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Writing Table

French, Rococo
ca. 1750 - 1760
75.88 cm x 67.31 cm x 44.93 cm (29 7/8 in. x 26 1/2 in. x 17 11/16 in.)
mahogany veneer and brass

Not on view


This French writing table (table à écrire) is Rococo in style and dates ca. 1750-1760. The entire table is veneered in satinwood over French oak, using a technique where the grain pattern of the veneer is arranged and matched on an angle to create V-shaped patterns. The thin cabriole legs, which terminate in gilt-bronze cloven-hoof foot mounts (sabots), support a quarter-matched veneered entablature with a writing slide inlaid with brown pigskin at the front and a compartmentalized drawer on the right side, both with gilt-bronze hardware. The top is ornamented with quarter-matched veneer organized in two superimposed serpentine-bordered fields, the innermost of which is cartouche-shaped. The corners are inlaid with fleur-de-lys motifs, an emblem of the French royal house. A gilt-bronze mount encircles the perimeter of the top.

Three interior surfaces of this table are branded with the initials BV surmounted by a crown and fleur-de-lys: under the writing slide, on the exterior bottom of the drawer (faintly), and under the top. The piece is also branded under the top: Du No. 46. / 4. The initials indicate that the piece was formerly at the Château de Bellevue, the former home of Madame de Pompadour (see below). Bellevue was re-purchased from her by King Louis XV in 1757. The brand under the top indicates that the table was inventoried by the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne (furniture custodian of the crown), the office that managed furniture and art objects from French royal collections. Beginning in 1666, all furniture acquired for the royal collections received a number in the Journal of the Garde-Meuble (now in the Archives Nationales, Paris), and this number was often painted or branded on the piece of furniture itself. The entry in the Journal gave a summary description of the object and its intended destination or location in the royal collections. In the case of the Dumbarton Oaks writing table, the branding references the first known inventory of the Château de Bellevue furnishings: the 1763 Journal du Garde-Meuble de la Couronne; Etat général des meubles du château de Bellevue [Archives Nationales, Paris, 01 3317]. This inventory was made after the king had re-purchased the property from Madame de Pompadour. The inventory states that it details the “general condition of the furniture from the château de Bellevue, part of which was purchased by the king with the said château and part supplied after the said purchase by the garde-meuble de la couronne, recorded during the months of April and May 1763 by Monsieur de Fontanieu.” [Etat général des meubles du château de Bellevue, dont partie achetée par le roi avec ledit château et partie fournie depuis ledit achat par le garde-meuble de la couronne, vérifiés pendant les mois d'avril et mai 1763 par Monsieur de Fontanieu.] In an entry for April-May, 1763, four writing tables were inventoried as no. 46:

N46. quatre tables à écrire de bois satiné à placages, ayant par devant une tablette à coulisse et du côté droit un tiroir fermant à clef, garni d'encrier, poudrier de cuivre blanchi, avec entrées de serrure, boutons et chaussons de bronze doré d'or moulu, de 24 à 26 pouces sur 16 à 17 pouces de large et 28 pouces de haut.

[N46. four writing tables of satinwood veneers, having in front a sliding shelf and on the right side a locking drawer, furnished with an inkwell, powder box of whitewashed copper, with escutcheons, knobs and slippers of gilt-bronze of ormolu, of 24 to 26 pouces by 16 to 17 pouces wide and 28 pouces high.]

The modern equivalent of these measurements would be approximately: 75.8 cm in height by 65 to 70.4 cm in width by 43.3 to 46 cm in depth (29 13/16 inches in height by 25 9/16 to 27 11/16 inches in width by 17 1/16 to 18 1/8 inches in depth). The Dumbarton Oaks table measures 75.88 cm in height by 67.31 cm in width by 44.93 cm in depth (29 7/8 in. x 26 1/2 in. x 17 11/16 in.). It is not clear if this table was included in a 1786 inventory of the furnishings of the Château de Bellevue, now in the Archives Nationales, Paris, 01 3379.

King Louis XV had the Château de Bellevue built by the architect Jean Cailleteau, known as Lassurance (1690–1755), for his royal mistress, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson d'Etiolles, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764). Work on the château was supervised by Ange-Jacques Gabriel (1698-1782), who had been made premier architecte du Roi in 1741. Bellevue (so named because of its beautiful view of the Seine) was inaugurated in the presence of the king and the court on November 25, 1750. It is known that Madame de Pompadour extensively furnished the château in the 1750s (see below). In 1757, presumably in order to finance the construction of the Military School of Paris (l’École Militaire de Paris), which she endowed with her own money, Madame de Pompadour sold the Château de Bellevue and much of its contents to the king. After his death in 1774, the château and its contents were transferred to his daughters, the Mesdames Marie Adélaïde, Victoire, and Sophie. They departed for Italy in 1791 and in 1794, just before and after the beginning of the French Revolution. In 1795, the National Convention, the assembly that governed France between 1792 and 1795, sold the contents of the château, which was itself sold and partly demolished in 1796. The remainder of the building was demolished in 1823.

Madame de Pompadour acquired many of the furnishings for the Château de Bellevue through the Parisian marchand-mercier, Lazare Duvaux (ca. 1703-1758), a prominent designer and purveyor of domestic furnishings. Lazare and his firm maintained a Livre-Journal detailing business transactions (see Louis Courajod , Le livre-journal de Lazare Duvaux [Paris, 1873]), and in this journal are approximately 350 entries for objects sent to Madame de Pompadour between 1748 and 1762, although the majority date between 1751 and 1757. Often, however, the description of an object is too brief to allow its identification. One entry of November 19, 1950, lists ten chests of drawers accompanied by "dix tables à écrire, à tablette & tiroir, garnies de cornets argentés, plaquées en bois satiné, garnies de pieds, entrées et boutons dorés d'or moulu, 580 L" [ten writing tables, with shelf & drawer, trimmed with silver screws, veneered in satinwood, trimmed feet, key holes and knobs gilt with ormolu, 580 pounds]. Two other writing tables with drawers and silver screws were delivered to Bellevue in August 1750 for the same price (58 pounds each). Again in August 1751, six additional writing tables were sold to Bellevue at the same price ("plaquées et contournées, garnies de pieds et entrées & boutons dorés d'or moulu, avec tablette & cornets argentés, 348 L" [veneered and elaborated, trimmed feet and key holes and knobs gilt with ormolu]). Any one of these could, conceivably, be the Dumbarton Oaks writing table, although the first twelve tables more likely comprise inventory no. 45 in the Journal of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne (see below).

A very similar writing table of similar, although slightly smaller size and without the fleur-de-lys motif on the top, was sold by Christie’s, Paris, on June 24, 2009 (sale 5570, lot 406). That table, attributed by Christie’s to the cabinet maker Bernard II van Risenburgh (after 1696- ca. 1766), was also formerly at the Château de Bellevue and is marked with the brands of BV and crown and Du Nu. 45 / 12. Most likely, this table was delivered to the château in 1750 by Lazare Duvaux, as one of twelve tables that he provided to Bellevue that year (see above). Inventory number 45 in the Journal of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne lists twelve veneered satinwood writing tables: N45. douze tables à écrire de bois satiné à placages.

J. Carder

Journal du Garde-Meuble de la Couronne; Etat général des meubles du château de Bellevue, April-May, 1763, no. 46 [Archives Nationales, Paris, 01 3317].

Acquisition History
[Probably] Collection of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson d'Etiolles, Marquise de Pompadour, Château de Bellevue, Meudon, ca. 1750-ca. 1757.

Collection of the French King Louis XV, Château de Bellevue, Meudon, ca. 1757-5/10/1774 (inventoried in April-May, 1763, as no. 46 in the Journal du Garde-Meuble de la Couronne; Etat général des meubles du château de Bellevue [Archives Nationales, Paris, 01 3317]).

[Probably] Collection of the Mesdames Marie Adélaïde, Victoire, and Sophie, the daughters of King Louis XV, Château de Bellevue, Meudon, until the period of the French Revolution, ca. 1791 and 1794, when they left for Parma, Italy.

Purchased from Geoffrey Dodge (dealer), Paris, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 1926.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 1926-1/17/1969.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.

House Collection