The title of this work calls for preliminary comment. A good third of the French ebenistes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were first or second generation immigrants. A glance at the contents list of this book will bear this out. Ebenistes of the century of Louis XIV came from the Flemish Netherlands or from Holland. Boulle’s family originated from Guelderland, dole was born in Holland, as was Oppenordt. while Laurent Lelibon was born in Antwerp and Michel Camp in the duchy of Jullicrs. The great names of the rococo style also came from these regions, such as the Criards from Brussels and the Vanrisamburghs from Holland. and some also from Germany like Latz and Joseph Baum – hauer. In the next generation, almost all the great ebenistes came from Germany, particularly from the Rhineland, such as Oeben, Riesener. Carlin, Bcnncman, Wcisweilcr. Schneider and Molitor. ()n coming to Paris these foreigners grouped themselves together in certain quarters such as the Faubourg Saint-Antoinc. where ancient privileges placed them outside the regulation of the Parisian Guild of Menuisiers. and so enabled them to work.
It was the aim of the guild system, as it operated in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, above all to protect the interests of a group of established craftsmen, and it did not welcome free competition or the establishment of newcomers. At a time when family or guild ties were fundamental to the organization of society, integration by strangers was difficult. In many cases integration took place only if the newcomer married into a family of Parisian ebenistes. From the outset, the network of family protection helped him to obtain his mastership and set up a workshop. In the majority of cases the newcomers were integrated into the heart of a Flemish or German community in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine closely bound together by family ties, and worked for the marchands – merciers or other ёЫп isles-marc hands without having direct access to a private clientele. The situation may be summarized as follows. The most lucrative side of the business, the retailing of furniture, was effectively reserved by the families of the Parisian ebenistes who were established in the commercial quarters in the centre of the city or in the Grand-Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoinc where they had access to private clients, whereas production was mostly carried on in the Faulxmg Saint-Antoine by unknown foreign craftsmen. It is true that certain Germans such as Oeben or Riesener enjoyed a celebrity unique to the profession; but they were exceptional. Who in their life-time had heard of В V. R B.. or of Latz, Joseph Baum-
hauer, R. V. L. C., Carlin or Weisweiler? Their names are not mentioned in any contemporary sale catalogue and the poverty of their probate inventories bears witness to their modest circumstances. On the other hand, certain eblnistes whose names are barely known to us were then highly sought-after, such as Lefebvre who worked in the rue Saint-Denis during the reign of Louis XIV or Noel Girard during the Rcgencc and. in the second half of the eighteenth century. Tuart. Sevcrin, Macret and Hericourt. Reading old almanacs can be revealing in giving the addresses most in demand in Paris. In 1772 the Tablettes royales dc renommee lists the following ebenistes:
– Dubois, rue de Charenton. owner of a manufactory and famous furniture shop, delivers to the country and abroad.
– Fromageot. Grand-Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. owner of a manufactory and shop for all kinds of high quality furniture and makes deliveries to the country and abroad.
– Gamier, rue Neuve-dcs-Petits-Champs, for Ibenistcrie.
– Hobenne (sic) owns a manufactory at the Gobelins and a large shop dealing in Ibenisterie. delivers to the country and abroad.
– Widow Hobenne. at the Arsenal, owns a large furniture emporium.
– Joubert. butte Saint-Roch. ‘Ebdniste ordinaire du roi’. has just completed furniture of top quality for Mmes la Dauphine and la Comtesse de Provence
– Leleu, Rue Royale. owner of a manufactory and shop dealing in ebenisterie. delivers to the country and abroad.
– Sevrin. rue Dauphine. ebeniste. holder of the secret of ‘vemis d’Angleterre to colour brass mounts.
The same almanac, however, says nothing about other important ebenistes who were active at the same time, such as Carlin. R. V. L. C.. Dautriche. Kemp or Riibestuck. Material success and fame were enjoyed by the sellers, whilst the lot of the producers was precarious. Probate inventories reflect the prosperity of the former and the relative poverty of the latter, in whose scanty lodgings little if anything in the way of pictures or tapestries is usually to be found, a modest amount of plate and few pieces of furniture; cane chairs, walnut buffets and fruitwood commodes being the staple rudimentary furnishings. The marchands-ebcnistes. on the other hand, owned large stocks of furniture: Pierre Roussel’s inventory after his death in 1783 detailed no less than 244 pieces of furniture in the shop. Some of them had made large fortunes, such as Noel Girard who during the Regence had become established in the former hotel of Jabach the banker and now dealt in timber as well as furniture, objets dart and pictures.
This hierarchy within the trade was observed by Roubo who wrote in 1769 in L’Art du Menuisier.
The menuisiers-lblnistcs. for the most part, do not sell the finished work for the price that it would be worth if it were of good quality and well made. They cannot do otherwise, seeing as most of them work exclusively for the marchands who do not pay what the work is worth. The luxury in fashion today is also one of the causes of the lack of finish in ebenisterie. as everyone wishes to own it without having the means to pay for its true value.
Roubo adds. The menuisiers-eb^nistes, for the most part, do not make the carcases themselves but have them made at rock-bottom prices by other menuisicrs who do nothing else.’
Towards the end of the eighteenth century the division at the heart of the ebenistes trade between producers and sellers became accentuated and led to extreme cases such as that of Nicolas Нёг – icourt. who was both «Jbeniste and marchand-mercier and employed nearly a hundred workers. In 1790 his widow. Marie-Anne Krop – per. was obliged to give a list of workers employed by her to the syndic of the marchands-merciers; amongst the fifty-four £benistes in her employ, there were twenty-seven independent craftsmen, the same number as master ebenistes: [Louis-Claude) Pierre; (Jean- BaptisteJ Vassou; (Josephl Kochly; (Martin) Oehneberg; [Conrad) Mauter; [Frangois-ClaudeJ Menant; (Denis-Louis) Ancellet; [Pierre
II) Roussel; Chariere; [Denis) Jullienne; [Jean-Pierre) Dusautoy; [)can-Fr£d£ric) Birckel; Depaux; Guillard; Marchand; Lausanne; (Jean-Frederic) Ratie; [Jacques) Lucien; [Charles) Topino; [Pascall Coigniard; [Etienne) Avril I’Aine; [Jean) Caumont; Kans; [Jean- Baptiste] Pignit; (Antoine-Simon) Mansion; Folemayere; Foulon. (Arch. Nat. F30/132.)
Besides these ebenistes. the widow Hericourt employed bronze workers (the caster Alain, the chaser Maurot). ‘metal-guilders’ (Becard father and son; Martin), wood-gilders, chaser-mounters (Gende), a locksmith, two clock-makers (Cronier and Le Guay), a caster-maker’, a ‘sconce-maker’ and a wood-carver. It is clearly specified that all these craftsmen worked at home and no doubt had the right to work for other employers beside Hericourt. The craft infrastructure was thus perfectly secure, even if. with hindsight, it is clear that the foundations had already been laid for the industrialization of the nineteenth century.
The importance of foreign workmanship and the stratification of the trade into producers and sellers are two factors unique to Parisian ebenisterie. and intimately linked to its dynamism. This is evident if the ebenistes are compared to their fellow professionals the menuisiers. The latter, who were generally of French origin, were established in the centre of Paris. Their conservative nature and lack of innovatory urge mark the art of chair-making during the eighteenth century, in spite of individual successes. By contrast, in furnishing the enterprising and inventive merchants with able foreign workmanship, the system favoured the extraordinary rise of the Parisian 6beniste. A constant flow of innovations accompanied the progress of ebenisterie – in design and types of furniture, new combinations of materials, new techniques, etc. The guild system was active at the heart of all this. Aimed in theory at maintaining the trade in a craft framework, with the production and selling processes indivisible, it resulted in practice in the exclusion of a large section of foreign workers from the retailing of their products.