Along with BVRB, Charles Cressent was arguably the most important ébéniste working in Paris in the first half of the 18th century, and his work parallels the transition from the larger and more classical forms of the late Louis XIV era to the lighter and more sinuous lines of the Régence and early rococo period. Born the son of a woodcarver and grandson of a cabinetmaker in Amiens, Cressent trained as a sculptor and was received into the Academy of Saint Luke in 1714. He was known for contravening guild regulations by designing and casting his own bronzes, which formed an integral element of his furniture designs. He initially worked in the workshop of Joseph Poitou (c.1680-1719), the official ébéniste to the Régent, the Duc d’Orléans, and after Poitou’s death in 1719 Cressent married his widow and took over the atelier, instantly obtaining access to an elite clientele.
As the regulations requiring the use of the estampille did not come into force until 1743, Cressent never stamped his work, and compiling an inventory of his oeuvre is based on documentary and stylistic evidence. In his monograph on the artist Charles Cressent sculpteur, ébéniste du Régent (Dijon 2003), Alexandre Pradère attributes this bureau plat to the latter part of Cressent’s career in the mid-1730s (cat. no.64, p.269), due to its similarity to two other writing desks of identical size and form, one sold Versailles, Maître Blanche, December 7, 1969, and the other formerly in the Wrightsman Collection, Palm Beach, sold Sotheby’s New York, May 5, 1984, lot 214 ($245,000, Fig.1) (Pradère, nos.65-66). All three share the same dimensions and three-drawer construction, quarter veneered in bois satiné with amaranth borders and all using the same distinctive dragon and acanthus cartouche escutcheons.
These works are essentially a smaller version of a type of bureau plat perfected by Cressent in the 1730s and 40s that relied entirely on skillfully executed quarter-veneer surfaces and boldly cast mounts including busts of female espagnolettes or Roman warriors at the corners to achieve its aesthetic effect; Cressent does not ever appear to have used inlaid marquetry designs. Examples of this genre are in numerous major international collections, including the Louvre, Waddesdon Manor, the Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, and the National Gallery, Washington. Cressent's decision to produce this model in a smaller format conforms to the general trend in the mid-18th century for more intimate interiors that required less sizeable furniture and appears to have influenced other cabinetmakers. In c.1745 Antoine Gaudreaus supplied a bureau plat of comparable form and scale to the Cabinet du Dauphin at Fontainebleau (now at Versailles, ill. Château de Versailles, exhibition catalgoue, 18e, Aux sources du design, 2014, no.36 p.146-7), and BVRB also produced writing desks of this size (Metropolitan Museum, Sheafer Collection, 1974.356.186).
The Wrightsman desk bears the stamp of Pierre Garnier and has previously been attributed to this maker (C. Huchet de Quénetain, Pierre Garnier, Paris 2003, p.90). Although Garnier obtained his maîtrise in 1742 and did produce early work in the full Louis XV taste, he is much more associated with the shift to neoclassicism in furniture design beginning with the emergence of the goût grec in the 1760s. As Pradère argues, it is more likely Garnier applied his estampille in the capacity of a restorer or vendor, as was common practice in the 18th century.