A German late 18th century ormolu and white marble mounted mahogany, burr elm, maple, mother-of-pearl and stained sycamore 'Schreibschrank' attributed to the circle of David Roentgen

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Lot 72TP Y
A German late 18th century ormolu and white marble mounted mahogany, burr elm, maple, mother-of-pearl and stained sycamore 'Schreibschrank' attributed to the circle of David Roentgen

Sold for £ 31,500 (US$ 38,171) inc. premium
A German late 18th century ormolu and white marble mounted mahogany, burr elm, maple, mother-of-pearl and stained sycamore 'Schreibschrank' attributed to the circle of David Roentgen
Circa 1795, the superstructure comprising a pierced fretwork gallery surmounted by five urn finials above a pair of mirror-inset panel mounted doors enclosing one shelf, interspersed with three Corinthian columns, over a concealed stepped central drawer flanked by projecting block and urn finial mounted angles, the frieze drawer below with an inset hinged top, above a fall enclosing an architectural interior comprising a catch-activated cedar-lined drawer with triangular pediment mouldings, over a central arched recess with a mirrored interior and chequered lozenge-inlaid floor centred by a model tempietto, flanked by two arched recesses and interspersed with four composite columns and two conforming engaged end columns, with two pierced fretwork secret drawers below, above five catch-activated mahogany-lined drawers, the reverse of the fall inlaid with a central conch shell oval, over a ribbon-tied oak-leaf mounted waist with projecting mille raie block angles, with three long panelled drawers below, flanked by canted classical youth herm-tapering and husk pendant mounted pilaster angles, terminating in square tapering panelled feet, 112cm wide x 54cm deep x 210cm high, (44in wide x 21in deep x 82 1/2in high)

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Formerly from the Estate of Elizabeth Fondaras, USA.
    With Peter Muhlbauer, Lower Bavaria, between 2013 and 2017.
    Then purchased by the vendor from Christie's, London, 4 July 2017, European Furniture and Works of Art, lot 57.

    A comparable, albeit slightly plainer, version of the offered lot sold Christie's, Amsterdam, 24-25 June 2008, lot 751. This Berlin 'Schreibschrank', or secretaire a abbatant, attributed to Georg Ruppert is of similar design and incorporates related characteristics such as white marble or alabaster columns, the Ionic capitals appearing one level below Corinthian ones, a galleried cabinet superstructure and a fitted architectural interior. It was supplied by Ruppert to the Prussian General Carl Freidrich Henrich, Graf von Wylich und Lottum (1767-1841).

    Although due to the current absence of relevant documentation the cabinet maker responsible for the present secretaire is unknown, as more academic research is completed and further information made public then this will inevitably change over time. However for now it is clearly the case that whoever produced such a magnificent piece, or meisterstuck, of German craftsmanship had undoubtedly been directly influenced by the incredible output and legacy of one of the most renowned cabinet makers of all time, David Roentgen (1743-1807).

    This wonderful secretaire perfectly typifies the latter stages of the Neoclassical style, and in particular the gout Grec, which was indicative of the height of fashion across Europe during the period 1770-1800. The impact of David Roentgen, whose output was always distinct, elegant, supremely high quality in terms of its construction and often enclosed ingenious mechanisms, especially dominated Prussia, or what is now modern day Germany. And this impact can be seen in the works produced by the contemporaries and immediate successors of Roentgen, which very often sought to emulate the latter's example and merely introduced subtle variations to his stock designs and clearly defined models. It is also worth noting that, during the peak of its fame, the annual income of the Roentgen workshop rivalled that of the Meissen porcelain manufactory, W. Koeppe, Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens, 2012, New York, p. 3.

    As a result of Roentgen's successful personal and working relationship with perhaps his most important patron, Crown Prince Frederick William who later became Emperor Frederick William II, he was honoured with the title of Royal Prussian Privy Councillor. Then in 1791, by which time Roentgen had evidently already begun to draw back from accepting new commissions, he chose to give his financial backing and influential support to his foreman, David Hacker, so that the latter could set up his own workshop and in essence become Roentgen's most immediate successor. Hacker, who himself went on to supply many of the Prussian Royal palaces with furniture, appears not to be the likely maker of the present lot however Johann Georg Stein and Johannes Andreas Beo, who both trained under and worked for the former, are indeed possible candidates.

    Stein and Beo, who evidently inherited Hacker's predilection for the working method and aesthetics originally developed by Roentgen, each executed a practically identical model of 'Schreibschrank', which in turn closely relate to the offered example, A. Stiegel, Berliner Mobelkunst, 2003, Berlin, fig.'s 28-9, p. 95. All three of these have characteristics in common including the use of brilliant mechanisms, a la Roentgen, such as concealed drawers and compartments stored within separate central architectural units. In an inventory of the Charlottenburg Palace undertaken in 1800, the secretaire by Stein is documented as being housed in the private dressing room of Empress Louise (1776-1810), wife of Friedrich III. While the Beo version, which seems to have once enclosed an impressive clock mechanism (in direct continuance of the tradition of Roentgen) remains for now at the Getty Museum (84.DA.87).

    As well as helping Hacker to establish himself, it appears that Roentgen also assisted Johann Cristian Harder, another cabinet maker who had worked for the former, to also found his own firm in Brunswick in circa 1800. Harder even calls it the Braunschweigische Priviligierte Kunst-Meuble-Fabrik von Neuwied in honour of Roentgen. Constructed following the same stock design as the three aforementioned secretaires, Harder's comparable model, in the collection at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin, is even more impressive in terms of the extremely complicated and ingenious mechanisms stored within it. And as a result this particular variant features, analysed in meticulous detail, in W. Koeppe, Extravagant Inventions, The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens, 2012, New York, app.'s 3.1-3.15, p. 234.

    Ultimately the difficulty in attributing the above lot to any of the previously referenced makers - Hacker, Stein, Beo or Harder - proves the immense consistency and cross fertilisation in terms of ideas, innovations and artistry among these Prussian cabinet makers during this period. However one common thread uniting all of them is clearly the enormous and understandably all-pervasive influence of David Roentgen.
Contacts
A German late 18th century ormolu and white marble mounted mahogany, burr elm, maple, mother-of-pearl and stained sycamore 'Schreibschrank' attributed to the circle of David Roentgen
A German late 18th century ormolu and white marble mounted mahogany, burr elm, maple, mother-of-pearl and stained sycamore 'Schreibschrank' attributed to the circle of David Roentgen
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