A FINE LOUIS XV ORMOLU-MOUNTED MARQUETRY COMMODE, BY CHARLES CRESSENT (1685-1768). CIRCA 1725.
With a serpentine fronted scalloped and moulded Campan marble top. Inlaid with purple heart (Amaranth) and mahogany (bois satiné) veneer in a chequerboard pattern and containing three drawers, two small drawers on the top row with one long drawer below. Some of the mounts are stamped with the crowned ‘C’ and fitted with figurative mounts on the corners. This was a tax mark between 1745 and 1749. See below.
The Opera singer, José Todaro, Maison Laffitte, Chantilly, France.
Despite the crowned ‘C’ tax mark, this commode dates from the beginning of the 1720’s. Charles Cressent continued the form of commode knowns, á la Régence, in pre-Revolutionary sale catalogues. This is a commode, rather than being of three deep drawers (à tombaux) reaching almost to the ground , consists of two drawers separated by a transverse dividing them and is raised up on four legs.
What distinguishes Cressent’s early works is the use of gilt bronze espagnolette mounts of female caryatid form. These first appear on a short lived series of bureau plats. They seem initially to have been derived from the artist, Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721, who depicted young smiling Spanish women, known as espagnolettes, from the elaborate lace headdresses they wore. However, a drawing by Boulle may serve to indicate an earlier source. Indeed, this style was much copied in the last quarter of the 17th. Century in the courts of Europe.
This short-lived period, early in his career, gave way when Cressent made commodes exclusively. It is certain that Cressent made this commode, as there are no known examples of this model signed by him, which is a significant indicator as to this commode’s authorship. The commode in the Musée Bossuet at Meaux is stamped Delorme. However, as Daniel Alcouffe points out, it cannot be by either François Faizelot or his son, Adrien. One or other of them must have restored the commode twenty years after it was made between when the tax on metal from 5th. March 1745 was registered by the Parliament until the 4th February 1749, when it was revoked. However, his early experiences in the 1720’s at the hands of the Guilds of Bronziers et Doreurs, Cressent, despite being a trained sculptor like his father who was a sculteur du Roi, meant that he had to pay a great deal of money in fines and any mounts could be confiscated. He had already been admitted as a màitre sculteur but the guild system was extremely strict. His grandfather was a menuisier. You could be an ébéniste/menuisier or sculteur, but only one at a time and certainly not a mâitre doreur, which was another Guild (Corporation) altogether. In the opinion of this commentator, there is a linking commode, a collaboration between the elderly A.C Boulle, who made the mounts and Charles Cressent who, most likely made the carcase. This is not veneered with tortoiseshell and brass but with geometric panels of bois satiné and borders of amaranthe.
He was undoubtedly the original creator of all of the bronze mounts; but there were no copyright laws in France at this time and anyone could take casts until the late 1730’s. Indeed we know that he made spectacular bronze pieces, notably a pair of fire dogs (chenets) listed and described in a 1756 sale catalogue of Charles Cressent (see: Gillian Wilson, Decorative Arts in the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1977, No. 38, p. 30. The cartel clock which she attributes to Cressent, No 40, p.31 is even more impressive. Cressent’s motive in having all three disciplines of cabinet maker, bronze maker and gilder in the same premises was to keep control, not only of his own creations but also because, mounts often didn’t always fit very well when bought separately by the cabinet makers. His own workshops had been acquired when he married the widow of Joseph Poitou, the ébéniste to the ruler of France, the Regent nephew of Louis XIV during the minority of Louis XV until 1725. They comprised four houses on the Rue Joquelet (now Rue Léon-Cladel, Paris). He succeeded shortly afterwards to the title of the Regent’s cabinet maker. What appears from the records of the notaires in the National Archives in Paris is that, despite supplying, a great deal of Royal furniture, at the time of the Régence, that is, mostly, to the duc d’Orleans at the Palais Royal and the Château de Saint Cloud near Versailles , he did not have an atelier at the Louvre or in a religious institution, where he would have been free to have pursued all the various skills with which he was familiar; though no one was exempt from the tax. This was, after all, collected on behalf of the King himself. He must certainly have supplied a great deal of furniture and bronzes to the Monarch, but it was through marchands merciers such as Doirat, Hébert and Duvaux. Cressent’s frequent financial difficulties stemmed, not just from these fines, but from his own extravagance in forming a remarkable private collection of his own paintings and sculpture.
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