Created by André-Charles Boulle in 1700, the marquetry façade of this three-door bas d’armoire was mostly constructed in the master's workshop during the first quarter of the 18th century (fig. 1).
There are several examples with variations to the arrangement of the decor, as illustrated, amongst others, in A. Pradère (op. cit. p.73) with the figures of Pomona, Flora, Mars and Bacchus (fig. 2).
However, our piece of furniture and its ornament is unique amongst the works produced by André-Charles Boulle and his workshop and it is distinguished by the marquetry design and the gilt-bronze decoration. The bas-relief of the infant Hercules blowing bubbles, above a trapezoidal support is known as belonging to Boulle's repertoire as it appears in a design of a body of an armoire (fig. 3) and on a clock reproduced in the second plate of the portfolio engraved by Mariette.
The marquetry design and ornament on our bas d'armoire is found on a piece of furniture in a private American collection, with a winged mask above the central panel (formerly in the collection of Maurice Segoura, Paris, see fig. 6).
A corresponding pair of contre-partie marquetry cabinets acquired by the Duke of Brissac was seized during the French Revolution and kept at the Louvre, before it was transferred to Versailles in order to furnish Louis XIV’s chamber (inv. V2324 and V2325, see fig. 4).
The construction and assembly of our piece of furniture testifies to it being produced at the workshop of André-Charles Boulle and his sons, around 1730-1735 and this is confirmed through a dendrochronology report on our piece which was supplied in 2008 for an exhibition in Frankfurt (fig.5) together with a corresponding pair in the collection of the Museum of the Versailles Château.
Another bas d’armoire model, decorated with the same bas-relief on the central panel, has many similarities with our piece (Sotheby's, Paris 14 May 2014, Lot 89).
The ensemble of gilt bronze mounts is typically Boulle, such as the strapwork corners, the reclining child (with wings) on a cartouche shaped plinth (second plate of the Boulle portfolio), the escutcheons with roosters which also appear on the pair of commodes known as Mazarin commodes at Versailles. In this respect, it is interesting to note that one of the plates has an incised mark on the back (not visible on the top) composed of intertwined LL’s, also present on the escutcheon of the tambour commode (auction Sotheby's Paris, 5 November 2015, lot 305), as well on the Mazarin commodes delivered to King Louis XIV at the Trianon, in 1708 (information kindly given by Mr. Yannick Chastang and Mr. Frédéric Dassas).
Prestigious successive provenances:
Our piece was first identified in the Barthélemy Blondel d'Azincourt’s collection (1719-1783), where it is described with glass panels in the auction catalogue under no. 414.
The auction took place in Paris on 10 February, 1783:
Augustin Blondel de Gagny's son, Barthélémy Blondel d'Azincourt (1719-1795) succeeded his father, as supervisor of Menus-Plaisirs. Like his father, he was an ingenuous admirer of art, collecting drawings and paintings by his contemporaries as well as curiosities, seashells and Antiquity. He bought many works from his father's collection. His great curiosity also led him to write a little treatise for collectors, entitled ,La Première Idée de la curiosité, où l’on trouve l’arrangement, la composition d’un cabinet, les noms des meilleurs peintres flamands et leur genre de travail (The First Idea of Curiosity, where we find the arrangement and composition of a cabinet, the names of the best Flemish painters and their themes) (Paris, 1749). At the end of his life, this same reputation as a man of refined taste allowed him to join France’s Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, successively as a free associate, then, in 1782, as an honorary connoisseur.
The manuscript by Blondel d'Azincourt is a very interesting document as it discusses the method of arranging a collection of paintings and cabinets, which was very popular at the time.
Purchased by the art dealer Donjeux for 1,030 French pounds, this pair re-appeared amongst one of the largest collections of Boulle furniture during the late 18th century, that of Baron van Hoorn.
Pierre-Nicolas Van Hoorn van Vlooswyck (1743-1809), was a wealthy Dutch man who left Amsterdam for the Grand Tour in 1789 and spent a long period of time in Italy, before settling in Paris around 1795-1798. In the preface of the auction catalogue after his death, the dealer and expert Lebrun mentions a collection "as famous for the magnificence, the number and the rarity of the objects which compose it, one of the most important that we have known". His inventory as well as the auction catalogue indicate his predilection for cabinet furniture with three Boulle marquetry doors called "cabinets", counting ten amongst the fifty furniture items by André-Charles Boulle and his successors that he owned. The auction catalogue distinguishes Boulle's furniture, as those having Boulle type marquetry, which is what Lebrun describes as "the richest known collection of fine furniture by the famous Boule". Amongst the ten pieces mentioned (four pairs and two described separately), several were identified by A. Pradère for the auction which took place on 22 November, 1809 of which:
- our bas d'armoire, with its pendant as described under no. 576, with glass panels (see the caption above).
- pair of bas d’armoires depicting the Seasons under no. 577, which entered the British Royal Collection and which are still at Windsor Castle,
- a pair of bas d’armoires bas described nder no. 578, found in a private collection, Paris,
- a pair of bas d’armoires with a bas-relief of the infant Hercules blowing bubbles, from the collection of Randon de Boisset, under no. 580 (see auction Sotheby's Paris, 14 May 2014, lot 89 and then Steinitz Gallery)
- and an armoire from the Wildenstein Collection sold Christie's London, 14 December 2005, lot 5.
The Marquis Léonce de Vogüé (1805-1877), descendant of one of the oldest French aristocratic families, married Henriette de Machault in 1836. She was the great-grand daughter of Jean-Baptiste de Machault Arnouville, Controleur général des Finances and then Ministre de la Justice and finally Ministre de la Marine under Louis XV - and great admirer and collector of art.
Jean-Baptiste de Machault’s three children inherited from their father, but on the death of two of the children, the collection passed into the hands of the surviving sibling, Charles-Henri Louis (1747-1830), who himself had three children including two daughters, the Countess of Choiseul and the Countess of Varanglard. Once again most of the collection was inherited by the last representative of the Machault family. Eugène Charles (1783-1867) who had only one daughter, Henriette (1808-1864), who through marriage brought the essential part of the Machault collection to Vogüé. In 1868 it was moved to a beautiful newly-built mansion on rue Fabert and occupied by Melchior de Vogüé until his death in 1877. The collection included a very important set of Boulle furniture, artifacts, gilt-bronze mounted porcelain and Old Master paintings. The research of archived documents and inventories does not establish a Machault origin, or how our bas d’armoires entered the Vogüé collection.
Léonce Melchior de Vogüé stated in his will that "The whole of the family collection, including the collection of my wife, (with maiden name Machault) and mine, and in particular the Boulle furniture and mounted porcelain, will be all the more interesting if they remain together ... "
When Léonce died, his grandson Louis de Vogüé (1868-1948) inherited the mansion and all the whole collection with it. It was not until the death of Louis de Vogüé, during the mid-20th century that the collection was dispersed and some furniture and items appeared on the art market. Our bas d’armoire, acquired during this period was identified in a photograph alongside a medal armoire with the figures of Socrates and Aspasia, presumably taken at the time when he inherited the collection (fig. 9). The inventory written after his death, as well as old photographs, make it possible to identify certain pieces and to appreciate the collection in their sumptuous settings.
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