Furniture with Japanese lacquer and the role of decorative art dealers
Furniture decorated with Far Eastern lacquer panels were created during Louis XIV's reign and remained popular throughout the 18th century and even during the Neoclassicism period, despite advocating a return to purity of lines and decor. Lazare Duvaux’s demise in 1785 marked the end of the Rococo taste for chinoiserie. The Japanese lacquers were then favored over Chinese ones due to their subdued decor. These Japanese lacquers came mostly from chests and cabinets, resulting in smaller panels with a narrower composition. The quality of Japanese lacquer was unmistakable and required the finest bronze works and cabinetry. The gap then widened between greatly skilled cabinetmakers who had access to these lacquers and who benefited from prestigious commissions (Carlin, Weisweiler, Joseph, Saunier and Riesener) and second-rated cabinetmakers who were reduced to imitating Japanese lacquers as best they could. This furniture was very popular among the renowned collectors of the Neoclassical period, as well as housewares adorned with Sèvres plaques. Eighteenth-century inventories mention only two or three Japanese lacquered furniture in each collection, thus revealing the preciousness and rarity of these pieces of furniture since their inception. Japanese lacquered panels brought higher prices and furniture was then produced via order by major decorative art dealers who made it one of their specialties such as the Darnaud sons, Juliot sons, Poirier then Daguerre.
In 1772, Poirier partnered with his cousin Dominique Daguerre who took over management in 1777. Poirier produced lacquered furniture since the beginning of his career. Daguerre pursued this lucrative business undertaking and continued to work with Martin Carlin (1730-1785), and more importantly with Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820). Daguerre joined later with two decorative art dealers, first Francotais, then Lignereux. His brand label indicated that he « Tient Magafin de Porcelaines, Bronzes, Ebénisteries, Glaces, Curiosités & autres Marchandises » (stocks Shop with Porcelain, Bronzes, Woodworking, Mirrors, Curiosities & other Goods). Daguerre delivered in 1784 for Louis XVI’s study at Versailles a secretary cabinet executed by Weisweiler and which has similarities with ours. The fall-front is adorned with three projecting lacquer panels and supports are adorned with detached columns. The detached pillars on our item are found more often on Weisweiler furniture than on Carlin furniture. Daguerre was perhaps the owner of layouts with this support as suggested by a commode design for the Prince of Wales’ furnishings at Carlton House, of which Daguerre was the project head. The British royal collections has this commode executed by Weisweiler (RCIN 21696) and a commode stamped by Carlin adorned with our supports and was probably purchased directly from Daguerre by King George IV (RCIN 2169). The furniture’s general design, more modern and aligning further with Daguerre’s aesthetics, renders it possible to truly conclude that our piece of furniture comes from this dealer’s shops. Daguerre was the pioneer of English style in France, characterized by a greater austerity and the predominant use of mahogany. Our secretary is certainly the proof.
Stamps from Carlin and Bury
Our furniture presents a decor of great rigor as well as a use of the mahogany suggesting a creation date at the end of Carlin’s life (died 6th March 1785). Our furniture bears Carlin’s stamp on the inner drawer’s runner, and that of Ferdinand Bury under the marble top. The Carlin stamp may have been placed just before Carlin’s demise, or prior to the remarriage of Carlin’s widow to Gaspar Schneider in 1786. Until that date, she could use the Carlin stamp. The presence of these two stamps suggests three possibilities. First hypothesis: this piece of furniture was conceived mostly by Carlin who died before completing it. Daguerre was then able to retrieve it and ask Bury to finish it. Second hypothesis: the Bury stamp is found alongside that of Riesener on furniture, which suggests that Riesener subcontracted to Bury. Carlin may have done the same for our furniture item. The Bury stamp being partially crossed out, one can ponder that Carlin or Daguerre sought to make it disappear in order to leave only his. Finally, the third hypothesis: the furniture was restored by Bury.
The double composite baluster columns on the upper pillars are frequently found on Adam Weisweiler's furniture (eg Weisweiler stamped cabinet base in the Louvre [OA 10477]). However, Carlin also used this ornament as early as 1783, as evident with one of his commodes elaborated with Sèvres porcelain panels kept in the British royal collections (RCIN 21697). Very similar columns called "Chinese columns" adorn other furniture by Carlin including a commode and a pair of Japanese-lacquered corner cabinets in the Louvre (OA 5498 and OA 5499) with provenance as part of Madame Victoire's furniture for her large study in Bellevue.
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