The Wallace Collection

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Pair of Tables, French, c. 1705
F425
F425
Treasure of the Month - February 2011

Pair of Tables, French, c. 1705

These tables (F424-5), probably made in the first years of the eighteenth century, are attributed to André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732), the great artist amongst furniture-makers.  Boulle gave his name to the technique of inlaid brass and turtleshell which can be seen not only in magnificent pictorial detail on the tops, but covering all the remaining visible surfaces of the tables, skilfully laid over shapely legs and curved corners. A drawing exists of this form of table, attributed to Boulle, and the shape is also included in a set of prints of his furniture designs published in his lifetime.  More than two dozen other tables of this type are known, some now sadly missing their marquetry tops.  The two designs are drawn from different print sources, and were not necessarily conceived as a pair, though it is known that they were bought and sold as pairs, sometimes with two of the same design, sometimes with one of each design.

Elements of the designs are taken from engravings published in the sixteenth century.  Boulle was an inveterate collector of prints and drawings and possessed an amazing collection, partly recorded in the inventory of the contents of his workshops in the Louvre (where artisans protected by the Crown were given lodgings), made after his death in 1732.  The inventory includes over 400 lots of prints and drawings, but we know that more of Boulle’s collections had been destroyed earlier, in a disastrous fire in 1720.

This type of table may be related to the smaller tables supplied to the château de la Ménagerie by Boulle in 1701.  The château was renovated by Louis XIV (1638-1715) for his beloved great-niece and future wife to his grandson and mother of Louis XV (1710-74), the duchesse de Bourgogne (1685-1712), when she was only a teenager. A delightful fantasy, the diminutive château in the park at Versailles was surrounded by exotic animals in various enclosures.  The decoration was meticulously planned by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1646-1708) and included furniture on a reduced scale, including seven tables by Boulle. The decoration of monkeys, birds and foliate motifs would have harmonised perfectly with the ceilings painted by Claude III Audran (1658-1734) and the portraits of animals which lined the walls.

Gallery Talks

Mia Jackson will talk more about the tables on Monday 7 and 21 February at 1pm.

Further Reading

  • Hughes, Peter The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Furniture, volume II, Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London, 1996. pp. 752-761

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2011. Text by Mia Jackson.