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Riesener Revealed: Documentation and Observation…the Journey so far

Since June 2012, conservators at the Wallace Collection have been working on the Riesener Project, aiming to better understand the works of Jean-Henri Riesener in the Collection, and also pieces at Waddesdon Manor and in the Royal Collection.

Dubbed ‘the greatest Parisian ébéniste of the Louis XVI period’, Riesener became the foremost furniture supplier to members of the French nobility when he was appointed ‘ébéniste du roi’, or Cabinetmaker to the King. He was a particular favourite of Queen Marie-Antoinette and Riesener regularly supplied furniture to royal residences including Versailles and the Petit Trianon. His richly decorated furniture was both beautiful and highly functional, with many pieces characterised by his signature mechanical ingenuity. Following the French Revolution and the sale of royal property, a significant number of works by Riesener were acquired by English collectors, several of which are now held by the Wallace Collection.

The project involves researching everything from techniques used, materials employed and previous alterations in the attempt to better understand these pieces. Like most surviving examples of eighteenth-century furniture, many of our pieces had been altered, whether intentionally or simply due to age, before joining the Collection. Due to this, we digitally recreated how these exceptional pieces of furniture formerly appeared, illuminating both subsequent alterations to Riesener’s furniture and his original colour schemes, so giving us the opportunity to see them as Riesener originally intended. Watch this animation courtesy of Waddesdon Manor for an example.

The project has also allowed  us to better understand how to conserve these objects. Future analyses in collaboration with leading experts in UV-VIS and XRF technology will further aid in determining the rate of decay of these objects, enabling us to slow down further deterioration.

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Updated December 2016

The Roll Top Desk supplied by Riesener for Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir at Fontainebleau has been examined and has been returned to Boudoir, below are some images from its conservation

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The Roll Top Desk supplied for the use of the Comte d’Orsay is also currently undergoing examination and photography in the Oval Drawing Room.

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Updated November 2016

Shown below are the first seven Riesener pieces from the Wallace Collection to be examined and treated between June 2012 and November 2016, along with descriptions of their individual treatment.

Commode (chest-of-drawers), supplied for the use of Marie Antoinette in her private study at Versailles (1780).
Treatment: Re-hydrating very friable marquetry, cleaning mounts, removal of the dark shellac finish applied in the 1940’s and re-finished using a light shellac and wax

Watch the conservation of the commode here:

 

Secretaire, supplied for the use of Marie Antoinette at the Petit Trianon in Versailles (1783).
Treatment: Re-hydrating very friable marquetry, cleaning mounts, removal of the dark shellac finish applied in the 1940’s and re-finished using a light shellac and wax, with particular attention to a split.

F302

 

Secretaire, supplied for an unknown client ( 1780 – 1784)
Treatment: Re-hydrating very friable marquetry, cleaning mounts, removal of the dark shellac finish applied in the 1940s and re-finished using a light shellac and wax, with particular attention paid to several splits.

F306

 

Corner cupboard (‘encoignure’) supplied for the use of Marie Antoinette in her private study at Versailles (1783).
Treatment: Mounts cleaned, original 1943 finish not removed

F275

 

Secretaire supplied for the use of Marie Antoinette in her private study at Versailles (1783). This desk had always been intended for her ‘cabinet en bas’ (study) at Marly, and was sent there at the end of 1783. However, three weeks later it was back at Versailles and placed in her new apartment on the ground floor.
Treatment: Mounts cleaned, original 1943 finish not removed

F303

 

Commode (chest-of-drawers), similar to one supplied for the use of Marie Antoinette, probably at the royal chateau in Marly.
Treatment: Mounts cleaned, original 1943 finish not removed

F248

 

Roll Top Desk supplied by Riesener. The same features are also on the roll-top desk veneered with mother-of-pearl supplied by him for Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir at Fontainebleau.

F277

 

The next Riesener pieces to be examined at the Wallace Collection will include the following:
1) Roll Top Desk supplied for the use of the Comte d’Orsay, a member of a leading family of financiers and tax-farmers, at the Hôtel d’Orsay (1770).
2. Work Table (table en chiffonnière) frequently used by women for holding their needlework or accoutrements from other similar activities (1765-1770).
3. Secretaire supplied for the use of Marie Antoinette at Versailles (1780).

 

 

 

 

Thank you for sharing this remarkable information.

Kathryn Mosher on 17 November 2016