The Wallace Collection

A cabinet-on-stand attributed to André-Charles Boulle
Reverse of the medal of Louis XIV
Reverse of the medal of Louis XIV
Treasure of the Month - May 2010

A cabinet-on-stand attributed to André-Charles Boulle

This splendid floral marquetry cabinet-on-stand is a fine example of the taste for luxurious, Baroque furniture at the court of Louis XIV.

Made in c.1670, the cabinet is one of a group of such pieces to have been produced in the workshop of the great cabinet-maker, André-Charles Boulle, between about 1670 and 1700. Boulle provided about twenty pieces of furniture for the Crown until the King’s death in 1714 and many for members of the royal court. This impressive piece of parade furniture is likely to have been produced for one of the financiers and ministers at court. André-Charles Boulle was born in Paris in 1642. His family originally came from Guelderland in the Netherlands and his father, himself a cabinet-maker, settled on the hill of Saint-Geneviève in about 1653. For a long time his father signed his name as ‘Jean Bolt’ but eventually he decided to change it to the more French-sounding ‘Jean Boulle’. André-Charles trained to be a cabinet-maker over six years following the traditional practice of the guild system in France. He became a master in 1666 and gained early success; in 1672 he was recommended by Colbert to the King as ‘the most adept amongst his profession in Paris’. Working as a cabinet-maker to the King, Boulle was able to bypass many of the restrictions of the guilds, producing the bronzes and cabinet-work necessary for his furniture. This, combined with his natural flair and talent, meant that he was able to create some of the most striking and innovative furniture of the age.

Yet before Boulle started to employ the ebony, turtleshell and brass marquetry to which he has given his name, and the large gilt-bronze mounts that are a feature of his later work, he specialised in wood marquetry. His workshop was particularly well-known for the production of marquetry floors, for example, the floors and wainscoting of the Dauphin’s apartment at Versailles, finished in 1683 at a cost of nearly 100,000 livres. Unfortunately none of the floors have survived, but some of the early cabinets decorated with floral marquetry, such as this one, have.

The exquisite marquetry on this cabinet-on-stand combines stylised motifs, such as the foliate scrolls on the sides of the cabinet, with highly naturalistic depictions of foliage and flowers, influenced by Dutch still life paintings. The plants and flowers can all be identified as particular botanical specimens and include peonies, daffodils and honeysuckle. Look closely and you can even see some insects, including a beetle scuttling along the acanthus scroll on the right-hand side of the central drawer of the stand. The largest gilt-bronze mounts on the cabinet are the military trophies on either side of the medal of Louis XIV, above the central door. The medal was made by Jean Warin (1606-1672) and bears the date 1664. A view of the ungilded back of the medal, which depicts the sun’s rays illuminating the Earth, reveals that it was struck using a flange, and the edges have been left rough and unfinished.

The cabinet was bought by Richard Wallace from the cabinet-maker and dealer Beurdeley in 1872 for 32,500 fr. Beurdeley’s bill to Wallace includes the words ‘compris la restauration à mon compte’, implying that Beurdeley had altered and repaired the cabinet. It is hoped that our current studies of the piece and comparison with the Wrotham cabinet may reveal to what extent Beurdeley worked on the piece.

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2010. Text by Eleanor Tollfree

Gallery talks

4 and 24 May at 1pm by Eleanor Tollfree in the Billiard Room.

Further reading

  • Yannick Chastang, Paintings in Wood: French Marquetry Furniture, London, 2001*
  • Peter Hughes, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996, Vol.II, pp.553-563*
  • Alexandre Pradère, French Furniture Makers: The Art of the Ebéniste from Louis XIV to the Revolution, London, 1989, pp.66-109

*Available in the Wallace Collection shop.