The French word secrétaire derives from secret, or secrecy. Such pieces were created to secure private documents. When opened, the fall-front panel provides a leather-covered writing surface and reveals twelve interior drawers of varying sizes and shapes. The lower part of the cabinet (concealed by two doors) provides extra storage, as does the large drawer above the fall-front panel. The desk was made around 1785 by Jean-Henri Riesener, who was appointed cabinetmaker to the king in 1774, the year Louis XVI acceded to the throne. In 1784, when the crown was attempting to reduce its expenditures, Riesener was replaced by a younger (and less expensive) cabinetmaker. Around this time, his style changed, shifting away from furniture decorated with marquetry in colorful, exotic woods to veneered mahogany, as seen in this secrétaire. Although this change was probably motivated by an effort to eliminate the labor-intensive marquetry work, it also reflected the new taste for simpler furniture that had been inspired by English models. The secrétaire shown here epitomizes Riesener’s latest style. The splendid yet sober mahogany veneer panels are adorned with gilt-bronze mounts inspired by classical architecture: a frieze of scrolled acanthus leaves decorates the large drawer above the fall-front panel while a less ornate frieze of smaller acanthus leaves frames the desk’s side and front panels. The result is an elegant, perfectly symmetrical, and harmonious piece of furniture.
Also pictured: Sèvres Mounted Vase