A Wardrobe attributed to André-Charles Boulle, French, c.1700 (F61)
This wardrobe (armoire), collection number F61, is a spectacular example of the monumental furniture produced by the cabinet-maker André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) at the turn of the eighteenth century.
With its dazzling gilt-bronze mounts and rich première-partie marquetry of turtle-shell and brass, the wardrobe is architectural in style and shows the revival of interest in the classical past witnessed during the reign of King Louis XIV (1643-1715) in France. The mounts on the doors depict scenes from the Roman writer Ovid’s Metamorphoses: on the left Apollo chases Daphne who, aided by her father, the river Peneus, escapes by changing into a laurel tree; on the right Apollo watches the flaying of Marsyas, a satyr defeated by him in a musical contest. The frieze along the top of the wardrobe includes masks of Hercules and there are mounts of Autumn and Winter on the sides of the wardrobe.
Boulle’s family originally came from Guelderland in the Netherlands. His father, himself a cabinet-maker, settled in Paris in 1653. Boulle gained early success and in 1672 was granted the royal privilege of lodging in the Galeries du Louvre. In the same year he was appointed Ébéniste, Ciseleur, Doreur et Sculpteur du Roi. This appointment allowed Boulle to by-pass strict guild rules and to design and produce his own gilt bronzes in addition to his cabinet work. This wardrobe is a splendid example of the combined crafts necessary to create such a complex piece of furniture. A drawing for a wardrobe by Boulle includes several different ideas for its decoration, some only tentative. The left-hand side of the design corresponds to the wardrobe in the Wallace Collection.
We cannot be sure of the original function of such wardrobes. However as they often contain shelves, it is likely that they were intended for storing linen or papers, as well as serving to impress viewers with their size and elaborate decoration. Another wardrobe (F62) on display in the West Gallery is very similar to the one you see here. The wardrobes were described as a pair in the 1870, 1890 and 1898 Hertford House inventories but they show some differences. For example, F62 does not have keyhole escutcheons on the centre of its doors. Sir Richard Wallace displayed both wardrobes in the Large Drawing Room, to which they will be returned when the current refurbishment of this room has been completed later this year.
- Peter Hughes, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996
- Alexandre Pradère, French Furniture Makers: The Art of the Ébéniste from Louis XIV to the Revolution, Sotheby’s Publications, 1989
- Jean Nérée Ronfort, A Louis XIV Armoire by André-Charles Boulle, a special essay published to accompany the sale of Lot 26, Phillips, New York, December 5 2001