Lot 7
  • 7

A gilt-bronze-mounted brass and tortoiseshell inlaid contre-partie boulle marquetry and ebony veneered secrétaire à abattant by Etienne Levasseur the lower section by André-Charles Boulle, Louis XIV, circa 1710, transformed circa 1770-75 by Etienne Levasseur

600,000 - 1,000,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • ebony, tortoiseshell
  • 139cm high, 137.5cm wide, 54cm deep;4ft. 6¾in., 4ft. 6in., 1ft. 9¼in.
the gilt-bronze-banded rectangular top with rounded corners above an egg-and-dart frieze above a fall-front applied with a boulle marquetry foliate panel, most probably formerly the top of the commode, within a gilt-bronze foliate border opening to reveal a leather-lined writing surface and two short drawers and six pigeon-holes, the lower section formerly a commode with two shaped drawers inlaid with rinceaux flanking an oval marquetry boss applied with a male Bacchic bearded satyr mask with a lambrequin headdress and vine leaves and grapes in his hair, the apron with boldly scrolling acanthus, the panelled sides with a narrow band of première-partie boulle marquetry above a foliate banded panel enclosing a female Bacchic mask with a lambrequin headdress and vine leaves and grapes in her hair above a further marquetry panel and a larger panel with rinceaux applied with a later acanthus leaf cast rosette on splayed cabriole legs applied with acanthus sprays terminating in scrolled feet


Sold from the collection of the dealer Grandpre on 16th February 1809, where it was described as: " Un grand secretaire encore en belle marquetrie de Boulle; seconde partie ouvrant à abatant; riche entablement à oves et autres ornemens;dessus de marbre brèche violette, encadré d'un quart de rond en cuivre lisse. Sold for 650 francs. »
Sold from the collection of Monsieur Villers on 30th March 1812, lot 155, to Maelrondt for 800 francs, where the dimensions were added in the description, which were identical to those in the 1809 sale: hauteur 51 p.(pouces) (139cm), largeur 50 p(pouces) (137,5cm).
Then in a European Aristocratic Collection.


Catalogue Note

Comparative Literature:
Daniel Alcouffe, Anne Dion-Tenenbaum, Amaury Lefébure, Le mobilier du Musée du Louvre, Vol.1, Dijon,1993, pp. 91-95. Alexandre Pradère, Les ébénistes français de Louis XIV à la Révolution, Paris, 1989, pp.308-317.
Gillian Wilson, Boulle, in the Journal of the History Furniture History Society, Vol. III, 1972, p.47
Carlton House, The Past Glories of George IV's Palace, The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 1991-1992, p. 80, no. 32 and p. 212, fig. 190.
G. F. Laking, The Furniture at Windsor Castle, London, MCMV, p. 120-121.
This impressive and rare secrétaire à abattant is only one of two that are known to exist to date, the other secrétaire, its companion piece, is stamped E. Levasseur JME and is in the British Royal collection at Windsor Castle. It therefore follows that the offered secrétaire must also be by the same maker due to its stylistic and decorative similarities. 

The offered piece presents an intriguing combination of a Louis XIV commode by André-Charles Boulle made in the early 18th century which was then transformed during the Louis XVI period by Etienne Levasseur into a secrétaire à abattant with the top of the commode most probably now utilised on the front of the fall-front. The mounts are also reused except for the female mask mounts on the sides which were originally on the lower section of the sides and the acanthus leaf cast rosettes are late 18th century additions by Levasseur. In the sale catalogue of 1809, it was described as having a brèche violette marble top within a copper border, which is now no longer present.

The secrétaire à abattant stamped by Levasseur in the Royal collection, is also in contre-partie boulle marquetry and illustrated in the Carlton House catalogue op. cit., p. 81, no. 32. It has a different gilt-bronze frieze of acanthus leaves, whereas on this piece there is an egg-and-dart band. It also has a bronze plaque on the fall-front depicting putti hunting and may have already been part of the comte de Luc's collection. The  secrétaire was sold to the Prince Regent by Robert Fogg, for £367 10s and delivered to Carlton House in July 1812 and placed in the South Ante Room, principal Floor. In the 18th century, the secrétaire is recorded in the Paris collections of the comte de Luc (sold 22nd December 1777, lot 42) and the comte de Vaudreuil (sold 21st November 1787, lot 367). By 1812, it belonged to the architect Villers (sold Paris 30th March 1812, lot 154, bt. Maelrondt for 1,100) and Fogg could well have acquired it from the latter. It is interesting that two very similar pieces were consecutive lots in the aforementioned sale as the offered lot was lot 155, however, unlike the royal secrétaire, it has not been possible, to date, to establish the provenance of the offered secrétaire prior to 1809.  It is stated op. cit., that at some date prior to 1777, probably in the early 1770's, Levasseur reconstructed this secrétaire by adding the upper section to an existing late 17th century/early 18th century commode and by applying the marquetry panel forming the top of the original piece onto the drop-front secrétaire, which is possibly the case with the offered piece.

There is a drawing by Wilde, in his illustrations to Pyne's `Royal residences', in the Carlton House catalogue, no. 190, p. 212, of the Ante Room, circa 1818, showing the secrétaire in situ opposite the fireplace. It was then sent to Windsor Castle in 1827 and in 1866 was placed in the Rubens Room, where it remained until 1903, when it was removed to its present position in the Picture Gallery.

The offered secrétaire has a lower section which is virtually identical both in terms of being in contre-partie marquetry, with identical mounts including the female mask on the sides (except that the marquetry is different on the fall-front), to the commode attributed to A.-C. Boulle at the Louvre, originally in the French Royal Collection (inv. OA 5478), illustrated by Alcouffe, op. cit., p. 91, no. 24, (see fig.1.
Amongst Boulle's prolific production for both the King and the French aristocracy, he produced various types of commode. The present type was termed `table en bureau' and then `bureau en commode'  and there is a drawing of such a commode by Augustin de Saint-Aubin, from the annotated catalogue of the Le Boeuf sale in 1783, (Private Collection),(see fig. 2.) . The term `commode'  itself started to appear in 1707. According to Daniel Alcouffe, op. cit., p.91, the original desk from which this commode has evolved had eight legs and a high frieze of which the central  part formed a niche in the front recessed between two sets of drawers. At the time of the Restauration, the Louvre commode belonged to the Duchesse du Berry, Charles X's daughter-in-law. In 1829, she exchanged it at the Mobilier de la Couronne, together with several other pieces decorated in boulle marquetry and it was later sent to the Palace de Saint-Cloud.

Commodes of the present type which forms the lower section of the offered piece, with faun heads and of arched form, are recorded in the sales of the 18th century (see Alexandre Pradère, L' Ameublement du Marquis de Marigny vers 1780, in L' Estampille/L''Objet d'Art,  no.193, June 1986, p.51):
-Crozat de Thiers Sale in 1772 (no.1114)
-Marigny Sale in 1782 (no.583): this commode, no.1635 in the Livre-Journal de Lazare Duvaux, was acquired by Madame de Pompadour and probably subsequently offered to her brother on 24th December 1753
-Le Boeuf Sale 8th-12th April, 1783 (no.206: a pair; and no.207)
-de Vaudreuil Sale in 1788 (a pair no.359-360)
-Lebrun Sale in 1791 (no.1008, sold for for 450 livres)
-Choiseul-Praslin Sale on 3rd April 1793 (no.245, sold for 402 livres)
-Donjeux Sale, 29 April 1793 (no.553) .

At present, a number of commodes of this distinctive and imposing form to that which forms the base of this piece are known, some en première-partie, others en contre-partie. There appear to be at least four different variations, using different models of mask on the front and sides.

Beside the present example of a commode which forms the base of this secrétaire, there are the other recorded examples of this model:
-A commode en première-partie, circa 1710, also at the Louvre (inv. OA 5477), see Daniel Alcouffe, op. cit., no.25-(see fig. 3.) It has  marble top and was probably lot 207 in the Le Boeuf Sale in 1783 (see ante).  It has very similar mask mounts and identical marquetry panels on the drawers and on each side as those on the offered version. Although the escutcheons are hidden by Bacchic masks. This commode was purchased from the Parisian dealer Rocheux in 1805, during the reign of Napoleon, for the palace at Fontainebleau and later placed in the Château de Saint-Cloud.
- A pair of commodes, one in première-partie, the other in contre-partie is at Bowhill, Selkirk, in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury. They are illustrated by John Cornforth, Bowhill, Selkirk, II, in Country Life, 12th June 1975, partly visible on page 1559 in the view of the dining room. 
- A commode in première-partie, formerly in the Collection of Victor de Rothschild at his London residence,148 Piccadily, W1, sold Sotheby's 19th April 1937, lot 251. This commode was later altered to a meuble de toilette. 
-Another commode from the Collection of Lady Cholmondeley, sold Christie's London, 6th December 1979, lot 137. It was subsequently destroyed in a fire. 
-A commode in contre-partie formerly in the Collection of Sir John Murray Scott, Rue Lafitte, Paris, illustrated in an article by A.F. Morris, Sir John Scott's Collection in the Rue Lafitte, in Connoisseur, August 1910, p.233, fig.III. 
-Another commode in contre-partie, formerly in the Collection of the Earls Cowper, Panshanger, Hertfordshire, and then by descent to Rosemary, Lady Ravendale, sold Christie's London, 22nd June 1989, lot 108.
-A commode in première-partie marquetry attributed to Boulle and stamped E.J. Cuvellier and modified by him, which was originally in the collection of the Comte de Vaudreuil (1740-1817), (see ante), sold Sotheby's, New York, 21st May 2004, lot 33 ($1,688,000). It has the identical egg-and dart border as on the offered piece.
-A  commode  in première-partie reputed to have been owned by Marquis Ferdinand de Ghistelles (1735-1813), was sold from La Collection d'un Grand Amateur Français, in these Rooms, 7th December 2000, lot 88 (£620,000), (the design of its marquetry panels were identical to those on the Louvre model illustrated in fig.1(OA 5478)). 

-Two further related commodes  both in première-partie are in a Private collection in Paris, one retains its top in première-partie and was formerly in the collection of José Maria Sert and the other had a red porphyry top was sold from  the collection of Jean Bloch, Paris, June 132, 1941, lot 140. Both of the aforementioned commodes were exhibited Sotheby's, Paris, Trésors des Collections Privés, March 1998. 

André-Charles Boulle:
He was born in Paris in 1642 and trained under his father, a carpenter and is described in contemporary documents variously as a painter, architect, bronze-worker, engraver, designer of monograms and mosaicist. He was appointed ébéniste du Roi and subsequently supplied furniture and decorative objects for Versailles and other royal Palaces as well as carrying out commissions for various clients including members of the French Court and foreign Royalty. He became the most celebrated furniture-maker of the Louis XIV period, supplying numerous pieces decorated with brass and tortoiseshell marquetry, a technique which has subsequently bore his name. He remained in overall charge of his workshop in the Louvre until his death in 1732 though his sons took over the day to day running of it. 

Boulle furniture remained fashionable throughout the 18th century as evidenced by the present piece. The most celebrated marchand-mercier of the mid 18th century was Lazare Duvaux, who sold many pieces of furniture inlaid with tortoiseshell and brass and in his Livre Journal for 1748-58, which he lists specifically as being made by Boulle. His clients for these pieces included Madame de Pompadour, who bought from him a commode of the same model as those made for the Trianon to give to her brother, the Marquis de Marigny. Boulle furniture was also purchased by the Marquis de Voyer and Lalive de Jully. In 1742, Piganiol de Force published his Description de Paris, in which he enthuses over the cabinet of M. de Julienne with its furniture by the famous Boulle. Dezailler Dargenville in his Voyages de Paris, in 1745 talks of the collection of Blondel de Gagny where tables, commodes and other fine works were to be found again by Boulle.

Etienne Levasseur (1721-98), received Master 1767:
He was one of the most important ébénistes of his time and although his early years are shrouded in mystery, what is known is that his grandson asserted in an advertisement in the Bazar parisien in 1822, that his grandfather was trained by Boulle. Although due to Levasseur's age this is unlikely, it is conceivable that he trained under one of Boulle's sons in the 1740's, such as André-Charles known as `Boulle de Sève' (d. 1745) or Charles-Joseph (d, 1754). He started his career as an `ouvrier privilégié' at `Au Cadran Bleu' in the rue Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. He worked almost exclusively for the marchands-merciers producing luxury furniture in mahogany, Japanese lacquer and also in Boulle marquetry. He was involved mainly in the restoration of boulle furniture and this explains why his stamp is found on many Louis XIV pieces which he restored. This is the case with many cabinets and pedestals in the Louvre, various pieces in Versailles and in the Wallace collection and several pieces at Vaux-le-Vicomte and in English country houses.

Julliot was the principal intermediary in the trade of Boulle furniture and Levasseur was one of his suppliers as were other ébénistes such as Montigny, Joseph Baumhauer, Delorme and Weisweiler. Julliot according to Pradère op. cit., would not only resell period Boulle pieces repaired by Levasseur but he would also commission pastiches in the style of Boulle.

In 1782, Levasseur became an adjudicator for his guild and in 1785 and 1789 he supplied furniture for the Garde-Meuble Royal. His son and grandson after his death in 1798, continued the production of Boulle marquetry furniture in Paris into the 1820's.