Probably Paris. Early Nineteenth Century.


Height: 44 1/2" (113 cm)
Width: 67 3/4" (172 cm)
Depth: 17" (43.2 cm).

Of mouchette mahogany and ebony. Each with original rectangular white marble top with reeded edge above an ogee undermold. The front of each fitted with two doors, each centered by a reeded panel, opening to reveal an interior fitted with replaced inset shelves. The whole raised on a stepped plinth base. Minor repairs. One escutcheon replaced.

The present cabinets represent the apotheosis of extreme quality and sophisticated, understated design found on certain items of furniture made in Paris during the early phase of the Restauration period.

Although severe in character and eschewing any extraneous decoration such as gilded mounts or carved flourishes, the cabinets are nonetheless rich in detail; perhaps uniquely, the central panel of each door is composed of a legion of tightly packed reeds, which resemble the particularly French tambour shutter found on items such as writing table superstructures in the Louis XVI period. The outlines of the cabinets are subtly defined by contrasting slim ebony moldings. Their original statuary marble tops are most unusual in having a carved reeded edge that echoes the decoration of the paneled doors.

The type of mahogany employed is of the most prized and interestingly decorative variety. In France it earned the name mouchette (for the word ‘speckle’), which describes the extraordinary grain structure, while in the rare cases that it is found in England it is called ‘plum pudding,’ again alluding to the small distinctive markings in its grain.

The unusual formation of the interiors of the cabinets indicate they were made for a specific display purpose. Each has a central division and their two flanks each have a fixed shelf of full depth, but then, most unusually, the racking system for extra shelves are set at half the distance. The existence of a small trace of apparently original red velvet to the backboard gives a strong indication that their original function was for the display of small exquisite objects, and that the cabinets were likely designed for a collector of the first rank.

These remarkable cabinets perfectly exemplify the reaction against pomp and majesty of the decorative arts under Napoleon I known as ‘Le Style Empire,’ in favor of a much more sober austere aesthetic. However, this moment was to be short lived, as French design regained its tendency toward the elaborate during the 1820s and thereafter.

Full research report available on request.