1 December 2020 – 1 September 2021
In this display at the Wallace Collection, visitors could discover the extraordinary life and work of Jean-Henri Riesener, one of the most important cabinetmakers in France during Louis XVI’s reign. From humble beginnings as a German emigrant, he found work in Paris and went on to become the most successful cabinetmaker of his generation. His work was renowned for its floral and figurative marquetry and spectacular gilt-bronze mounts and he was appointed cabinetmaker to Louis XVI in 1774.
He was Marie-Antoinette’s favourite cabinetmaker, providing furniture for her private apartments in several royal palaces. In the nineteenth century, his name became synonymous with craftsmanship and luxury, and all that was admired in French furniture. The Riesener furniture in the Wallace Collection is some of the most important in the world. It is also the single largest holding of furniture that once belonged to Marie-Antoinette outside France.
The Riesener Season Display incorporated two themes. The Private Marie-Antoinette explored furniture made for the queen, displaying significant pieces on specially-designed plinths in the centre of the galleries, which allowed visitors to see them in the round for the first time and ensuring that every detail could be explored. The second theme was that of Riesener’s Legacy. Displayed as they were in the nineteenth century by Sir Richard and Lady Wallace, two magnificent roll-top desks were shown alongside each other in the centre of the Great Gallery. One was Riesener’s masterpiece made for the French aristocrat, the comte d’Orsay, in 1770; the other was the copy commissioned by Lord Hertford in the 1850s of the most famous piece of French furniture in the world, the Bureau du Roi, or King’s Desk, delivered by Riesener to Louis XV in 1769.