A Régence ormolu-mounted amaranth bureau plat stamped by Noël Gérard. The rectangular top inset with red leather and with moulded border, above three frieze drawers on espagnolette, headed cabriole legs with foliate scrolled sabots. Early 18th century piece of furniture.
Unpublished furniture for the time and luxury furniture, by excellence, flat desks or bureau of this format are, most often, order furniture. Only three or four renowned Parisian cabinetmakers were able to make this type of furniture in the 1720s. André-Charles Boulle would be the true forerunner of the flat desk in terms of his drawings and plates. This piece of furniture follows a slow evolution, of about fifteen years, from the eight-foot Mazarin desk with spacers, to its successor, bigger and a little higher, without spacers, to our model, which is lightened by the presence of only four feet. André-Charles Boulle and Charles Cressent, both sculptor-founders, left a major imprint on the bronze ornaments. The falls from our bureau, decorated with a woman's head, are a variant of the satyr heads innovated by Boulle and the Indian head falls created by Cressent often appearing on their desks. Noël Gérard is a contemporary cabinetmaker of the two previous masters, certainly less known, but who also left us masterpieces. The allegorical motifs decorating our desk and appearing astronomy, are very often used by Noël Gérard. Falls with the head of a woman close to ours are also known on other offices of Noël Gérard. Another cabinetmaker named Lieutaud is also worth mentioning, because he often used the superb acanthus-leaved clogs, which we also find in Noël Gérard's production. Lieutaud also adorned chests of drawers and desks with female head corner trims. In the history of furniture, the unique amaranth veneer corresponds to a very short period in the production of Parisian furniture. The duration of this use is estimated at about 5 years around 1720.
The resinous wood frame (species used for our desk) is characteristic of the cabinet making of the Parisian cabinetmakers during the Regence, a habit of construction inherited from the Louis XIV period. A few years later the frames were made of oak. The use of walnut for the construction of the drawers of our desk testifies, on the one hand, of a very Parisian work and, on the other hand, of a very neat work corresponding to a piece of furniture of order. On ordinary desks, the drawers are either oak or grey poplar. We can add that the walnut of our bureau is very characteristic, it is early period: with the shortage of walnut following the great frost of the year 1709, the walnut will be replaced by oak, in the following years.
Stamped by Noël Gérard (before 1690 - 1736), active cabinet maker aroud 1710-1736. Probably born before 1690, Noël Gérard was the son of Nicolas Gérard and Marguerite Montigny, sister of Claude Montigny and was born before 1690. On Nicolas Gérard's death, his widow married Louis Dubois, by whom in 1694, she had a son, Jacques Dubois, the renowned ébéniste, who was thus Noël Gérard's half-brother. The latter was apprenticed in 1701 to François Clabaux, at the houses Au nom de Jésus and A la levrette, rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. He married Marie Colin on 14 December 1710, the widow of a - menuisier en ébène - by the name of Jean Chrétien. Noël Gérard became both an ébéniste and a dealer. H. Vial records him as being established in 1719 in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine at the sign of the Cabinet d'Allemagne. In the same year he promised the Abbé Le Camus a - bureau de travail - with cabriole legs. His business prospered and soon he moved into the sumptuous hôtel of the financier Jabach situated at the corner of the rue Saint-Martin in the quarter for finance and luxury goods. Besides his activities as a cabinet maker he had become one of the most important marchands-merciers in Paris. His clientèle included not only the ex-King of Poland, Stanislas Leszczynski (who bought tapestries from him), but also a prince of the blood such as the Comte de Clermont (who owed him 139,672 Livres in 1734) or the Président à mortier of the Parlement de Paris, Gabriel Bernard des Rieux (who owed him 4,800 livres in 1735) and Molé (1,110 livres). Other clients of his were the Comte de Watteville, the Chevalier d'Erlac, colonel of the Swiss Guards, the fermier général Le Riche de la Popelinière, the Duc de Bauffremont, the Prince de Carignan, M. Lenormand, advocate to the Parlement, the Comte de Gomecourt, and MM. Gaultier, Lollin, Gabriel, Guiral de Beaulieu and de Blanchefort. Foreign ambassadors also bought furnishings from Gérard, including the ambassador of Spain, the Marquis de Castellas who owed him 108,000 livres as well as his secretary Don Ferdinand de Trevigno who owed him for more than 4,000 livres worth of furniture. The English ambassador Lord Waldegrave bought furniture to the value of 2,200 livres at his shop in 1733.
It is also recorded that Noël Gérard commissioned other cabinet makers to provide him with his carcases. In 1713 he had a dispute with Charles Bernouville over two defective bookcases, and another in 1721 with Jacques Dieufait who provided him with commode carcases for 7 livres 8 sols each. Gérard died in mid-career in the spring of 1736. The inventory taken at the former hôtel of financier Jabach on 17 August 1736 lists a considerable stock of all branches of the furnishing trade. The interminable inventory describes in turn the shop of an ébéniste, tapissier, antique-dealer, ironmonger, picture-dealer, and dealer in arms, mirrors and lighting. Added to this he was a timber merchant: the inventory concludes with a list of stocks of wood which he stored on the quai de la Rapée (nearly 7,000 planks). The total assets were valued at 565,000 livres.
In the workshop there were seven work-benches fitted out with their tools as well as large stocks of exotic woods, proof that Gérard maintained his original craft of ébéniste. The list of these woods gives an interesting indication of their respective values at the time. Of the furniture, apart from 80 clocks, there were more than 150 pieces in various states of completion. Clocks therefore represented a third of the workshop's total production. Among the cabinet pieces, commodes were most numerous: there were 38 examples listed, estimated at around 100 livres each, of which 16 were - commodes en tombeaux - and seven - à la Régence. Of the woods used for commodes, palisander was the most common (13) followed by bois de Cayenne (seven) and kingwood (six). The commode in Gérard's bedchamber was described as - in ebonized wood with brass stringing. Apart from the commodes, the workshop mainly produced bureaux plats (23 are listed in ebonized wood, in kingwood and in amaranth) as well as encoignures (14 examples, of which six were in amaranth, two in palisander and two in bois de Cayenne). Several of the encoignures were tall - with two small doors at the base and two further doors above -, sometimes with a central drawer or an open recess with marble top. The prices varied between 24 livres for a pair of low encoignures and 300 livres for a pair of - tall examples in amaranth -. Various games-tables are listed (trictrac in amaranth or a quadrille-table), but this was obviously not an important part of Gérard's production. No pieces in lacquer are mentioned, but there were a quantity of - cabarets - or - cabaret trays in japanned wood - or - bois des Indes -. The inventory also lists 11 secrétaires, a then fashionable piece of furniture, as well as eight serre-papiers and the same number of armoires. There were 13 bookcases, some tall, others of breast height, of which four were with marquetry on a tortoiseshell ground, three in ebonized wood and two in amaranth.
The pieces of furniture with the highest values in the inventory were:
N°. 155 - Two large armoires with tortoiseshell marquetry with two large doors at the front and two small doors on either side, all decorated with gilt-bronze figures, priced at 4,000 L.
One of these armoires later belonged to the minister Machault d'Arnouville and came to light recently (sale Christies' Monaco, 18 June 1989, lot 212). The longstanding attribution of this piece to Boulle cannot be sustained; it must be the work of one of his followers, perhaps Poitou or Cressent. Other items in Gérard's inventory are more reminiscent of Boulle, such as two chandeliers of a well-known Boulle type:
N° 250 - An 8-branch chandelier representing Fame in gilt-bronze, priced at 450 L.
N° 286 - As above.
Besides these chandeliers, Gérard offered sumptuous gilt-bronze or rock-crystal chandeliers to his clientèle at very high prices (altogether a dozen chandeliers priced between 400 and 6,000 livres) as well as mounted porcelain and busts in marble. He also had a huge assortment of artefacts in bronze: 41 pairs of wall lights are listed, mostly - with two branches in gilt-bronze -. Forty-two pairs of chenets are mentioned, some of which can be recognized. These models are described as being in the form of a salamander, a goat, horses; children and goats; the wolf and the boar, the fable of the fox and the stork; the hunt, an eagle, dragons, a trophy, rocailles with a lion's head; dolphins and farmyard. The shop also stocked candelabra in gilt-or silvered-bronze of which there were twenty pairs and three pairs of girandoles.
Gérard stocked not only a number of - mounts for commodes - in - black (i.e. ungilded) bronze -, but also quantities of bronze decorations and models, which are listed at the end of the inventory: 600 livres weight of bronze off-cuts, priced at 540 L; 400 livres weight of lead and broken models, 60 L; 200 livres weight of cast bronze, priced at 80L. It is probable that he was not infringing the guild rules in having bronzes chased in his own workshop for his own furniture. The inventory actually mentions: a list of goods drawn up by Olivier de Rouvray and Louis Regnard, both master ciseleurs in Paris, rue des Arcis, whereby they would have admitted having in their possession all the rough casts of chenets, clocks, bases for girandoles and others, all belonging to sieur Gérard, which they had contracted to finish and chase as well as possible, for the price mentioned in the above documents. The inventory describes a real upholsterer's stock. Entire sets of Brussels tapestries were offered for sale as well as suites of furniture: more than 100 chairs in gilt wood or walnut covered in damask or needlework and nearly 40 console tables in gilt wood with marble tops.
We believe it is possible to attribute to Noël Gérard a number of pieces stamped 'N.G.' and which date to the period 1720 to 1730. These pieces in ebony, palisander ou amaranth are in a very particular style, thus facilitating the further attribution of a whole group of furniture to Noël Gérard which until now has remained anonymous. Thus the bureau plat in the Toledo Museum (stamped N.G.) enables the attribution to Gérard to be made with regard to several other bureaux in ebony or amaranth with the same broken line above the legs and the same mounts: a bureau in the library at the Arsenal in Paris, another in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, another in the Residenz at Ansbach, and two further examples which have appeared recently at auction (sale, Sotheby's Monaco, 22 May 1978, lot 242 and New York, 7 May 1983, lot 210). Similarly, a commode in palisander was sold in Paris on 2 April 1987, lot 133 and is comparable with three other Boulle marquetry commodes: one in the Kotschoubey sale, Paris, 1906, the second in a Sotheby's Monaco sale, 23 June 1983, lot 290, and the third at Longleat. Finally, the bureau plat sold at Sotheby's London on 20 November 1964, lot 121 with exaggeratedly projecting legs opens up the attribution to Gérard of several commodes with Boulle marquetry which have the same characteristics (sale, Paris, 26 November 1979, lot 64, Maître Oger). Until now experts have not paid attention to the stamp N.G., no doubt taking it for a château mark. It is likely that many other pieces are stamped in this fashion ant that much is still to be learnt about this cabinet maker.
Really good condition
Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe siècle, Pierre Kjellberg, Les Éditions de l'Amateur - 2002.
Les Ébénistes français de Louis XIV à la Révolution, Alexandre Pradère, Paris - 1989.
French Furniture Makers, Alexandre Pradère, Sté Nlle des Éditions du Chêne - 1989.