Not very much is known about the cabinetmaker Pierre Harry Mewesen, who was probably of Swedish origin. (1) He became a master cabinetmaker (maître-ébéniste) in Paris on March 26, 1766, and was active in Paris for the next twenty years in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine under the sign of the main d’or. Mewesen was a noted marquetry specialist (marqueteur), and much of the furniture bearing his stamp is ornamented with geometric marquetry, especially a trellis design similar to that found in the work of Martin Carlin (ca. 1730-1785, master in 1766) and Claude Charles Saunier (1735-1807, master in 1757). Mewesen also produced pieces in lacquer, employing panels removed from Chinese screens. (2) Mewesen’s trellis marquetry and lacquer furniture may have been commissioned largely by the Parisian marchand-mercier, Adrien Faizelot Delorme (ca. 1715-20-after 1783, master in 1748), who frequently added his stamp to that of Mewesen’s. Mewesen also produced small desks and tables whose marquetry depicted still lifes of vessels and other utensils, a style that was popularized in the 1770s by the cabinetmaker, Charles Topino (1742-1803, master in 1773).
This transitional Rococo-Neoclassical table, ca. 1770-1780, is of cylindrical shape with an upper compartment and a lower shelf, both surmounted by openwork gilt-bronze galleries. Supporting the upper compartment are three slightly cabriole-shaped and tapered tulipwood legs terminating in foliate gilt-bronze feet (sabots). The upper compartment has a tambour door that, when opened, rotates into the interior, revealing three drawers. The entirety is decorated in marquetry veneer with tulipwood, amaranth, and kingwood over oak. The marquetry decorations represent a series of vessels. On the top surface are a reticulated vase with a flowering branch; a gadrooned bowl containing what appear to be an egg and a one-handled vessel, possibly a tea cup; and a reticulated beaker with a foliated vegetal shoot. On the tambour door are a narrow-necked bottle with a foliated vegetal shoot; a one-handled cup with a foliated vegetal shoot; a beaker with a foliated branch; and a one-handled ewer. The two back panels have similar designs, each of four vessels. In the left panel are a narrow-necked square bottle with a foliated vegetal shoot; a narrow-necked oval bottle with a foliated vegetal shoot; a one-handled, ovoid vessel with a foliated vegetal shoot; and a cylindrical, narrow-shouldered bottle with a foliated vegetal shoot. In the right panel are an ovoid vessel with a foliated vegetal shoot; a pear-shaped vessel with a foliated vegetal shoot; a chalice; and a one-handled ewer. On the shelf are a fluted beaker; a footed, flaring cylindrical beaker; and a cylindrical, narrow-shouldered bottle with a flowering branch. These representations are seemingly purposefully naïve in style, and the objects are rendered with little chiaroscuro modeling and without either ground lines or background definition. Inlaid above each leg are two amaranth stripes simulating fluting.
Under the upper compartment, the table is stamped P.H. MEWESEN, the stamp of the cabinetmaker (maître-ébéniste) Pierre Harry Mewesen. There are other stamped pieces by Mewesen that are ornamented in a naïve style with static rows of vases, bottles, and branches and shoots as well as with kitchen utensils and writing implements. Particularly close is the decoration on a Mewesen-stamped writing desk (Bonheur du jour) sold by Christie’s in London. (3) Here all surfaces, except the entablature drawer frieze, are ornamented in a manner very similar to the Dumbarton Oaks table, with the objects lined up in straight rows without a ground line or background definition. Several of the bottles and beakers as well as the vegetal shoots match almost exactly those on the Dumbarton Oaks piece.
This type of naïve still-life marquetry appears to have been inspired by the borders of Chinese, so-called Coromandel lacquer screens and by porcelain vessels from the Kangxi period (1662-1722). Chinese furniture was widely collected in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and French furniture decorated in this “Chinese taste” enjoyed widespread popularity especially between 1770 and 1780. The best known French practitioner of this decorative style was the cabinet maker Charles Topino (1742-1803), who, like Mewesen, worked in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. The cabinet maker-merchant Léonard Boudin (ca. 1735-1807, master in 1761) recorded in his Livre de Commandes a number of tables à marquetrie de vases [tables with marquetry of vases] supplied by Topino between 1772 and 1774. (4) Topino’s still-life compositions were typically less static and more illusionistic than those found on the Dumbarton Oaks table. And although he also was a dealer in ready-made marquetry motifs (he is known to have supplied marquetry to the cabinet makers Pierre Pioniez [master in 1765] and Nicolas Petit [master in 1761]), it is unlikely that he designed the decorations for the Dumbarton Oaks Mewesen table although his work may well have been the inspiration behind the decorative scheme.
(1) For Mewesen’s biography, see Alexandre Pradère, French Furniture Makers, The Art of the Ébénist from Louis XIV to the Revolution (London, 1989), 363; Pierre Kjellberg, Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe Siècle (Paris, 1989), 566-567; and Jean Nicolay, L'art et la Manière des Maîtres Ébénistes Français au XVIIIe Siècle (Paris,) 1976), vol. 1, 314.
(2) E.g. a “Louis XVI ormolu-mounted tulipwood and Chinese Coromandel polychrome-decorated lacquer breakfront commode à vantaux” sold by Christie’s, London, sale 6594, on June 13-14, 2002, lot no. 395, which is stamped by both Mewesen and by Adrien-Faizelot Delorme (master in 1748), who was also a furniture dealer (marchand-mercier). See also Guillaume Janneau, Les Commodes (Paris, 1977), pl. 33, fig. b.
(3) King Street, June 11-12, 2003, sale 6749, lot no. 18.
(4) See Christie’s, Important European Furniture, Sculpture and Carpets, London, King Street, July 5, 2007, sale 7412, lot 217.
Purchased from French & Co., New York, New York (Inv. No. 10968), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 7/31/1933.
Collection of Mildred and Rober Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 7/31/1933-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.