A Louis XV Black Lacquer and Ormolu Commode with a Pair of Encoignures en suite

attributed to Mathieu Criaerd, circa 1745

Commode: Encoignures:
Height: 35 in. (88.5 cm) Height: 38 in. (97 cm)
Width: 64 in. (162.5 cm) Width: 29.5 in. (74.5 cm)
Depth: 29 in. (73 cm) Depth: 22 in. (56 cm)

Provenance: possibly supplied to the Maréchal de Saxe, Château du Piple, Boissy-St.-Leger, France; the château acquired by Jean-Conrad Hottinguer in 1819, thence by descent to Baron Hottinguer.

Mathieu Criaerd (c.1689-1776), maître 1738

The commode of bombé outline with serpentine moulded brèche d’Alep marble top above two drawers sans traverse decorated with French lacquer in the Chinese taste with gold and silver flowers and foliage on a black ground, richly ornamented with a full encadrement including central ormolu cartouche on the front and ormolu chutes and sabots; the encoignures also with brèche d’Alep marble tops and ormolu mounts, the single doors opening to reveal two internal shelves and with similar lacquer decoration of flowers and foliage, flanked by dragons on the uprights.

Although commodes and encoignures were often supplied en suite during the eighteenth century, it is extremely rare for complete ensembles to survive together. The attribution is based on the commode’s similarity to a group of commodes in Oriental and European lacquer stamped by Criaerd, one of the leading Parisian ébénistes of the Louis XV period, including one formerly in the Grog-Carven collection, now in the Louvre. All of these examples have the same ‘fiddle-shaped’ central gilt-bronze cartouche, apparently a characteristic element of Criaerd’s work. The use of almost exclusively floral and foliate vernis martin decoration is extremely unusual, as is the palette of silver as well as gold lacquer. The closest surviving comparable decoration is found on an unstamped commode in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris, that employs similar floral motifs, although they are entirely in gold and on a scarlet rather than a black ground. This piece has been dated to 1740-50, and it has been suggested it may be by Jacques Dubois (1694-1763), another prominent Louis XV ébéniste known for producing quality furniture in lacquer. It is likely that the lacquer decoration was subcontracted to specialist artisans who would normally work for a number of different cabinetmakers, often through the marchands merciers who co-ordinated the commissioning and manufacturing of luxury goods in 18th- century Paris.

The upper drawer of the commode bears the ink inscription Le Piple in an eighteenth or early nineteenth-century hand. The Château du Piple, built in 1718 near Boissy St. Leger southeast of Paris, was re-built and extended in the 1740’s by Maurice Hermann, Maréchal de Saxe (1696-1750), the natural son of King Augustus II of Poland and hero of the Battle of Fontenoy during the War of Austrian Succession. Apart from his distinguished military career, the Maréchal de Saxe was also renowned for his liaisons with the leading beauties of the day and his friendship with Madame de Pompadour, who at the time lived in the nearby Château de Choisy. After his death the property passed through the hands of several illustrious owners, including the naval commander and Governor of Ile de France Comte, François de la Bourdonnais, and Schulmeister de Meynau, the notorious spy and police chief during the Napoleonic era. In 1819 the château was acquired by the Swiss banker Jean-Conrad Hottinguer and was until recently in the possession of his descendant the Baron Hottinguer, the previous owner of the present commode and encoignures.

As the pieces are known not to have been acquired by the Baron during his lifetime, they must have been in the château during the 19th century. As the Louis XV taste did not come back into fashion until the later Louis-Philippe and Second Empire periods, it is unlikely that the commode and encoignures would have been purchased by Jean-Conrad Hottinguer or his son Henri in the first half of the 1800s, when aspiring collectors tended to furnish their houses in a contemporary taste. In view of this and the old inscription on the drawer lining, it is highly probable that the suite was already in the château during the 18th century, at a time when it was not unusual for houses to be sold with their contents included. Since the commode and encoignures are stylistically dateable to the 1740s, it is quite probable that the set was supplied directly to the Maréchal de Saxe at the Château du Piple during the refurbishment of the late 1740’s.