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HistoryVersailles through the centuries

Jean-Henri Riesener



Cabinet-maker in ordinary for the furniture of the Crown (1734-1806)

The favourite cabinet-maker of Marie-Antoinette, Riesener was the uncontested master of Louis XVI furniture. He made for Louis XV one of the most fabulous pieces of furniture in the world: the desk for his inner study in Versailles.

German in origin, Riesener began his career for the monarchy with the roll-top desk for Louis XV placed in his inner study. Commissioned in 1760 from his father-in-law and master Œben, it is a piece of furniture exceptional for its novelty, the refinement of its marquetry, the quality of its bronze details and above all the ingeniousness of its mechanism: all the desk closes with a single turn of the key and opens just by pressing a button! Completed in 1769, it was modified by him during the Revolution when he had to remove the royal symbols. The prestige of this piece of furniture was immense and definitively established the reputation of Riesener.

From this time on, there was no shortage of commissions from the court and for ten years he was the principal supplier to the royal residences. But his outrageous prices lost him a part of his clientele which turned to his rival Beneman. Marie-Antoinette, however, remained faithful to him.

In 1775, Riesener delivered 4 corner pieces for the gaming room of Louis XVI and in the same year a new and exceptional piece of furniture: the chest-of-drawers of his bedchamber in Versailles (Chantilly). Its straight lines, its squat appearance, the rich variety of the bronze decorations, and the trapezoidal marquetry of the central part are characteristic of the neo-classical style practised by the cabinet-maker. Alongside this heavy style, he opposed a plainer style that can be seen in the large sequoia table of the king’s library.

Riesener produced his most graceful and innovative pieces of furniture for Marie-Antoinette: for the Salon des Nobles in Versailles, he supplied two corner pieces and a chest-of-drawers for which he replaced marquetry by a simple veneer of mahogany. The bronze details were reduced and lightened. For her boudoir at Fontainebleau, he produced fragile furniture decorated with mother-of-pearl that was unique in its genre. For the Petit Trianon, he provided a series of original pieces: a writing table with rounded corners, an identical dessert console table in mahogany and bronze, etc. When they were sold at auction during the Revolution, Riesener bought back some of his pieces to sell them to a rich foreign clientele. But in vain. The period marked definitively the end of his brilliant career.

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