The Wallace Collection

A table once owned by the Empress Joséphine
Detail of the Tuileries mark beneath the lower tier
Detail of the Tuileries mark beneath the lower tier
The Empress Joséphine  by Isabey (M216)
The Empress Joséphine by Isabey (M216)
Treasure of the Month - May 2007

A table once owned by the Empress Joséphine

With its slim columns and exquisite decoration, this table made in Paris between 1786-90 vividly evokes the elegance and intimacy of a lady’s apartment at the end of the Ancien Régime (the aristocratic, social and political system in France prior to the revolution). At this date the apartments of the aristocracy contained suites of small rooms, and a table such as this might have been used in a boudoir (dressing room) or cabinet (reception room or study). The table is three-tiered to provide lots of space for storing knitting, embroidery materials or even gaming pieces. One of the long sides of the top section can be lowered by pressing a spring-loaded knob on either side in order to provide greater ease of access to this tier.

The table was produced by the cabinet-maker Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820), an immigrant from the Rhineland, whose stamp appears under the middle tier. He became a master of his profession in 1778, a year after he married, and lived and worked in the artisan quarter of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris. Much of his furniture is mounted with pietre dure (decorative hardstone panels), oriental lacquer and brightly-painted Sèvres porcelain, luxurious materials supplied by the marchands-merciers or dealers, notably Dominic Daguerre (d.1796), through whom he also sold his work. One of Weisweiler’s greatest patrons was Queen Marie-Antoinette: intriguingly the lozenge pattern satinwood marquetry of this table, which would once have been a pearly-cream colour, is reminiscent of a famous set of furniture veneered with lozenges of mother-of-pearl secured with tiny screws, provided by Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) for the Queen’s study at Fontainebleau in 1786.

The table is also mounted with sixteen Wedgewood jasper cameos showing classical subjects such as the Triumph of Cupid (top centre) and Mucius Scaevola burning his hand (middle tier, centre), purchased by Daguerre after the commercial treaty of 1786 between Britain and France.

A stamp under the bottom tier reveals that the table was once in the Palais des Tuileries. According to an inventory of 1807, it was located in the second salon of the Empress Joséphine at this time. By 1809 the table had been moved to the first floor of the Pavillon de Flore, and later the same year to the Grand Salon. The Tuileries was the main Parisian residence of Napoleon and Joséphine following their coronation as Emperor and Empress of France in 1804. After Joséphine’s divorce in December 1809, however, she retired to Malmaison. Several miniatures of Joséphine including a charming portrait by Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855) can be seen in the Nineteenth-Century Gallery. There will be an exhibition of works of art once owned by the Empress Joséphine at Malmaison at the Hermitage Rooms, London, from 28 June – 4 November 2007.

Further Reading

  • Peter Hughes, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996
  • Patricia Lemonnier, Weisweiler, Paris, 1983
  • Alexandre Pradère, French Furniture Makers: The Art of the Ébéniste from Louis XIV to the Revolution, Sotheby’s Publications, 1989