A Gilt-Bronze Mounted ‘Boulle’ Petite Armoire

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Object Description

A Very Fine Ebonised and Gilt-Bronze Mounted ‘Boulle’ Petit Armoire by Joseph Cremer.

French, Circa 1860.

The Armoire is of rectilinear form with a shaped cornice beneath a brèche de Campan rubané marble top. The cabinet has a pair of doors to the front with finely inlaid Boulle strapwork cartouches of scrolling and fronded acanthus punctuated by neo-classical ewers and dragonflies. The cabinet is embellished with finely cast gilt-bronze mounts to the corners and an acanthus frieze above the doors. It is raised on four gilt-bronze toupie feet.

Stamped twice on the back of the carcass ‘Cremer Marqueteur’.

This exceptional cabinet is typical of the high quality of brass inlay work, that was carried out in the Louis XIV style by ébénistes such as Cremer and Befort Jeune in the 19th century. A similar cabinet to the present example also stamped by Cremer is illustrated by Ledoux-Lebard.

Object History

Cremer was a specialist marqueteur who developed a highly distinctive style of inlaid decoration in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, drawing upon the late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century tradition of the Boulle workshops and the emergent naturalistic style of the 1840’s. He was born in Luxemburg in 1811 to French parents. Describing himself as ‘artiste en mosaique et marqueterie’, he was to become famous for his complicated and ambitious designs and was elected as a member of ‘L’Academie de l’Industrie’.

Establishing his business in Paris at la rue de l’Entrepôt in 1839 he remained in business until his death in 1878. During his lifetime he supplied furniture to Louis-Philippe in 1844 and also to the King of Holland. Some of the finest examples of his work are included in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. He also worked in conjunction with André Lemoine who had a Royal Warrant from Napoléon III.

Cremer participated in all of the major exhibitions of the period receiving ‘la médaille d’honeur’ in 1839, and a ‘médaille de bronze’ in 1844. He went on to even greater success being awarded ‘une médaille d’argent’ at the 1849 Exposition, ‘une médaille de seconde classe’ at London in 1852 and ‘la médaille de honeur’ at the 1855 Exposition Universelle. It was recorded that his submission for the 1855 exhibition was:

“un meuble de salon en noyer et ébène, les battants de l’armoire couverts de branchages fruits et fleurs, groupés et mouveménts, les panneaux du bas ornés de deux têtes de chiens et de chèvres surtout de leur niche, et des meubles de Boulle, avec marqueterie obtenue par galvanoplastie. Il avait egalement execute la marqueterie d’un meuble exposé par Tahan. D’après le rapport du jury, comme ton, comme dessin, il est impossible d’atteindre dans un travail de marqueterie à plus d’harmonie et de justesse… M. Cremer est un maîitre…”
[Cat. Exp. univ., 1855. – Rapport by H. Marie MARTIN.]

He also exhibited a side cabinet, after the model by Reisener in the Royal Collection, at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. Employing a new process for the execution of ‘Buhl inlayings,’ using permanent dyes as introduced by M. Bouverie in 1855, the piece was greeted with considerable contemporary acclaim.

Cremer’s superlative use of Boulle inlay and his elaborate use of complicated naturalistic marquetry were based on a keen interest in historicism and in particular the work of Reisener and the master ébéniste Andre Charles Boulle.

André-Charles Boulle (d.1732), appointed Ebéniste, Ciseleur, Doreur et Sculpteur du Roi in 1672, is among the greatest ébénistes of all time. His fame was such that his name has become synonymous with a whole generic furniture type. Simply defined, Boulle style work features designs cut out of brass and pewter and inlaid into a tortoiseshell veneered panel, often framed with an ebony veneer.

His fame rests upon three principal strands: his extraordinary technical virtuosity as a craftsman his innovation in both technique and design, and his brilliance as a sculptor. His work is thought to have been influenced by Pierre Golle (fl.1644-1684), a Dutch craftsman and marqueteur who worked at the Louvre in 1644. There has been speculation as to whether Boulle developed his famous metal marquetry skills under Golle’s tutelage at the Gobelins workshops. Certainly metal marquetry appeared in Flemish furniture at the end of the 3rd quarter of the C17th, and Golle and Domenico Cucci (1635-c.1705) both used this technique in the furniture that they produced for the French Court. However, it was Boulle’s genius for this technique which developed a distinctive type of decoration known today as Boulle marquetry.

In the early Eighteenth Century Boulle’s furniture making was dominated by the heavy, formal style of Le Pautre. Later work shows the unmistakable influence of the Court designer Jean Berain, where Boulle began to design more delicate marquetry, decorated with the new, lighter arabesques which foreshadowed the Rococo.

Boulle’s refined style and expressive use of his eponymous technique was updated and reinvigorated by virtuoso ébénistes and marqueteurs such as Cremer in the Nineteenth Century to create exceptional pieces of exacting design and the highest quality.

Object Literature

Ledoux-Lebard, Denise. Les Ebénistes du XIX siècle, Les Editions de l’Amateur, (Paris); p 137.

Ledoux-Lebard, Denise. Meubles et ensembles du Second Empire, Massin ed.

Meyer, Jonathan. Great Exhibitions – London, New York, Paris, Philadelphia 1851 – 1900, Antique Collectors Club, (Woodbridge, UK), 2006; p.101, 126, 147.

Object Details

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