Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Queen's Commode

The Wallace Collection is sponsoring a film about the conservation of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s Riesener commode.
 This sense of exploration has been expanded in our newest conservation film.  The Wallace Collection has a remarkable collection of ten pieces made by or attributed to Jean-Henri Riesener. Riesener started out as a poor German immigrant but an opportune marriage to the widow of his former master, Jean-François Oeben, allowed him control of his workshop, side-lining  strict French guild regulations set up to prevent foreign competition.  By 1774 he had received the official title of ébéniste du roi (Cabinetmaker to the King,) a title fitting for his artistically skilled and technically accomplished production.

Conservation work is ongoing at the Collection and all furniture and metalwork is conserved on site, yet this remains an unknown world for many visitors. Our conservators identify pieces and produce a thorough conservation proposal, working in tandem with the Curator to ensure the works of art remain in the best possible condition for the future. Work is characterised by minimum intervention wherever possible and only well proven, tested methods are used....

The gilt bronze royal insignia of Marie-Antoinette’s initials had been carefully cut so that part of it could be removed, therefore potentially making the piece unconnected to Marie Antoinette. It’s well known that Riesener was employed after the French Revolution to remove royal insignia from his furniture; many of the pieces he re-purchased himself in the hope of selling them on. Analysis of the metal using an  XRF portable scanner showed that the removeable section of the mount has the same composition as the rest of it, so perhaps it was taken off at the time of the Revolution, and then re-inserted (perhaps by Riesener himself) at a later date when it was no longer politically unwise to acknowledge Royal connections. Unfortunately it wasn’t a successful tactic for Riesener, who died in comparative poverty in 1806. (Read entire article.)

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