This commode epitomizes the fascination for the Orient from the first half of the 18th century and is a superb example of a rare red lacquer furniture executed by one of the most distinguished ébénistes.
The commode was conceived in the 18th century tradition of the fashionable Parisian dealers or marchands-merciers such as Thomas-Joachim Hébert who had perfected the art of marrying the exoticism of oriental lacquer with European ébénisterie of the finest quality. Hébert spearheaded the taste for Oriental lacquer mounted furniture, having supplied a famous lacquer commode by Bernard Van Risenburgh to Queen Marie Leszczyńska for the Château de Fontainebleau in 1737 (inv.no. OA11193), made possible thanks to the effective removal of imported Chinese and Japanese lacquer panels re-used in France.
The French ébéniste Jacques Dubois, remains an undeniable master of the rococo style here illustrated through his mounts and his use of lacquer. Red lacquer furniture pieces such as this one were much rarer than the black lacquer examples and only a few stamped Dubois are recorded:
- an encoignure, illustrated Kjellberg, P. Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1998, p.308, fig. b.;
- a pair of encoignures, sold Giafferi, Paris, 2 October 2009, lot 241;
- a commode, wider than the present illustrated Kjellberg, P. Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1998, p.309, fig. d.;
- another commode sold Sotheby's New York, 23 November 2009, lot 156, probably exhibited in the 1910 exhibition in Paris, Le goût chinois en Europe au XVIIIe siècle: "7. Commode de forme chantournée à deux tiroirs en laque rouge et or, décor de paysages et d'oiseaux encadré de laque noir uni et bronzes dorés, travail européen -EP Louis XV. -Estampille de J. Dubois. App. à M.G. Arnoux."
- a bureau en pente, offered Sotheby's New York, 9 November 2006, lot 150;
- a secrétaire, now in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum (inv. no. 65.DA.3).
The lacquer commodes produced by Dubois echo the same attention to quality as paid to his small secrétaires. They vary in the degree to which he applied ormolu mounts, some of them being completely outlined with ormolu borders and other leaving the lacquer decoration to speak for itself, embellished only with light, delicate drawer handles on the front, and pierced light chutes continuing to the feet. In the present example, it is interesting to notice that the birds and foliage surrounding the cartouche are in vernis martin, in imitation of Chinese lacquer.
Dubois’ mounts are without doubt highly harmonious and lively, with curves and counter curves that occasionally overlap foliage and naturalistic elements. His pierced light chutes continuing to the feet also became a characteristic of his work and are found on the following:
- a black chinoiserie lacquer commode stamped I.Dubois with the crown ‘c’ poinçon, sold Sotheby’s, New York, 27 October 1990, lot 60;
- a black lacquer bureau en pente stamped I.Dubois sold Christie’s, New York, 21 May 1996, lot 346;
- a bois de bout marquetry commode stamped I.Dubois sold Christie’s London, 7 December 1995, lot 70.
Furthermore, the gilt-bronze mounts on the cartouche are found on works by the ébéniste Mathieu Criaerd (see P. Kjellberg, Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1998, p.250, fig.a; pp.252-253). The fact that such idiosyncratic vine-wrapped framing mounts would have been shared by Dubois and Criaerd would lead us to suggest that the models for these mounts might have been - as was then often the case - the property of one of the marchand-merciers with whom both ébénistes collaborated.
Jacques Dubois (1693-1763), reçu maître in 1742
He was one of the most important ébénistes of the Louis XV period. From his workshop on the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, he produced pieces for a number of marchands-merciers such as Léger Bertin, solely in the Louis XV style, and he is known to have often designed his own mounts. His furniture was of excellent quality and he produced luxurious pieces, a great many of which were in Chinese or Japanese lacquer. On his death in 1763, the inventory reveals a number of pieces decorated in such a fashion, and also lists a large stock of ormolu mounts – 432 livres pesant de modèles de bronze, prisés 1 080 L. This suggests that Dubois was anxious to protect his exclusive use of these models and stocked large quantities of unchased mounts which he kept available for use on his furniture and for supplying to the chaser and gilder.
The inventory also reveals a large workshop with no fewer than 12 workbenches and approximately 125 pieces of furniture in production. It is of considerable interest to note that of these, only four were commodes. The majority of the pieces consisted of writing tables, secrétaires en pente, and a variety of small tables. The inventory listed only a very few pieces which incorporated lacquer panels, this is explained by the fact that the supply of lacquer panels was very largely dominated by the marchands-merciers.
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