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Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806)

Roll top desk (bureau à cylindre) c. 1775-80

Oak, purplewood, mahogany, casuarina wood, holly, boxwood and sycamore, with gilt bronze mounts | 129.0 x 138.0 x 81.0 cm (whole object) | RCIN 2431

White Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace

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  • Roll-top desk veneered in purplewood, mahogany, casuarina wood, holly, boxwood, sycamore and other woods, partly stained and engraved. The top, surrounded by a pierced gilt bronze gallery, is fitted with three drawers, the central drawer forming a reading-stand. Four gilt bronze foliate scroll candle branches, in pairs, are mounted at the sides. There are pull-out leather-lined secretaries' writing-slides at each side. The interior is fitted with drawers in three tiers, flanked on each side by three drawers, the removable central part concealing a hidden compartment. The lower section with five further drawers, on cabriole legs. Decorated with flowered-lozenge trellis marquetry in simulated relief with panels of flowers and fruit. The centre of the roll-top depicts a trophy emblematic of Poetry and Literature. The drawers in the lower section can only be opened when the roll-top is fully open, a device typical of Riesener's workshop.

    The roll top desk is one of a number of similar conformation made by Riesener in the 1770s for members of the French royal family. Perhaps closest in design is one at Waddesdon Manor (WM2544), made for a Daughter of France, perhaps Madame Adelaïde (1732-1800) or Madame Victoire (1733-1799), daughters of King Louis XV. Another closely related desk includes one made for the comtesse de Provence, married to a younger brother of Louis XVI.  That desk is in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon (inv. 2082).  Although the early history of the desk has not yet been traced, such are the similarities between the two other, royal, desks, that it would seem highly likely that this desk was also made for a French royal princess. One way of identifying the early history of these pieces has been to identifying marks and ciphers inlaid into the marquetry panels (Waddesdon Manor desk) or to link accounts with individual pieces (Gulbenkian desk). However, a number of pieces made by Riesener for members of the French royal family were originally supplied with personal or French royal Bourbon emblems, such as fleurs-de-lis, many of which where removed (sometimes by Riesener himself) after their sale from Versailles in the revolutionary sales of the 1790s. Such marquetry panels were removed from the famous King's Desk at Versailles, and from the large commode made for the King's Bedchamber in 1775 (Musee Condé, Chantilly), both pieces were made by Riesener. This desk does not bear the stamp of Riesener's workshop, like some other pieces in the Royal Collection, nor can it yet be associated with certainty with any of the roll-top desks referred to in the mémoire, the account of Riesener's workshop production, it therefore should be described as attributed to Riesener's workshop. The similarities in design and construction noted above with pieces supplied to other members of the French royal family are such that a firm link to Riesener's workshop is extremely likely. 

    George IV acquired this piece, along with five other pieces of furniture by Riesener, to furnish Windsor Castle. It was intended to form a key part of the group of furniture to be used in the Castle during the refurnishing project carried out between 1827 and 1829 by the partnership of Morel and Seddon. It was placed originally in His Majesty’s Sitting Room at Windsor Castle, but soon after it was sent there that room became a Pages Room and the desk was sent to store.

    Possibly a member of the French royal family. George Watson Taylor, his sale Christie's, London, 28 May 1825 lot 49, where bought by Joseph Fogg for George IV (£107 2s).

  • Medium and techniques

    Oak, purplewood, mahogany, casuarina wood, holly, boxwood and sycamore, with gilt bronze mounts


    129.0 x 138.0 x 81.0 cm (whole object)