The Wallace Collection


Collection Blog

Fundraising Focus: Conserving the Riesener Commode

As a national museum, the Wallace Collection receives government funding that allows us to keep our doors open to the public and to share our astonishing collection with the world.  However, the extensive work that goes on behind the scenes in bringing the collection to life through research, education, and conservation is entirely funded by donations from our generous supporters.

Marie-Antoinette's beautifully restored commode

The commode in all its glory after careful conservation

Each year, we must raise at least £2 million in order to carry out the vital work that will allow this unique collection to be enjoyed in its beautiful surroundings for generations to come.  Through a series of blog posts, we would like to share with you some of the extraordinary work that goes on at the Wallace Collection and ask you to contribute to our development of this family collection and international treasure house. Each donation brings us closer to our target, and we appreciate every single one. You can donate online via The Big Give.

This week, we would like to tell you about an exciting project that has rejuvenated one of the collection’s most prized treasures: A Commode for Marie-Antoinette, by Jean-Henri Riesener (1780).

As one of the most accomplished makers of Louis XVI furniture, Riesener was Marie-Antoinette’s favourite cabinet maker. He was known for creating richly decorated pieces covered with mahogany veneers, floral marquetry and gilt mounts. He was also celebrated for his ingenious mechanical fittings which allowed desk- and table-tops to be raised or lowered by a single button.

The Wallace Collection has 10 pieces of furniture either by or attributed to Riesener. This piece was acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford when it came onto the market following the French Revolution. The commode was originally an integral part of the furnishings in Marie-Antoinette’s cabinet intérieur in her apartments at Versailles and her cipher can be seen in the delicate gilt-bronze flower mounts.

Cracks in the marquetry veneer

A close-up shot of the damaged veneer before conservation

The colourful marquetry has now faded but we were delighted to discover that underneath the veneer, the main body of the commode is in good condition. The exterior, however, needed urgent conservation, skillfully carried out here at Hertford House by Jürgen Huber, our Senior Furniture Conservator.

The commode has been returned to its former glory by stabilising the marquetry, painstakingly rehydrating the existing glue one tiny piece at a time. The dark polish that was applied in the 1940s has now been removed and a final treatment process has taken place to protect and stabilise this stunning and important piece of furniture.

The Riesener commode is now back on display in the Study, which contains more examples of Marie-Antoinette’s furniture than any other room in the world. This amazing transformation can we seen in the short video below about the conservation process, and you can read more about the making of the video in Danielle’s blog post here. Readers in London might like to come and visit our Conservation Galleries to view the new display focusing specifically on the commode.

In order to continue with our vital conservation programme, we need your help. If you can, please make a donation via The Big Give. Thank you for your support.

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