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Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806)

Jean-Henri Riesener was the foremost cabinet-maker in France during the reign of Louis XVI (1774–1792). His richly decorated furniture is characterised by mahogany veneers, floral marquetry (inlaid decoration) and sculptural gilt-bronze mounts. Some of his pieces include hidden compartments unlocked by ingenious mechanisms. Several pieces attributed to him were bought for the Royal Collection by George IV (1762–1830), who was a great admirer of French works of art.

Born in Germany in 1734, Riesener emigrated to Paris as a young man and there joined the workshop of Jean-François Oeben. On Oeben's death, Riesener took over the business, and secured his own reputation by completing the famous 'King's Desk' for Louis XV. In 1774 he was appointed Cabinetmaker to the King (ébéniste du roi), and from this time he regularly supplied furniture to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. One commode by Riesener in the Royal Collection (RCIN 21213) was originally made for the King's Bedchamber at Versailles.

The sale of royal and aristocratic property during the French Revolution made it newly possible for English collectors to acquire pieces by the best eighteenth-century French cabinet-makers. In 1825, George IV bought a jewel cabinet, commode and several other pieces attributed to Riesener for Windsor Castle. The jewel cabinet (RCIN 31207) is among the greatest masterpieces of furniture in the Louis XVI style. It has plain mahogany veneers, characteristic of Riesener's output in the later 1780s, and jewel-like gilt-bronze mounts on the doors. Riesener's pieces sometimes contained secret drawers with ingenious unlocking mechanisms, and a desk acquired by George IV at this time (RCIN 2431) includes a hidden central compartment.

Riesener survived the French Revolution, but his association with the monarchy proved damaging to his career and he died in relative obscurity in 1806.


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