A Collector’s Cabinet

August 16 2010, 11:14am

Carlton Hobbs has been honored to present an exceptional piece of art furniture made by the eminent conservator and ébéniste, Yannick Chastang. It is the first time Carlton Hobbs has marketed a piece by a contemporary designer, and we feel this cabinet is relevant to our collection as it embodies the artistry and quality of the Golden Age of cabinetmaking, whose final flourishing was the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 30s. Although small pockets of high quality production still exist, this cabinet, in its conception, has an exceptional understanding of subtlety and restraint, redolent of late 18th century French design. The quality is undoubtedly informed by Mr. Chastang’s years of working on the greatest examples of 18th century Gallic pieces.

This collector’s cabinet, fitted with 14 drawers behind a pair of marquetry doors, is an uncompromising, luxurious piece of furniture. Its shape is strongly influenced by the furniture made during the 1920s by Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann (1879-1933) while the marquetry decoration finds its source in the great lacquer works produced in Japan during the 17th century, so well known for the quality of their drawing and understanding of space. The interior of the cabinet is fitted with drawers made of a bright and naturally occurring pink/red wood from Mozambique, commonly known as pink ivory, which offers a striking contrast against the dark ebony exterior. This is reminiscent of the ebony cabinets of the 17th century which were often internally veneered in a rich red turtle shell hidden behind two ebony doors.

The simplicity of this cabinet’s form belies its complex construction. The cabinet is fashioned from some of the hardest woods available today and many technical difficulties needed to be overcome in order to realise the elegant design. The piece of furniture is in itself a triumph of craftsmanship, confronting head-on the innate limitations of difficult techniques and materials. Although the construction of this cabinet is traditional, showing typical 18th century oak frame construction on the back, the internal construction, invisible to the viewer, is made using the latest materials and technology, which have been chosen for their strength and stability. The two doors, in order to be rigid, stable and light, are made of aluminium honeycomb which is concealed beneath the solid ebony edges and the marquetry.

As most species of wood used on this cabinet are extremely hard to work, all veneers have been saw cut at a thickness three times thicker than the commonly available commercial veneers, resulting in a more stable and also a more colourful marquetry. The thickness and hardness of the veneer meant that the marquetry could only be cut using the traditional piercing saw and marquetry donkey technique. Even the strongest laser beam, now commonly used when making marquetry, would not be able to cut through the hard ebony veneer. This cabinet, unique in its design and quality of veneer, took over 900 hours of work to complete in Yannick Chastang’s workshop in Kent, UK.

Yannick Chastang studied cabinet-making and marquetry at the Ecole Boulle in Paris for six years. Following graduation he gained work experience in conservation and cabinet making workshops in France and in the United States. In 1995 he became a junior conservator at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris. From 1997 to 2003 Yannick Chastang was Furniture Conservator at the Wallace Collection in London where he enjoyed the privilege of conserving some of the best pieces of furniture ever produced. In 2003 Yannick Chastang set up his own studio specialising in the conservation and making of fine marquetry furniture, working for public and private collections. Yannick Chastang also advises private collectors on buying antique furniture. His publications include the book Paintings in Wood: French Marquetry Furniture, the Wallace Collection (2001), and many articles on history and making of marquetry furniture.