The date of birth of Guillaume Benneman in Germany is unknown. He was trained as an ebeniste there and moved to Paris, where he worked independently in the rue du Faubourg Saint – /ntoine before receiving his first royal commissions in 1784; at the end of the 1780s he moved to 6 rue For­est in the neighbourhood of the Temple. The Crown’s choice of an unknown craftsman such as Benneman can be explained within the context of the reforms which took place in the Garde-Meuble Royal during the years 1784-85. Mainly for reasons of economy an alternative was sought to Ricsener who was deemed too expensive and also perhaps out of fashion. A wood-carver. Jean Haure. was placed in charge of all

furniture, chairs and beds as well as ebenisterie. He decided to order his luxury furniture from the dealer Daguerre, and have the rest made by a team of crafts­men. either independent or in the service of the Garde-Meuble. dividing the work among casters, chasers, gilders, locksmiths, marble-carvers and ebe – nistes. Under this scheme, with its strict demarcation of work, foreshadowing the world of the nineteenth – century worker, the ebeniste. instead of supplying the finished piece of furniture, as he had in the past, was now reduced to a humble artisan in a team. Having tried various ebenistes. including I^vasseur. Papst. Birckle, Dubuisson and Lacroix, the choice of the Garde-Meuble fell on Benneman. He became a mas-

ter-ebeniste in September 1785 with a dispensation from the police as to ‘the necessary rights and con­ditions of residence’. In February 1786 the Garde – Meuble provided him with his tools and employed nine and then sixteen craftsmen on his instructions.

Benneman was at first employed to repair existing furniture and to make functional furniture such as fire­screens, boxes, bidets and commode chairs. Then under Haure’s direction he undertook a whole pro­gramme of copying and altering existing furniture in the drive for economy. Thus for the King at (x>m – piegne he supplied in 1786 and 1787 several pastiches and copies based on a commode by Joubert, which had originally been supplied in 1771 for the Salon des Nobles of Marie-Antoinette at Versailles. Initially he delivered a second commode, a smaller copy of the original (private collection, Paris), followed by a bureau plat (Louvre) (503), a writing-table (Petit Tria­non). and a secretaire a abattant (Metropolitan Mu­seum of Art). The same marquetry of ‘intertwined hearts and lozenges’ is found on almost all these pieces as well as the same mounts which were used by Joub­ert: Vitruvian scrolls, egg-shaped feet and caryatids. Only the secretaire was fitted with new mounts in the form of superb Egyptian caryatids modelled by Boi-
zot. Joubert was the inspiration for a number of other copies by Benneman; a second commode for the cabi­net of the Comte d’Artois at Compiegne (sale Chris­tie’s. 17 June 1987. lot 69) was a copy of the one delivered in 1774 by Joubert (private collection, Paris). This was followed by a bureau plat (formerly in the Schloss Museum. Berlin; illustrated in F. J.B. Wat­son. Louis XVI Furniture, fig. 107) placed in Louis XVl’s library at Fontainebleau. Also in 1786 Benne­man copied the lower part of the ‘bureau du Roi’ made by Oeben and Riesener twenty years earlier, pro­viding a bureau plat matching it for Louis XVI’s Cabi­net at Versailles (now at Waddesdon Manor).

From 1786 to 1787 Benneman worked to complete or transform a series of commodes by Stockel. which the Garde-Meuble had purchased from the dealer Sauvage. They had originally been made for the Comte de Provence. Orders and counter-orders from the Garde-Meuble followed in quick succession. At vast expense (nearly 35.000 livres) the four com­modes. as a result of Benneman’s ‘tinkering’, became eight commodes of a staggering richness. In the meantime the originals had been either reduced or enlarged, or even both, one after the other, and some­times raised in height. Everything had been re­veneered. all the mounts were regilded and some pieces had their porcelain plaques removed. On one of the pieces the mounts were removed to be placed on its copy, while the carcase served as the basis for a totally different piece. Pierre Verlet has retraced the

history of these pieces. Here is a resume:

— ‘Commode with doves’: originally in tulipwood. it was reveneered in mahogany and reduced in width, then the door was replaced with three drawers and the mounts regilded. It was then placed in the bed­chamber of Louis XVI at Compiegne (505).

— ‘Commode with lictors’ fasces’: originally in tulip – wood. it was also partly reveneered in mahogany. It was first raised in height in 1787. and a year later widened at the sides. It was for use in the Council Chamber at Compi£gne.

— ‘Commodes a encoignures with the cypher of Marie-Antoinette’: originally decorated with a floral porcelain plaque. The veneer was completely stripped and reveneered in mahogany and ebony and then reduced in size. Benneman made a copy of it in 1786. decorated as on the original with a porcelain plaque. It was enlarged and then again modified in 1787. The porcelain plaque was replaced by the Queen’s cipher in gilt-bronze. A second copy was made in 1787, based on the preceding one. and both pieces were placed in the Queen’s Salon des Jeux at Compiegne. However, the original commode, drastically altered in 1788, was placed in the Queen’s Bedchamber at Saint – Cloud.

— ‘Commode with foliate scrolls’. It was enlarged, reveneered and the mounts regilded. The porcelain plaques were removed and replaced with a large Sevres biscuit medallion. First it was copied and then, since the destination of these pieces had changed (they were going to be used in the Queen’s Salon des Jeux at Fontainebleau) and as the measurements of the first commode were no longer appropriate. Benneman had to make a second copy on which were fitted the mounts from the original commode, while the carcase served as the basis for yet another piece in mahogany for use in the bedchaml^er of the Comte de Provence at Versailles (506).

At the same time Benneman altered numerous pieces and refurbished them to suit the current fashion. This was the case with Louis XV’s bureau at Choisy attributed to В. V. R. B.. originally in Chinese lacquer, which he fitted with two drawers and com­pletely reveneered in bois jaune or ‘walnut from Gua­deloupe’ (now in the Archives Nationales). In 1788. continuing its programme of copies, the Garde – Meuble commissioned Benneman to make a copy of a mahogany commode made by Riesener in 1784 for

the Queen’s Bedchamber on the ground floor at Ver­sailles. The two pieces were placet! in the Salon dcs Nobles of the Queen at Saint-Cloud.

From 1787 Benneman. still under the direction of Haure. started supplying original pieces of his own work: a pair of commodes with panels in mahogany were made in that year for the wife of the Commis­sioner-General of the Garde-Meuble, Mme de Ville – d’Avray [504] and were placed in 1792 in the Council Chamber at the Tuileries. The caryatids at the cor­ners. in severe Neo-classical taste, were cast by For – estier. chased by Thomire and Bardin and gilded by Chaudron. The ebeniste’s role was of little signif­icance and represented barely a third of the total cost (3,292 livres). One of these commodes is today in the Louvre, the other was recently sold (Christies Lon­don. 3 July 1986. lot 138). In the year following this consignment. Benneman made a pair of commodes with panels in lacquer using leaves from a screen which was supplied by the Garde-Meuble. The sump­tuous gilt-bronze mounts in the form of lictors, fasces and trophies of arms, which echo the decorative ele­ments in the King’s Bedchamber at Saint-Cloud for which they had been designed, account for the origi­nality and richness of these pieces. The mounts, cast by Forestier after a model by Martin, chased by Tho­mire and Bardin and gilded by Gallc. accounted for the main expense. The role of the ebeniste was even less significant than in the construction of the ma­hogany commodes as it amounted only to 1.031 livres out of a total of 5.954 livres. These commodes had a chequered career. In 1790 Benneman altered them, replacing the doors with two large drawers. Between 1793 and 1848 they were again fitted with doors and lost their lacquer panels. One of them, fitted with panels of pietra-dura. is now in the J Paul Getty Mu­seum [502]. while the second, now with pictorial mar­quetry. has been identified in the Royal Palace in Madrid. In the case of these pieces. Benneman s crea­tive role was reduced and the initiative came from Haure. It seems, however, that in 1788 Haure fell from favour with the Garde-Meuble. which then went direct to Benneman. From then on his name appears

/506/ Marie-Antoine He’s Salon des Jeux at Fontainebleau including the pair of ‘(ommodet with scrolls’ made by Benneman in 1786. The Seines biscuit


at the head of the invoices and not in a subdivision of Haurc’s accounts.

In 1788 the Garde-Meuble provided Benneman with mahogany and additional tools sufficient for twenty workers’. Shortly before 1791 Louis XVI ac­quired a strange piece of furniture by Benneman (now at Versailles) with funds from his privy purse. It was a cabinet decorated with panels of feathers, butterfly – wings and plants applied to wax, possibly made by the mother of the painter Troyon. Christian Baulez has suggested that it might correspond to a piece for which 6,000 livres was paid by Louis XVI to Jacques Hettlinger. co-director of the Sevres manufactory. It was certainly a special commission, the initiative for which was provided either by Hettlinger or possibly by Louis XVI himself.

Benneman’s workshop employed numerous assis­tants, as many as twenty in 1788, and his output be­tween 1786 and 1792 was copious. Apart from the furniture identified above, he supplied many pieces, whose whereabouts are now unknown, to Versailles, and from 1788 onwards to the Chateau de Saint – Cloud which the Queen completely refurnished. There is no doubt that these pieces had to comple­ment those made by Weisweiler supplied at the same time by Daguerre, not only for the same residences but sometimes even for the same rooms. The style of Benneman’s furniture was very close indeed to that of Weisweiler. In both their work the same mahogany commodes with three panels ’a brisurc’ are found, the same toupie feet, fluted panels, chased frames and decoration in the arabesque style. The similarities are so numerous that one cannot help wondering some­times if the Garde-Meuble Royal was not using Ben­neman to make deliberate copies or pastiches of the sumptuous and original furniture supplied by Daguerre. In the eyes of Haure the two were com­pletely interchangeable. Thus he writes: ‘(on the sub­ject of) two other mahogany commodes which were begun by Sieur Benneman for M. Thierry (de Ville – d’Avray), finding similar ones soon afterwards for sale at Daguerre’s. I acquired them, to save time’ (Arch. Nat. d‘3648).

The collaboration between Weisweiler and Benne­man is confirmed by the presence of both their stamps side by side on several pieces of furniture made in typ­ical Daguerre style: on two mahogany long-case clocks (British private collection) which belonged to Marie-

Antoinette as well as a series of four mahogany con­soles (493). Moreover, certain consignments by Ben­neman, such as the one in October 1786 for the Salon des Jeux at Saint-Cloud, exactly echo the work of Weisweiler; this one consisted of two semi-circular consoles in mahogany, ‘richly decorated with friezes of arabesques and caryatids’. The mounts which are aftercasts are described in detail: ‘female heads, with cushion’ and ‘small sphinx in the friezes’. Even if this was a new type of furniture made after designs by Lalonde, as the description states, it is clear that the mounts were borrowed from models belonging to Daguerre which are usually found on Weisweiler’s furniture.

From August 1786 Daguerre supplied a series of completely new furniture in ‘bois jaune’ (satinwood) called ‘noyer de la Guadeloupe’. First, he supplied a commode for the King at Fontainebleau as well as a writing-table. In October he supplied a bonheur-du – jour for the Queen at Choisy and then in March 1787 various pieces for the Dauphin’s use at Versailles: writ­ing-table. bonheur-du-jour, commode en console, encoignures a etageres and secretaire a abattant. At the same time. Benneman received stocks of bois jaune and in his turn supplied various pieces in May 1787 for the Dauphin, comprising two writing-tables and a console. The consignments by Benneman increased in volume as compared to those of Daguerre: in 1788 he supplied 17.433 livres worth compared to Daguerre’s consignment of 10.580 livres. In 1789 Benneman’s rose to 55.927 livres as against 30.305 livres for Daguerre. From 1790 the amounts of the invoices dropped noticeably. Benneman still sup­plied a number of mahogany pieces to the royal family, now in theTuilcries. as well as pieces forCom- piegne and Saint-Cloud. In 1792 he supplied several modestly priced desks to replace those used in the National Assembly. On 10 August 1792 the civil list ceased to function and Benneman was left almost without work. Between 1793 and 1795 the Garde – Meuble commissioned a few further small works such as the furniture for the Girondin Deputies imprisoned in the Conciergeric. After Thermidor, his workshop gained a certain amount of new business. In 1798 he supplied a complete series of mahogany furniture to the dealer Collignon, comprising a secretaire and a matching commode as well as a chiffonnier, three bookcases and a dressing-table. The most beautiful

Benneman, such as the commode in the l lermitage. another in the Royal Palace in Madrid and a pair in an American private collection. (Galerie Lupu, Paris)

pieces from this period are a commode and a secre­taire made to designs by Percier. now at the Chateau de Fontainebleau.

It is difficult to discuss Benneman’s style with the knowledge that he was usually content to copy the works of Joubert. Riesener and Weisweiler. The degree of his personal responsibility in the conception of various pieces originating from his workshop was very limited, as the Garde-Mcuble provided him both with the design (by Lalonde or Dugourc) and ail the gilt-bronze mounts. It would be more apt to talk of a ‘Haure style’ or. from 1788. of a Thierry de Ville – d’Avray style’ after the name of the head of the Garde – Meuble. This style usually includes the following characteristics: handles in the form of ropes, attached to Hercules’ clubs, are to be found on numerous pieces, as well as frames and brass-reeded panels on the square tapering legs of bureaux. Л pair of ma­
hogany commodes, today in a private American col­lection (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue by Rosenberg and Stiebel. Elements of Style. New York. 1984). are ornamented at the corners with caryatids in the form of cherubs with heads bowed which are also found on other unstamped pieces (507) and which must definitely be considered as further character­istics of Benneman.

BIBLIOGRAPHY F. de Salverte: Les Fbenistes, pp. 16-18 Pierre Verlet: LeMobilier royal fran$ais, vol. 1. 1945. pp. 8-9. pp. 36-45. vol. 2. 1955. pp. 100-14: French Royal Furniture, 1963. pp. 20-21 and pp. 152-57 Geoffrey de Bcllaigue: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, vol. 2. pp. 458-65 and p. 864

F. J. B. Watson: The Wrightsman Collection, vol. 1. pp. 195-201. vol. 2. p. 534 Christian Baulez: ‘Un medaillierde Louis XVI Ъ Versailles’. La Revue du lynivre, no. 3. 1987, pp. 172-75 Gillian Wilson: ‘A pair of cabinets for Louis XVl’s bedroom at Saint-Cloud’. Furniture History Society Bulletin, 1985


Updated: October 12, 2015 — 6:31 am