National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Writing Table (table à écrire) Jean-Henri Riesener (cabinetmaker)
French, 1734 - 1806
Writing Table (table à écrire), 1784
veneered on oak with mahogany, sycamore, ebony, and boxwood
overall: 76 x 81.8 x 49.1 cm (29 15/16 x 32 3/16 x 19 5/16 in.)
Widener Collection
1942.9.407
On View
From the Tour: Neoclassical Decorative Arts of the Late 1700s
Object 3 of 6

According to Jean-Henri Riesener's account ledger for May 28, 1784, this table was ordered for Queen Marie Antoinette's private apartments in the Tuileries Palace, Paris. Detailed descriptions and measurements, as well as a court inventory number inked underneath the tabletop, confirm its identity. After the French Revolution erupted in 1789, the royal family was held for three years in the Tuileries. Marie Antoinette must have used this piece during that imprisonment before she was guillotined in 1793.

Besides its historical interest, the single-drawer table is a superb example of Riesener's artistry. With great perception, he emphasized the delicate taper of the legs by inlaying panels of darker wood that interrupt the paler surrounding veneer. Flanked by Roman flutings alternating with openwork palmettes, gilded central plaques depict cupids frolicking among clouds while playing musical instruments.

It may not be coincidental that Riesener, the official cabinetmaker to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, came from Essen, Germany. The French queen, born in Austria, also spoke German. Ironically, the French Revolution did not destroy Riesener's career; he was employed to remove the royal emblems from his own court furniture!

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