Happy Birthday André-Charles Boulle!

November 11 2009, 2:31pm

Figure 1 André-Charles Boulle (11 November 1642 – 28 February 1732) was a French cabinetmaker and Ébéniste du Roi for Louis XIV (figure 1). He was born in Paris and was elected to the Académie St. Luc as such, though he also considered himself to be “an architect, mosaicist, engraver, and bronze-worker.”1 In 1672 he became cabinetmaker to the king, on the recommendation of  Louis’ minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert.  He worked continuously for the royal family in addition to taking on private important commissions. Figure 2 Boulle was the preeminent artist in marquetry, perfecting the type of marquetry executed in tortoiseshell and brass, to which his name is lent. Boulle marquetry can be done in two ways; sheets of brass and tortoiseshell are glued together and then cut in a particular design. When the layers are cut to produce a shell ground with inlaid brass it is considered ‘first-part’ or premiere-partie. If the brass ground is inlaid with shell, it is then considered ‘counter-part’ or contre-partie. Ebony veneer was typically used for those areas not decorated with boulle marquetry.  In figure 2, a cabinet in the Louvre illustrates the use of the two techniques within the same piece. Figure 3 The fashion for Boulle furniture was revived during the late Louis XVI period, with cabinetmakers such as Étienne Levasseur and Philippe Claude Montigny among the chief exponents, and again by King George IV in the early 19th century. A cabinet in the Carlton Hobbs collecton is a superb example of the early 19th century taste in England for French-inspired furniture of the ancien régime. There were a number of firms in London that specialized in French-inspired furniture, such as Robert Hume, Louis Le Gaigneur and Thomas Parker. In all periods of its construction, whether in 17th century France or 19th century England, furniture in boulle marquetry has always been highly esteemed and furnished, almost exclusively, the interiors of the nobility and social elite.

Footnote: 1. Fleming, John, and Hugh Honour. The Pinguin Dictionary of Decorative Arts. London: Allen Lane, 1977. 107.