in three columns, each column being hidden behind a panel. The panel on front side opens in a luxurious surrounding of bronzes. It is decorated with a vase of flowers in inlaid copper, tin and tortoiseshell. The other two panels, one on each lateral side of the cabinet, are decorated with simulated drawers, a very nice proof of the humor of their creator.
This shape of furniture has been successful throughout the eighteenth century, especially with Etienne Levasseur who was the best successor to the Boulle family. A pair of cabinets stamped by Levasseur circa 1785 was sold CHF 1.5 million including premium by the same auction house on June 23, 2010 in Geneva.
POST SALE COMMENT
The authentic cabinets made by Boulle rightly raise some excitement. This pair was sold € 2.2 million before fees, 2.85 million including premium.
This sale was declared fraudulent by the Conseil des Ventes.
Reported by LexTimes.
1720s The Bureau of Six Pieds
2014 SOLD for CHF 3M including premium
The earliest record concerning a flat desk is made in 1713 in the inventory of a merchant, showing that the come back of luxury in France did not wait for the Régence.
André-Charles Boulle began his career half a century earlier and is the most notable furniture designer of his time. At the time of the Régence, he acts as an entrepreneur, seconded by his four sons and employing many workers. His workshops are in the Louvre.
Boulle standardizes his production of bureaux plats in two sizes, 5 pieds and 6 pieds long. Some exceptional pieces are larger, such as the desk of 6 pieds 8 pouces sold for £ 2.9 million including premium by Christie's on December 14, 2005.
Boulle workshops at the Louvre burned in 1720, possibly by arson. The inventory provides interesting information about the activity. The extraordinary art collection assembled by Boulle was also destroyed.
The waiting pieces were quite numerous, suggesting that the elements were prepared in advance before final assembly and decoration to customer requirements, enabling to reduce the time between order and delivery. It also appears that the most common model was the 6 pieds with a top of 6 x 3 pieds, 195 x 98 cm.
Restarted after the fire, the production of these models by Boulle ceased around 1725.
On September 18 in Zurich, Koller sells a bureau plat of six pieds attributed to Boulle, richly decorated in première-partie (dark background) and embellished with false drawers in the back. The faces are centered with masks, Satyr in the front and Democritus in the rear. It is estimated CHF 1.5M, lot 1078 shared on Invaluable.
Note that this standardization of dimensions was not limited to Boulle. A bureau Régence attributed to Gérard discussed in this column in 2011 had the same size for the top and also for its height at 2 pieds 6 pouces.
I used the old French units, but they were little different from the English values, foot and inch.
1726-1732 The Badminton cabinet
2004 SOLD 19 M£ including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
In 1726 the 3rd Duke of Beaufort, aged 19, makes his tour of Italy. He is extremely rich and desires to build an art collection. His stay in Florence was very short. It seems likely that a pre-existing project for a monumental piece of furniture was offered to him. He orders this piece, of which he has followed the make by his agents.
The piece of furniture is delivered to him in 1732. It will be known as the Badminton cabinet from the residence where the 3rd Duke installed it and where it stayed until 1990.
It was sold twice by Christie's : on July 5, 1990 for £ 8.6M including premium and on December 9, 2004 for £ 19M including premium, lot 260 (not illustrated online). It was acquired at this latter sale by Prince Hans Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein to become the central piece in the collection of pietra dura works in his private museum.
The Badminton cabinet is a piece of furniture with four superimposed ebony segments over eight pilasters, for a total height of 386 cm including the Beaufort coat of arms in finial. It is 232 cm wide and 94 cm deep.
The assembly of this piece is a tour de force of joinery. It is sumptuously decorated on front and lateral sides in pietra dura and semi-precious stones with floral themes including birds. The upper segment consists of a clock whose dial is later. The allegories of the four seasons in gilt bronze surround the clock.
#ThrowbackThursday The Badminton Cabinet was sold in July 1990 in London. Commissioned in 1726 by Henry Somerset, 3rd Duke of Beaufort, it took 6 years to make & was regarded as the greatest Florentine cabinet of its time. It is on display at the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna. pic.twitter.com/fTdEaJAm4e— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) April 16, 2020
Qing - The Lacquer Throne
2019 SOLD for £ 6.1M including premium
On May 14 in London, Christie's sells a wide lacquered armchair, lot 60 estimated £ 800K. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
This large piece of furniture is very finely chiseled on all its surfaces except of course on the seat proper, with a depth of lacquer that required 100 to 150 layers. In an extreme refinement, three colors were used, a classic cinnabar red for the surface and ochre and green in under-layers revealed by the carving.
With its opulence and dimensions, 111 cm high, 115 cm wide and 86 cm deep, this chair is an imperial throne. Its figures include nine five-clawed imperial dragons who pursue the flaming pearl in the clouds. The back side adds other auspices including bats and a pair of fish.
This type of throne was executed during the Qing dynasty, mainly during the reign of Qianlong. The imperial archives record during the ninth year of the reign, 1744 CE, the commission of a lacquered dragon throne which was attributed to a small palace used as an intimate theater lodge in the imperial city. This information does not allow an identification with the piece to be sold but it shows that these fragile furnitures were not ceremonial thrones.
The catalog of the next sale quotes in reference a similar Qing throne, probably earlier. Its lacquer consisted of red, black and green layers on a brown background and contained gold inclusions. This lot was sold for HK $ 13.8M including premium by Christie's on May 29, 2007.
1745 Secretary Bookcase made in Newport by Christopher Townsend
1999 SOLD for $ 8.25M before fees by Sotheby's
1750 Queen Anne walnut stool made in Philadelphia
2008 SOLD for $ 5.2M including premium by Sotheby's
1750 Lacquer Commodes by Bernard
2011 SOLD 3.45 M$ including premium
Most of the Parisian furniture remained anonymous until 1743,the year when the stamp was made mandatory. The rival master therefore signed his works with the letters BVRB.
It was the time when the marchands-merciers dictated the law of taste in furnishings. They had started the fashion of decorating furniture with those lavish black lacquer panels decorated with scenes from the Far East that they imported from China and Japan. The luxurious decoration of gilded bronzes kept up the lacquered panel.
BVRB was one of the first to bend the lacquer panels to fit the curved shape of Louis XV commodes. The sumptuous commode illustrated in the press release shared by Artdaily is attributed to him. Estimated $ 3M, it is one of the star lots in the Safra collection, for sale by Sotheby's in New York from October 18 to 21.
Its design is similar as for the specimen stamped BVRB sold 15.4 MF by Christie's in Monaco on June 19, 1999, made in the 1750s for Machault d'Arnouville. It is certainly later than the royal commode, also signed, delivered to Fontainebleau in 1737.
Feeling the need to give a name to BVRB, furniture connoisseurs named him Bernard until his full identity is demonstrated in 1957: Bernard (II) Van Risamburgh (or Van Risen Burgh), received master circa 1735.
Note that the presence of a mark is not enough to date a piece of furniture after 1743, because some earlier pieces were returned to the shop to be repaired or modified. On the opposite, the lack of a stamp mark is suggesting a date before 1743.
The date suggested by the catalogue for this piece of furniture is circa 1750.
POST SALE COMMENT
It was one of the top lots in the sale of the Safra collection. It was sold $ 3.45 million including premium.
1755-1760 By Thomas Chippendale himself, and by Robert Adam
2008 SOLD 2.7 M£ including premium
Interior architect and decorator, specialist of cabinet furnitures in the style named English Rococo or Neoclassical, Chippendale had also the idea, very innovative for his time, to produce drawings of his works and to publish them as a book that served him as a catalogue (1754).
On June 18 in London, Christie's presents a unique group of English furniture. The sale which includes no more than twelve lots including five by Chippendale will date in the auction history of English furniture.
The most important piece is a cabinet, named the Kenure Cabinet, estimated £ 2.5 million, with a fine shape but also some details well resembling the style you see in the figure above, and which is directly inspired by the vogue of the eighteenth century to China.
A mahogany bookcase by Chippendale is estimated £ 1.5 million.
Thomas Chippendale cooperated also with the Scottish interior designer Robert Adam. Made by Chippendale on a drawing by Adam, a pair of seats is expected at £ 1.5 million.
Much lower in price (250 K £) let us mention a very striking pair of large armchairs designed by Adam and manufactured by James Lawson resembling the benches used by the ancient Romans for feasts.
POST SALE COMMENT
At this height of prices, making estimates should not be easy. Christie's has shown once again its know-how, since the estimates were closely met.
Only the pair of Chippendale armchairs after Adam is a little beyond what was expected: £ 2.3 million fees included.
The cabinet was sold £ 2.7 million, the bookcase £ 2.05 million, and the armchairs of antique inspiration K £ 265. (all results include fees).
Find the real price range when you read the estimates in a catalogue is a sign of competence that we would like seeing in some other auction houses, especially in continental Europe.
1756 A Masterpiece of John Townsend
2012 SOLD 3.6 M$ including premium
The high chest of drawers (or highboy) for sale on January 21 in New York by Sotheby's is signed by John Townsend, located in Newport (Rhode Island) and dated 1756. This craftsman who was to become the most renowned cabinetmaker of Newport was then 23 years old, and this piece is one of the first pieces of furniture signed by him.
It is a mahogany chest of Queen Anne style, similar to examples made in Philadelphia at the same time. Measuring 2.25 x 1.02 x 0.54 m, it has carved higher and lower rails and high claw feet enclosing balls.
It remained in its original condition and has always belonged to the same family. Such qualities are always in high demand by the market, and it is estimated $ 2M. Here is the link to the catalog.
Chance of auctions: the craft of John Townsend is represented by several outstanding lots in the Americana sales of current month, including a diminutive block and shell cabinet at Christie's which has also been the subject of an article in this group.
POST SALE COMMENT
The Americana sales of current week were dominated by two pieces of furniture by John Townsend, both discussed in this group, one at Christie's and the other at Sotheby's. They were of similar quality and fetched comparable prices.
The highboy presented by Sotheby's and subject of this article was sold for $ 3.6 million including premium.
1757 The Pompadour Style
2012 SOLD 3.2 M£ including premium
Louis XV likes to have fun, especially if it contradicts the étiquette. In 1745, his new mistress is young and pretty. She was not born in the aristocracy, and the king once again shocked the courtiers in naming her Marquise de Pompadour.
Irregular husband and lover, the king had gone to further female conquests, but the vast cultural intelligence of Pompadour still makes her the best referee of the great French style. The hôtel d'Evreux, offered by Louis to the Marquise in 1754 and which was to become much later the palais de l'Elysée, is furnished in a splendour that can well compete with Versailles.
The Parisian craft is fabulously encouraged. After a tumultuous career, Cressent closes his business in 1756. His best successor to the court, who signs BVRB, is a discreet man whose biographical details are largely unknown.
On December 6 in London, Christie's sells a secrétaire à abattant stamped by BVRB. This piece 1.30 m high is not a single model, but only two examples are known with Japanese lacquer, the supreme refinement of the time, and only this one is complete.
Christie's states that it is almost certainly the piece of furniture sold to Pompadour on February 19, 1757 by the important marchand-mercier Lazare Duvaux, and the catalog tells that it would be the most expensive supply made by Duvaux to the Marquise.
This secrétaire has all the qualities of a masterpiece and formerly belonged to the prestigious Riahi collection. It is estimated £ 3M. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
This very elegant piece of furniture did not exceed its lower estimate. It was sold £ 3.2M including premium.
1760-1770 block and shell bookcase desk attributed to John Goddard in Newport
1989 SOLD 12.1 M$ by Christie's
1763 Bureau plat by Joseph with Sèvres porcelain plaques
2005 SOLD 6.9 M€ including premium by Artcurial
<1765 Block and Shell in Newport
2012 SOLD 3.45 M$ including premium
The maritime business was conducive to the delivery of mahogany, and Newport was a major center of furniture manufacturing. Two families of cabinet makers linked by marriages, Goddard and Townsend, dominated this industry throughout the eighteenth century.
It was indeed at Newport that the block-and-shell style was developed : a storage cabinet inspired by the Chippendale style. The square front is divided into three sections: a central part and two stacks of square drawers, the Blocks. Each section is decorated with a carved Shell in its upper part.
On January 20 in New York, Christie's sells a cabinet of small size, 70 x 65 x 33 cm. Made in mahogany between 1755 and 1765, it is one of the earliest examples of block and shell and one of very few to have been signed by John Townsend. Here is the link to the catalog.
Note that some similar furniture that reached high prices at auction were not much larger. The Slocum chest of drawers, made by John Townsend in 1792 and sold $ 4.7 million including premium by Christie's on 18 June 1998, measures 86 x 91 cm. A desk table made by John Goddard in 1765, 80 x 90 cm, was sold $ 5.7 million including premium at Christie's on January 21, 2011.
Go back a little further in the history of auctions. The bookcase desk sold $ 12.1 million at Christie's in 1989 was a six shell model made circa 1765 attributed to John Goddard.
POST SALE COMMENT
This beautiful small piece of furniture had all the qualities to approach the price of similar works cited in my article. It was sold $ 3.45 million including premium.
Qianlong - A Masterpiece of Chinese Furniture
2013 SOLD 93 M RMB yuan including premium
On June 4 in Beijing, Poly International Auction sells an exceptional pair of zitan cabinets of Qianlong period whose achievement was a real technical feat.
3.25 m high, these cabinets are among the tallest known zitan furniture, although another one 4.40 m high is preserved in Beijing. Its depth of 74 cm is also exceptional. The conception of these cabinets included slits in the boards of doors and sides to relieve the pressure.
There is no evidence that the origin of this pair of furniture is imperial, but they are finely carved in high relief with patterns of dragons and lotus.
The estimate is not announced, but this lot is undoubtedly a masterpiece of Chinese furniture.
POST SALE COMMENT
There was no doubt that this pair of cabinets of large size and plenty carving is a masterpiece of Chinese furniture, and even of international furniture. It was sold for RMB yuan 93M including premium, corresponding to U.S. $ 15M.
Qianlong - The Zitan Throne
2009 SOLD 86 MHK$ including premium
The emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties enjoyed a rare wood, the zitan (tzu-t'an in the old spelling), which allowed a very fine carving. The throne for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 8 is a wide seat (1.40 m) with motifs of the usual symbol of the Chinese Empire, the Dragon. It dates from the Qianlong period and is estimated 20 MHK$, lot 1645.
This wooden throne, although rare and prestigious, will not compare with the throne that adorned the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Also decorated with dragons, it was made of white marble and jade.
POST SALE COMMENT
Imperial Chinese pieces get a huge prestige at auction. There are a score of recent examples. But no furniture is more prestigious than a throne: the result, 86 MHK$ including premium, is remarkable.
Here is this exceptional lot, shared after the sale by Art Market Monitor.
1770 Commode attributed to Thomas Chippendale
2010 SOLD for £ 3.8M including premium by Sotheby's
1778 Royal commode by Jean-Henri Riesener for Louis XVI
1999 SOLD 7 M£ including premium by Christie's
1786 Pietra-dura Commode stamped by (widow) Carlin and Weisweiler
1999 SOLD for FF 46M including premium by Christie's
1795 A Triumph for Louis XVI ... in 1882 !
2011 SOLD 6.9 M$ including premium
The 12th Duke of Hamilton was not an art lover, and he had a urgent need for money. The sale of his collection in 2213 lots at Christie's in London was an event that experts still quote.
The portrait of Philip IV by Velazquez, acquired by the British government for 6000 guineas, was however not the highest result of the sale.
Indeed, a Louis XVI commode and secretaireI had been sold separately, and to two different clients, for a price quoted as "enormous,never before given for a piece of furniture" in the article, of 9450 pounds each. Mounted in gilt bronze by Gouthière, these two ebony furniture lacquered in black and gold are bearing the monogram of Marie-Antoinette.
The sale of the Safra collection will last four days, from October 18 to 21, at Sotheby's in New York. A pair of furniture is for sale in one lot estimated $ 5M.
This commode and its secrétaire en suite had been included in the Hamilton sale. Like the two royal furniture discussed above, they are from Louis XVI time, mounted in bronze and lacquered. They are attributed to Adam Weisweiler.
Here is the link to the lot in the catalogue.
POST SALE COMMENT
French furniture has become difficult to sell, except, of course, those of the highest quality. This set of two pieces was sold $ 6.9 million including premium.
The estimated date given in the catalog is circa 1795, after the death of Louis XVI. It is possible that this set was intended to Tsar Paul I, but it has not been been delivered to him.