1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Riesener, Jean Henri

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RIESENER, JEAN HENRI (1734-1806), French cabinet-maker of the Louis XVI. period, was born at Gladbach near Cologne. At an early age he went to Paris, where he entered the workshop in the Arsenal of Jean François Oeben (q.v.). When that great master died, Riesener became foreman of the works; two years later he married Mme. Oeben, and in 1768 was admitted “maître-menuisier-ébéniste.” His wife died in 1776, and in 1782 he espoused, as his second wife, Anne Grezel, daughter of a bourgeois of Paris. The union was unhappy, and when, under the first Republic, divorce was legalized, the marriage was dissolved. When Riesener contracted his first marriage he possessed little or nothing; his second contract of marriage recited that in cash and in the money due to him by Louis XVI. he was worth more than £20,000, without counting the finished work in hand, bronze models, jewels and personal effects and invested funds. Thus in fifteen years he had accumulated a fortune amounting in all to about £40,000. By that time there had been conferred upon him the title, formerly enjoyed by Oeben, of “Ébéniste du Roi.” He died on the 6th of January 1806, in the Enclos des Jacobins, leaving an only son, Henri François (1767-1828), a distinguished portrait-painter of the First Empire. Riesener was unquestionably the greatest of the Louis Seize cabinet-makers. His name is stamped upon the Bureau du Roi in the Louvre, and although the original conception of that master-work was due to Oeben, it cannot be doubted that its consummate finish and perfect achievement must in great measure be attributed to the man who completed it. Occasionally there may, perhaps, be some lack of spontaneity in his forms, but his work is generally at once bold and graceful. His marquetry presents an extraordinary finish; his chiselled bronzes are of the first excellence. He was especially distinguished for his cabinets, in which he employed many European as well as exotic woods. Wreaths and bunches of flowers form the centres of the panels; on the sides are often diaper patterns in quiet colours. Yet despite his distinction as a maker of cabinets his high-water mark was reached in the Bureau du Roi, finished in 1769 and consequently belonging rather to the Louis Quinze than the Louis Seize period, and a not altogether dissimilar cylinder bureau believed to have been made for Stanislas Leszczynski, king of Poland, now in the Wallace Collection. Stanislas died in 1766, but the desk was not completed until February 20, 1769, as appears by the inscription accompanying the maker's signature. Upon its completion it passed into the possession of the French crown and was included in a sale of the royal furniture which took place in Holland. It was purchased by Sir William Hamilton, then British Minister at the Hague, and appears to have passed out of his hands when he left Naples, where it was purchased by Sir Richard Wallace. At Buckingham Palace there is a third bureau on the same lines. These pieces are triumphs of marquetry. They are inlaid with trophies of musical instruments, doves, bouquets and garlands of flowers; the bronze vases and “galleries” are exquisite — they may possibly be the work of Gouthière, but are more probably from the hands of Duplessis. For several years this great artist appears to have used the models of his master Oeben, but there was a gradual transition to a style more individual, more delicately conceived, with finer but hardly less vigorous lines. By the time he had been working alone for ten years he had completely embraced the Louis Seize manner — he had, perhaps, some responsibility for it. One of the most distinguished of his achievements for the court was the famous flat writing-table now at the Petit Trianon, for which he received only £200. The extent of these royal orders may be gauged from the fact that between 1775 and 1785 Riesener received 500,000 livres from the Garde Meubles, notwithstanding that during the whole of this period Gondouin the architect was the official designer of furniture for the royal palaces. Like so many other artists he was condemned in the end to sacrifice to the false taste of his day, and a certain number of his creations, otherwise delightful, were vitiated by being mounted with panels of Sèvres, Wedgwood and other china. The beautiful little secretaire in the Jones collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum suffers seriously by this lapse.