National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Writing and Toilet Table (table mécanique) Attributed to Jean-François Oeben
Jean-François Oeben (cabinetmaker)
German, 1721 - 1763
Writing and Toilet Table (table mécanique), c. 1750/1755
veneered on oak with marquetry of tulipwood, kingwood, sycamore, ebony, boxwood, and other woods, some of them stained green and with traces of other colors; gilded bronze mounts
overall: 72.6 x 77.7 x 44 cm (28 9/16 x 30 9/16 x 17 5/16 in.)
Widener Collection
1942.9.413
On View
From the Tour: Rococo Decorative Arts of the Mid-1700s
Object 7 of 7

Jean-François Oeben enjoyed phenomenal success in his forty-one-year life. The German-born artist became a protégé of Madame de Pompadour and, through her influence, was appointed court cabinetmaker to Louis XV in 1754. Because of Oeben’s royal privileges, he did not even bother to enter a Paris guild until two years before his death.

A highly original and influential master with a large shop of twelve workbenches, Oeben taught Martin Carlin, Jean-François Leleu, and Jean-Henri Riesener-all of whom are represented by neoclassical works in the Gallery. Oeben’s daughter, incidentally, was the mother of the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863).

Oeben excelled in figurative veneer such as the still life of musical instruments, berries, and palm fronds on the top of this lady’s mechanical table. For such a dainty piece, it contains an astonishing variety of fittings. The front center drawer, for example, is false, but aging has warped the veneer enough to disclose a smaller secret compartment once hidden by the floral patterns. When the table is opened, a pivoting work surface swivels around, with a toilet mirror on one side and a leather writing pad on the other.

Oeben made at least eleven other tables of this type, with differing interior arrangements and rococo motifs. One table bears his stamp along with that of his former pupil Riesener, and two others place Oeben's mark beside that of his brother-in-law Roger Vandercruse (called Lacroix).

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