- French (Paris), early to mid-1750s
- Attributed to Joseph Baumhauer (French, died 1772; ébéniste privilégié du Roi, ca. 1749)
- White oak veneered with ebony* and a wood identified as service tree*, set with panels of Japanese lacquer on Japanese arborvitae and painted with European lacquer; drawers of white oak; brass and iron hardware and lock; gilt bronze mounts; campan mélange vert marble top
- H: 2 ft. 10 3/4 in., W: 4 ft. 9 1/2 in., D: 2 ft. 3/4 in. (88.3 × 146.1 × 62.6 cm)
The commode has a serpentine front and sides and is raised on four five-sided legs. The entire body of the commode is occupied by two drawers. The upper drawer is fitted with a lock that shoots a bolt that engages with the drawer below. The commode is topped by a slab of campan mélange vert marble, which is cut to conforming shape and edged with moldings above and on its underside.
The corner mounts are composed of foliate scrolls overlaid with a branch of flowers and buds emerging and rising from a calyx. The latter is backed by a whorl of leaves, from which descends a pendant of leaves and berries along the outer edge of the convex scrolled shaft of the mount. A cluster of a flower and three leaves flanks the mount in the area of the calyx. A broad molding extends down the outer edge of the leg to the foot, which is composed of concave and convex foliate scrolls.
The fronts of the drawers are outlined by a broad frame composed of C- and S-foliate scrolls. At the sides and along the top branches carrying leaves, flowers and berries emerge and twine above and below the frame, forming handles above. The central frame, forming a tripartite front, is similarly composed, with leafy branches extending to either side at the base to form handles for the lower drawer. At the upper part of this frame the keyhole pierces a leaf that grows from a short branch that is tied with a crinkled ribbon. The branch is also clasped by foliate C-scrolls at either side, which rise to flank a fanlike arrangement above.
The apron mount, attached to the base of the lower drawer, is composed of a leafy calyx set between two C-scrolls from which extend five leafy branches carrying berries. The lower profile of the front is framed by leafy scrolls that extend, as plain moldings, down the inner edges of the legs. At the junction of each leg with the body of the commode small branches of leaves and berries extend from the leafy frame. The sides are similarly framed, with a leafy cabochon set over the frame at the center of the top and the base. The molding that outlines the lower profile of the commode is centered by a single scrolled leaf. At the junction of the legs with the body a similar small branch of leaves and berries extend from the molding.
The front is veneered with two lacquer panels, the joint between them hidden by the right edge of the central framing mount. A larger panel, covering the left two-thirds of the commode front, shows a rocky shoreline with flowering plants at the left and two waterfowl, aligned at the center of the commode, at the right. Their feet and beaks are painted red, and their plumage is golden. Above, flanking the keyhole escutcheon, two butterflies, painted in gold, were added by a French vernisseur.
A smaller panel, covering the right third of the commode, shows a rocky shoreline from which grow flowering hibiscus trees and carnations. The flowers and some of the leaves on both panels are painted red. The gold-speckled ground is painted with small groups of flowering plants and grass in gold, while waves are represented in the foreground.
The left side of the commode is set with a panel of Japanese lacquer showing a hillock topped by a group of chrysanthemums and grasses (fig. 14-1). At the center front, a lower hillock is topped with grasses. The hillocks and the majority of the flowers and leaves are depicted with gold-sprinkled reddish lacquer. Two leaves and one flower are cream colored. All the petals and leaves are outlined in gold, and the veins of the leaves are similarly portrayed. The foreground is painted with waves. The right side of the commode is set with a panel of Japanese lacquer showing a basket containing hibiscus flowers and leaves and a rising branch of wisteria. The basket is fitted with a tall, rectangular handle. The remaining area of the surface of the commode and the outer surfaces of the legs are painted with imitation nashiji (See “Technical Description” below).
A paper trade label of the marchand-mercier François Darnault, or François Charles Darnault, is pasted on the top of the carcass, and another is pasted underneath (fig. 14-2). Each reads as follows:
AU ROY D’ESPAGNE,
Rue de la Monnoie, près le Pont-neuf, à Paris.
DARNAULT, marchand, vend tout ce qu’il y a de plus beau & de plus nouveau, sçavoir, toutes sortes de miroirs, glaces de cheminées, trumeaux, avec leurs bordures sculptées & dorées, de toutes grandeurs.
Toutes sortes de grilles, ou feux de cheminées, des bras de toutes façons, à deux & trois branches; écritoires, flambeaux, porte-mouchettes, girandoles & lustres à six, huit & dix branches, le tout de bronze cizelé, doré d’or moulu, d’or en feuilles, argenté, & en couleur d’or.
Des lustres & girandoles de crystaux, lustres de bois doré, toutes sortes de belles pendules en bronze cizelé & doré d’or moulu, & couleur d’or, avec leur mouvement, tant à répétition qu’autrement, que l’on ne vend qu’avec garantie, toutes sortes de tables de marbre à choisir, avec leurs pieds à consoles sculptées & dorées.
Des tableaux pour dessus de porte, de toutes grandeurs, avec leurs bordures de bois doré.
Des toilettes complettes en vernis de toutes couleurs.
Cabarets, cabinets, paravents, & écrans en vernis de la Chine, & autres.
Des bureaux pour écrire, serre-papiers, commodes de toutes grandeurs avec leurs dessus de marbre, des secrétaires, armoires, bibliothèques, le tout en bois des Indes, de toutes espèces, en vernis de la Chine & du Japon, garnis de bronze doré d’or moulu & en couleur d’or.
Et toutes sortes d’autres choses pour meubler les appartemens; le tout à juste prix & en conscience.
A small oval paper label is attached to the upper surface of the commode. It is printed in red, “CHENUE/ EMBALLEUR/ 5 rue de la Terrace, PARIS,” and inscribed in pencil, “Michel” (see fig. 14-6). The top of the carcass is inscribed in red crayon, “8795.”
The commode is not stamped with the maker’s name, “JOSEPH,” which was used by Joseph Baumhauer.1 However, it is attributed to this maker because at least six other commodes, four of which bear his mark, exist with almost precisely the same size and form and carry mounts of the same models.
2. A pair of stamped commodes veneered with bois de bout marquetry in the Widener Collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.3
3. A stamped commode veneered with bois de bout marquetry in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio.4
4. An attributed commode veneered with wave-cut marquetry in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor.5
5. An attributed commode decorated with European lacquer in the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts, Hungary.6
The attribution of this commode to Joseph Baumhauer (known simply as Joseph in his time) is further strengthened by the appearance of mounts of the same model on various pieces of furniture stamped or attributed to this master. The elaborate apron mount is found on an attributed commode in the musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, which is veneered with bois de bout marquetry.7 Corner mounts of the same model appear on a curved and stamped bureau plat in the Wrightsman collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,8 and on an apparently unstamped commode sold from the collection of Cécile Sorel in 1928. The latter also bore sabots of the same model.9 The center of the upper part of the framing mount that encloses the escutcheon is found in a similar position on a pupitre à écrire delivered to Count Johann Karl Philipp von Cobenzl, minister plenipotentiary of the Austrian Netherlands, by Lazare Duvaux in 1758.10 Here the mount is without the overlaid leafy branch tied with a ribbon bow.
The Museum’s commode bears two trade labels of the marchand-mercier François Darnault, or François Charles Darnault, pasted above and below the carcass, giving the name of the shop as Au Roy d’Espagne in the rue de la Monnaie. Darnault had moved to this address from his establishment A la Ville de Versailles in the rue Grenier in 1745, leaving his son François Charles in charge of the original business. In 1753 the son moved to the more fashionable establishment and formed a partnership with his father, who died shortly after.11 The label is undated and does not help to date the commode, which, on stylistic grounds, must have been made in the early to mid-1750s and was probably ordered by François Darnault. The marchand-mercier would have supplied the four Japanese lacquer panels that decorate the front and sides of the commode. Two panels form the front, and the seam is hidden by one of the vertical mounts of the inner frame. Two panels of Japanese lacquer of different sizes have been used here by French craftsmen to create a symmetrical composition out of panels that were originally asymmetrical. The Parisian ébénistes used disparate panels of Japanese lacquer to create symmetrical compositions, often of tripartite composition.
At some point, the original black field turned brown and was painted over, quite crudely, with black varnish. This may have been done at the time of the construction of the commode. As was quite common, a French vernisseur may have added some flying insects and extraneous tufts of grass to the front panels, both to hide small areas of damage and, perhaps, to fill the empty areas of the Japanese composition, so alien to European taste.12 The imitation nashiji lacquer found on all the surfaces of the commode not covered with Japanese lacquer is an added refinement that is also found on the works of Baumhauer’s contemporary Jacques Dubois.13 Unfortunately, it appears to have been repainted at least twice. The surface now visible consists of a low-quality varnish with suspended coarse copper flakes. It must have originally been quite bright and sparkling, giving the commode an extra air of luxuriance, in combination with its richly gilt mounts and the fine top of green campan mélange marble, the edge of which is carved with the unusual feature of a double molding above and below.
–1955: Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, American, 1875–1968 (London, England), sold through Sir Robert Henry Edward Abdy, fifth Bart., English, 1896–1976, to J. Paul Getty, 1955;14 1955–76: J. Paul Getty, American, 1892–1976, upon his death, held in trust by the estate; 1976–78: Estate of J. Paul Getty, American, 1892–1976, distributed to the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Citation: Getty, J. Paul, and Ethel Le Vane. Collector’s Choice: The Chronicle of an Artistic Odyssey through Europe. London: W. H. Allen, 1955., n.p., ill. facing p. 336; Citation: Wescher, Paul. “French Furniture of the Eighteenth Century in the J. Paul Getty Museum.” Art Quarterly 18, no. 2 (Summer 1955): 115–35., 135 n. 30; Citation: Getty, J. Paul. “Vingt mille lieues dans les musées.” Connaissance des Arts 57 (November 1956): 76–81., 81; Citation: Getty, J. Paul. Chefs-d’oeuvre de la collection J. Paul Getty. Monaco: Jaspard, Polus et Cie, 1963., 114–15; Citation: Boutemy, André. “L’ébéniste Joseph Baumhauer.” Connaissance des Arts 157 (March 1965): 82–89., 85; Citation: Getty, J. Paul. The Joys of Collecting. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1965., 144–45, ill.; Citation: Watson, Francis John Bagott. The Wrightsman Collection. 5 vols. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1966., vol. 1, 152; Citation: Wilson, Gillian. “The J. Paul Getty Museum: 6ème partie: Les meubles baroques.” Connaissance des Arts 279 (May 1975): 107–13., 106; Citation: Augarde, Jean-Dominique. “1749, Joseph Baumhauer, ébéniste privilégié du Roi.” L’Estampille, no. 204 (June 1987): 15–45., 36; Citation: Kjellberg, Pierre. Le mobilier français du XVIIIe siècle: Dictionnaire des ébénistes et des menuisiers. Paris: Éditions de l’Amateur, 1989., 452; Citation: Pradère, Alexandre. French Furniture Makers: The Art of the Ébéniste from Louis XIV to the Revolution. Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1989., 233, 244, no. 236; Citation: Bremer-David, Charissa, et al. Decorative Arts: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue of the Collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum. Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1993., 27, no. 29; Citation: Sargentson, Carolyn. Merchants and Luxury Markets: The Marchands Merciers of Eighteenth-Century Paris. London: Victoria and Albert Museum in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996., 171, pl. 2; Citation: Wolvesperges, Thibaut. Le meuble français en laque au XVIIIe siècle. Paris: Éditions de l’Amateur, 2000., 171, fig. 78; Citation: Wilson, Gillian, and Catherine Hess. Summary Catalogue of European Decorative Arts in the J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001., 16–17, no. 29; Citation: Harwood, Buie, Bridget May, and Curt Sherman. Architecture and Interior Design through the 18th Century: An Integrated History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002., n.p., color pl. 56; Citation: Heginbotham, Arlen, and Michael Schilling. “New Evidence for the Use of Southeast Asian Raw Materials in Seventeenth-Century Japanese Export Lacquer.” In East Asian Lacquer: Material Culture, Science and Conservation, edited by Shayne Rivers, Rupert Faulkner, and Boris Pretzel, 92–106. London: Archetype in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011., 93–94, 95, figs. 2, 6; Citation: Heginbotham, Arlen. “Bronzes Dorés: A Technical Approach to Examination and Authentication of French Gilt Bronze.” In French Bronze Sculpture: Materials and Techniques 16th–18th Century, edited by David Bourgarit, Jane Bassett, Francesca Bewer, Geneviève Bresc-Bautier, Philippe Malgouyres, and Guilhem Scherf, 150–65. London: Archetype, 2013., 151–53, fig. 2; Citation: Herda-Mousseaux, Rose-Marie. “La dynastie des Darnault.” In La fabrique du luxe: Les marchands merciers parisiens au XVIIIe siècle. Exh. cat. Paris: Musée Cognacq-Jay, 2018., 80–87, 81, fig. 25.
The carcass of the commode is made entirely of flat-sawn white oak (fig. 14-4). The four corner posts run from the floor to the top of the case and are formed of single pieces of wood. Each of the side panels is made of two boards, butt joined, with their grain running horizontally. The upper board on each side is exceptionally wide, measuring almost 40 cm across the grain, while the lower board is much narrower, at approximately 8 cm. The side panels are flat on the interior and shaped in a gentle curve on the exterior. They are approximately 3 cm thick at their widest point and are attached to the front and rear posts with tongue-and-groove joints.
The case back is made using tripartite frame-and-panel construction (fig. 14-5). The horizontal rails attach directly to the rear legs with unpinned mortise-and-tenon joints (nowhere on the case are mortise-and-tenon joints pinned). The upper rail is made of two pieces of wood, one glued atop the other. The upper piece is only a narrow spline of just over 1 cm thickness; this kind of composite rail is anomalous and might be the consequence of an initial measurement error by the cabinetmaker. It is a feature that is not duplicated in the otherwise similar construction of commodes by Joseph Baumhauer at the Victoria and Albert Museum (1013-1882) or the Legion of Honor (1931.112). The three equally sized panels of the back are each made of two boards, butt joined and chamfered on the interior edges, with the grain of the wood running vertically.
The case top is also a tripartite frame-and-panel assembly with equally sized panels, each made from two butt-joined boards arranged with the grain running from front to back; these are also chamfered on their interior edges. The four perimeter rails are attached to the corner posts with single, open-faced dovetails (fig. 14-6). The side rails extend slightly to the inside of the front posts, allowing their lower surfaces to act as “kickers” for the drawer below. The rear rail of the top overlaps the case back assembly and is attached to it with three oak dowels that run downward through the former and into the latter. The medial rails are joined at front and back with unpinned mortise-and-tenon joints.
The case bottom and the dustboard (separating the two drawers) are assembled in a nearly identical fashion, each being a modified tripartite frame-and-panel construction without side rails. The rear rails are set loosely into square-shouldered dadoes in the rear posts. The front rails are attached to the corner posts with horizontal sliding dovetails whose mortises run through the entire thickness of the posts. As usual, the medial rails are joined at front and back with mortise-and-tenon joints. The panels are each made of two or three butt-joined boards, the grain oriented front to back, with edges chamfered on the lower surfaces. As there are no side rails in either the case bottom or the dustboard, the side panels of these assemblies run all the way to the angled sides of the case. These irregularly shaped panels are supported along their front, back, and inner edges in the usual fashion, in grooves cut in the rails. Along their outer edges where they meet the case sides, the panels are completely unsupported. The four internal drawer guides are each made of a single piece of oak, cut to an L-shaped section and glued down onto these side panels. In addition, thin strips of oak are glued to the underside of the side panels of the dustboard, just opposite the guides, to serve as kickers for the lower drawer.
The curved lower edge of the case front and sides runs below the rails of the case bottom; numerous short blocks of oak have simply been glued to the bottom of the rails, the upper portions of the legs, and the bottom of the lower drawer front (fig. 14-7). These were then sawn, rasped, and filed to shape in order to create the desired profile.
The drawer fronts are made in a laminated construction with four rows of upright boards stacked and glued edge to edge to make up the full height of the element. Some rows are composed of single boards, while others contain as many as seven short blocks of wood along their length. The upper edges of both drawer fronts, as well as the lower edge of the upper drawer front, are veneered with ebony. The sides and backs of the drawers are made of single boards and have slightly rounded top edges; they are assembled using standard through-dovetails at the rear and half-blind dovetails at the front. The front dovetails are hidden by curved blocks of wood glued over them to serve as extensions to the drawer fronts (fig. 14-8). The front legs have been rebated along their front edges to accommodate these drawer front extensions. The drawer bottoms are each made of five thin boards, butt joined, with the grain running front to back. They are set into rebates in the bottom of the drawer sides and back, and the joints are covered with a thin strip of oak that serves as the drawer runner.
Wherever Japanese lacquer is not present, the exterior of the commode has been veneered with a wood identified as belonging to the Maloideae subfamily of the Rosaceae. Based on its microscopic and macroscopic features, this wood is likely to be service tree (Sorbus domestica; cormier in French) but could also be pear or perhaps apple.15 All three woods have very smooth grain and were readily available to Parisian cabinetmakers of the period at relatively low cost.16 This veneer has been applied with the grain oriented vertically rather than on the diagonal as was more common.
The commode has one large double-throw lock in the upper drawer that has two bolts operated by a single key. The first bolt rises into the case top, and the second drops simultaneously down through a strike plate (attached to the dust panel) and into the lower drawer front, thus securing both drawers.
The commode features panels of Japanese lacquer that have been applied to the drawer fronts and to the sides of the case. On the drawer fronts, two separate panels of raised (or takamakie) lacquer have been arranged in an unusual manner to create a very symmetrical composition out of panels that were originally asymmetrical. X-radiography clearly shows that the first panel covers the left two-thirds of the drawer fronts, with floral designs on the left and ducks and butterflies on the right. The second panel, half the size of the first, covers the right third of the drawer fronts (fig. 14-9).
The panels on the front of the commode were almost certainly taken from the tops of a matched pair of Japanese cabinets dating to the second half of the seventeenth century. The larger panel on the left of the Museum’s commode would have been nearly the entire top of one of the cabinets, while the panel on the right was only one-half of the top of the matching cabinet (whose decoration would have been a near mirror image of the first).17 The unused half of the second cabinet’s top panel would likely also have had a pair of birds. The current whereabouts of this half-panel are unknown, but it is intriguing to imagine that Darnault may have saved it for use in another, subsequent, commission. Pairs of preserved Japanese cabinets showing very similar compositions and with appropriate dimensions are at Temple Newsam (fig. 14-10) and Christie’s lot 272, sale 5538, December 16, 2008, in Paris. Lacquerwork that is extremely similar in technique and design to the Getty’s commode (perhaps even from the same workshop) can be found applied to the lower half of a nineteenth-century French secrétaire, also at Temple Newsam (fig. 14-11).
The two panels on the sides of the commode are also Japanese lacquer, though they are unrelated in style or technique to each other or to the panels on the front. These panels are cut to shape so that the seams between the panels and the French aventurine surrounding them are hidden behind the gilded bronze mounts. Both panels are decorated in flat (or hiramakie) style lacquer whose size and compositions suggest that they might have come from the interior surfaces of cabinet doors. The panel on the right is a fine example of so-called kodaiji-style decoration in which gold leaves with black veins are juxtaposed with black leaves with gold veins.
Based on cross-section samples taken from the front left panel, the Japanese lacquer on this commode was planed and scraped by the French craftsmen to approximately 1.1 mm in thickness; this includes both the lacquer itself and the bare half-millimeter of the original Japanese wood substrate that the French cabinetmaker left behind (figs. 14-12, 14-13).18 This Japanese wood has been identified microscopically as Japanese arborvitae (Thuja standishii).