9652 A PAIR OF LATE LOUIS XVI BIBLIOTHÈQUES BASSES POSSIBLY BY JOSEPH CANABAS French. Circa 1790. Measurements: Height: 39″ (99 cm) Width: 73″ (185 cm) Depth: 18 1/2″ (50 cm)
Of solid Cuban mahogany. Each rectangular replaced top with frontal lobed corner and thumb-molded edge above conforming three-quarter paired fluted columns which flank two plain doors mounted with an oval escutcheon and chicken wire grills, opening to reveal a shelved interior with blind plain paneled sides, the whole resting on a shallow molded conforming plinth.
French art trade.
This imposing pair of bibliothèques basses has a “teutonic severity”1 that is characteristic of the late Louis XVI period. Ébénistes such as Reisner, Weisweiler, Oeben, and Stumpff all came to Paris from the German Rhineland and were pioneers of this strict neoclassical style. However, the ébéniste who brought the minimalist style to its apogee was Joseph Canabas (1712-1766).
Canabas was born in Germany—his German name is Josef Gegenbach—and he is thought to have commenced his apprenticeship in his father’s workshop in Alsace, and it is known he had moved to Paris by 1745. Before being received as maître in 1766, he worked for many years for Jean-François Oeben and Pierre Migeon. The inventories of the latter, who was also a merchant, record a number of deliveries of pieces fashioned by Canabas in 1761. This was also the case with Oeben, who, at the time of his death in 1763, owed debts to Canabas for a large number of pieces.
Upon receiving his “lettre de maitrise” Canabas established himself in rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine, where he became actively engaged in supplying a private clientele as well as a number of established dealers such as Bonnemain le Jeune or Frères Presle. He preferred small utilitarian pieces that were practical and often followed new concepts. He also produced a limited number of larger pieces of furniture, such as commodes, cylinder bureaux, secretaries, bibliotheques and armoires, always in mahogany and with the same sobriety.2
There are a number of known pieces stamped “Canabas,” and many others which are unsigned but can be attributed due to their recognizable features. “With some small exceptions, Canabas’ works were executed in solid mahogany… The use of bronze is practically absent. The mahogany used was of excellent quality, fine grained and in soft tones. An extreme sobriety was the rule, not allowing space for ornament except some discreet moldings.”3
The present bibliothèques, with their minimalist design and use of solid mahogany, are typical for Canabas. A bibliothèque of similar form signed by him is depicted in Le Mobilier Français (figure 1).
Canabas’ work is represented in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Lyon, the Nissim-de-Camondo Museum in Paris, Waddesdon Manor, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
1. Watson, F.J.B. Louis XVI Furniture. London: Alec Tiranti, 1960. 89.
2. Kjellberg, Pierre. Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe Siècle. Paris: Les Éditions de l’Amateur, 1989. 146.