9900 GILT-BRONZE AND BOULLE MOUNTED WRITING TABLE STAMPED VITEL French. Circa 1840. Measurements: Height: 29 1/2 (75 cm) Width: 32″ (79 cm) Depth: 19″ (48 cm)
Of tortoiseshell and brass inlay. The rectangular leather lined top with a border of contre-partie arabesque inlay, the similarly inlaid frieze fitted a drawer and with foliate corner mounts, pierced lock-plate and central pendant lambrequin mount, the square tapering legs inlaid arabesques and with leaf and husk mounts.
Sold by Christie, Manson & Woods, London. Property of Major-General Sir George Burns, North Mymms Park, 24th September 1979, Lot 296
Jack Bailey Collection, Gloucestershire, England
This gilt-bronze and boulle-mounted writing table previously formed part of the great collection at North Mymms Park, Hatfield, Hertfordshire. Built at the end of the 16th century, the estate was purchased in the early 1890s by Walter Hayes Burns, brother-in-law of J.P. Morgan, who made modifications to the house to accommodate the his growing collection of art and furniture. The table stood in the library before being sold in 1979 by Walter’s son, Major-General Sir George Burns, a decorated British army officer and president of the North Mymms Cricket Club for over sixty years.
Boulle marquetry, the technique of inlay in brass and tortoiseshell, had been perfected in France by the celebrated ébéniste to Louis XIV André Charles Boulle (1642 –1732), and its use continued throughout the eighteenth century on some of the finest French furniture. André Roubo’s L’Art du Menuisier, published in Paris in 1775, offers the most detailed account of the method Boulle and his followers used. He described how the preferred tortoise-shell was in fact that of a turtle from the seas around the island of Quimbo. The shell was prepared for cutting by a complex process of boiling it, clamping it into molds and polishing one side whilst continually watching for shrinkage. The shell, together with the brass and pewter inlay was then cut after a tracing, the three combining to produce the elaborate designs which characterize such work.
The present table is executed in contre partie and stamped VITEL. He is recorded as a manufacturer of furniture in boulle matquetry, guilloche moldings and ormolu mounts, as well as a restorer of objects of art and curiosity. In 1838 Vitel had premises at 30 rue Saint-Jean-de-Beauvais, followed by 37 rue de la Montagne-Sainte Geneviève in 1840-41, and finally at 17 rue des Fossés-Saint Vicor until 1864.1
Rather than being a slavish copy of a table in an earlier style, Vitel has created, by a fusion of Louis XVI-inspired neoclassical elegance and Louis XIV period baroque detailing, a table of notable originality and presence. Such creations were extremely popular in the first part of the 19th century among the British aristocracy and collectors such as George IV, William Beckford and George Watson Taylor. The fact that it formed part of such a notable patrician English collection leads one to speculate that it was a custom Parisian piece for the English market.
1. Ledoux-Lebard, Denise. Les Ébénistes Parisiens Du Xixe Siècle. 1795-1870. Leurs Œuvres Et Leurs Marques, Etc. (seconde Édition Revue, Corrigée Et Considérablement Étendue.). pl. CXXVIII. Paris, 1965, 1965. 550.