1685-1768; MARCMAND-EBENISTE ANDSCULPTEUR
he active career of Charles Cressent spans the years between 1719 and 1757. He is certainly the ebeniste whose work is most representative of the Regcnce style, so much so that there is a tendency for all fine furniture of that period to be automatically attributed to him. to the detriment of his less celebrated contemporaries such as Carel. Doirat. and even Gaudreaus or Boulle’s sons.
This tendency is easily explained by the fact that Cressent. established in the rue Notre-Dame-des – Victoires. never stamped his furniture. The only way to gain an impression of his work is through eighteenth-century sales catalogues or the list of bronx. es confiscated from his workshop in 1723. 1733 and 1743. Besides the sales catalogues of his clients such as M de Selle there were three successive sales, in 1748. 1757 and 1765, of his collections of paintings and stocks of furniture. The detailed descriptions outline a very homogeneous production. Of the types of furniture listed, the greatest number were commodes, but there were also a number of bureaux plats, bookcases and armoires. The commodes were generally of the type called a la R« цепсе,’ on high feet with two drawers. He almost always used bois saline or amaranth – often the two combined; they were often used for plain veneers or parquetry, sometimes to form a trellis or lozenge designs. The carcases of his furniture are in deal and the drawers in walnut. More rarely, king – wood is used and occasionally ‘bois de Cayenne’, a type of cerise-coloured bois satine. Palisander, very fashionable in the years between 1710 and 1720, is never mentioned, neither is tulipwood which first appeared in France c. 1745-50.
In the 1748 sale, of 45 pieces of furniture described. 26 were in bois satine or amaranth. The total absence of ebonized wood and the rarity of kingwood distinguish Cressent from his colleagues, who at that time frequently employed these woods. The marble tops came from French quarries: mainly ‘marbre d’Antin’ also called ‘Verette’. or ‘Sarrancolin’. also called ‘Seracolin’. sometimes also ‘Breche d’Alep’. marbre de Ranсe’ and some other marbles from Flanders. In the 1758 sale numerous types of marble from Italy were mentioned such as griottes. ‘rouges de Sidle’ and brocatelles.
The bureaux plats are embellished with corner – mounts in the form of female heads with lace headdresses which would seem to have escaped from the world of Watteau, or busts of vigorous warriors which recall the style of Oppenordt. They are accompanied by serre-papiers surmounted by a clock with groups of bronze figures representing Diana the huntress flanked by scenes of a stag and a boar at bay. or Time with his scythe – a motif which is often repeated on a series of long-case and wall clocks.
The production of bookcases and armoires was particularly important; under the Regency the prevailing fashion for cabinets des curiosites used this type of turniture to hold books and display medals or various collections. They had either glazed doors, grilles or solid doors, in which case they were richly decorated with gilt-bronze mounts and usually measured at least
1. 30 metres high and more often between 2 metres and 2.60 metres. Placed on these pieces were busts and figures in bronze, vases in porcelain, porphyry, sometimes branches of coral and various shells.
The dominant theme in Cressent’s work is the extensive role of sculptural decoration: his furniture is covered with such a profusion of gilt-bronze or varnished mounts that the eb^nisterie is finally no more than a vehicle for displaying the decoration. This is not surprising as Charles Cressent. son of a sculpteur and grandson of a wood-carver, was also trained in this art. He became a master sculpteur in 1719 and a member of the Academy of Saint-Luc; he is alternately recorded as sculpteur or ebeniste to the Due d’Orleans. The difficulties which he experienced with the guild of casters and gilders (fondeurs and doreurs) in 1722. and then in 1733 and 1743, confirm that Cressent chased and gilded the bronzes in his own workshop, even in a number of cases providing the casters with models actually made by himself. The charges brought by the casters’ guild confirm that a considerable production of these gilt bronzes (one of the five casters used by Cressent attested that he had cast 24.0W livres worth of work for Cressent over a space of four years) was not just decoration for furniture but also included chenets. wall lights, chandeliers, mirror-frames, decorations for chimneypieces and house altars, thus infringing the prerogatives of their guild. These legal documents also give the names of those bronziers who carried out commissions for Cressent in their own workshops. In 1722 Noel Bros – sart. caster to the King at the Gobelins’, states that he cast decorative elements for a bookcase in the form of the Four Quarters of the World, the Seasons or Three Fates. Pierre Vandnesanne. fondeur-ciseleur at Saint – Nicolas-du-Chardonnet. chased espagnolettes for him.
Guillaume Lombard, fondeur-ciseleur in the rue des Arcis. was also employed to chase espagnolettes and mounts for clocks for Cressent.
Artus Oudain. caster, rue de la Tannerie, was employed to weld bronzes by Cressent from 1719.
Jean Perquet, caster, rue du Faubourg-Saint – Antoine. cast all types of works in bronze for Cressent for about four years, for which Cressent provided the models.
In 1743 it is known that Cressent used the caster Confesseur. established in the Petite-Rue-Taranne.
In 1757 it is recorded that Cressent owed 7,731 livres to the gilder Barthelemy Autin. established in the rue Pavee. for gilding work. On Cressent’s death in 1768 he was still owed 1.071 livres.
Jean Trumel. senior member of the community of casters in the rue Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, was commissioned by Cressent in 1719 to gild or colour bronze mounts over a period of four years.
In 1733 the guild of’gilders on worked metal’ complained that Cressent was employing two master – gilders in his workshop. Leon-Jacques Cazobon. living in the rue des Fosses-Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois. and Francois Bruyer. living in the rue des Fosses – Saint-Germain. Here is the evidence that Cressent employed bronze workers in his workshop. The guild was not accusing him of doing the work of others, but of having it carried out in his own workshop. In 1733 Cressent defended himself against the charges of the guild of gilders and the arguments exchanged during the course of the litigation are revealing. Cressent states the reasons why he carried out the gilding of the bronzes in his own workshop: There are lords and other people who wish to have work done on their own premises, either because gold is used, or because they fear that their models will be stolen.’ It is clear that in a period when the ownership of models was not regulated and aftercasts were the general rule, the only way in which a sculpteur could ensure that his bronzes were not reproduced was to make them in his own workshop. This also allowed him continuously to supervise production and thus guarantee quality.
1901 (above) Side of the bureau plat mown at (91 (, the female head with lace headdress reminiscent of the works of Watteau and Lancret. і Gulbcnkian Museum, Lisbon I
(91J Bureau plat in amaranth and bois satine, с. 1740, decorated with heads of antique warriors. A similar bureau appeared in the Due de Richelieu sale in 1788. (Gulbenkian Museum. Lisbon l
1921 /rmojr<*, one of a pan. с. I750, in bo is solute and amaranth, decorated u-ith bas – reliefs representing Painting and Sculpture. It behmged to the
Treasurer General of the Navy. f. deSelle, and и-as included in his sale in 1761 I Musee du Louvre, Paris)
(93} Bookcase in bois salint and amaranth, decorated with busts symbolizing the Four Quarters of the World. Probably an early piece by Crcsscnt (Clulbcnkian Museum, Lisbon)
(941 Corner armoire in kingwood, с. 1730, decorated with bas-reliefs representing Painting and Music, from the M. d’Ennery sale in і 786. (Sotheby’s New York, 13 October 1983, lot 477)
(95j Armoire, с. 1730, in bois saline, described with its pair with glazed doors in the sale of the stock of Crcsscnt in 1749 (nos 3 and 4), and again in 1757 (nos 147 and 148). (Private collection)
In theory, therefore, Cressent’s bronze mounts should not be found on another £b£niste’s furniture, and it is relatively safe to attribute furniture to Cres – sent according to the mounts. However, there are certain exceptions and several pieces are recorded, obviously by other eb^nistes, with mounts typical of Cressent. The explanation is to be found in the catalogue of the sale in 1765: Cressent explains that he is now retired and selling his bronze models (‘the sale will include (…) many uncompleted bronze models’). They were no doubt bought by his fellow £b£nistes and were used by them on their own pieces, such as the figure of Ь)апаё which is found on a sec^taire attributed to Montigny in the Mus£e des Arts Dec – oratifs (343).
It is not possible to describe Cressent’s numerous bronze articles of which we get a glimpse in the confiscation of 1723 – chandeliers, wall-lights, mirrors, chenets, ornaments for chimneys and tabernacles – because of the absence of precise documentation, as, in transgressing the legal bounds of his profession, he was unable to seek publicity in his sale catalogues. However, it is possible to identify the chenets in the 1757 sale with ‘two sphinxes, one playing with a cat. the other with a monkey’, ’a pair of wall-lights with parrots and three branches’ and the chenets modelled with a salamander on a hearth. Cressent remained all his life in the same house on the comer of the rue Notre-Dame-des-Victoires and the rue Joquelet. It had previously belonged to Joseph Poitou (1680-1718) whose widow Cressent had married. The ground floor was taken up by his workshops for ebenisterie and bronze-work, while on the first floor were the display rooms, two rooms hung in red damask and another in ‘green satinade’ where Cressent sold pictures and furniture. His own quarters were on the second floor. In 1757 he was ‘forced to give up his craft completely owing to his advanced age (seventy – two) and his failing eye-sight’ as he explains in the preface to the catalogue. His physical decline seemed to coincide with the declining demand for his work. If one compares the two last sales in 1757 and 1765, it appears that a large part of the furniture remained unsold in the 1757 sale and was reoffered in 1765. Doubtless Cressent’s furniture was by then out of fashion: it should be remembered that at this time, c. 1760, Oeben was already conceiving his ‘commodes a la grecque’ for Mme de Pompadour.
Cressent died in 1768 and his assets were sold up in March of the same year.
Mile Ballot: ‘Charles Cressent’, Archives de і Art franqais. vol. X, reprint by de Nobclc. 1969 Andrd Boutemy: ‘Essais d’attributions de commocles et darmoires & Charles Cressent’. Bulletin de la societe de Vhistoire de I’art frangais. 1904. pp. 77-99; ‘Cressent’, Connaissance des Arts. June 1963, pp. 68-77 Theodore Dell: ‘The Clilt bronze cartel clocks of Charles Cressent’, Burlington Magazine. April 1967. pp. 210-15 Jean-l>ominique Augarde: ‘Charles Cressent et Jacques Confesseur’, L’Estampille. September 1986, pp. 54-58 Daniel Alcouffe: exh. cat. ‘Louis XV. Hotel de la Monnaie, Paris. 1974. pp. 315-16; Cinq annees d’enrichissement du patrimoine national. Paris. 1980. pp. 96-100; Nouvelles acquisitions du departement des objets dart, 1980-1984. pp. 73-75
/96/ lu>ng-case clock in bois sating and amaranth decorated with bas-reliefs representing the winds, dragon wings, and a winged figure of Time. (British Royal Collection)
1971 Commode, c. 1730. in bois saline and amaranth, probably corresponding to the models vith palm-trees and flowers’ described
/98/ Commode, с. 1730. in bois saline with motifs of children perched in oak branches; matching the encoignure shown atflOOf. tWaddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire)
/99/ (Commode ‘with children swinging a monkey’, c. 1740-45, in tulipuiood and amaranth, described in the sale of the stock of Cressent in 17491lot 7 las a novelty, subsequently in the sales of 1757 and 1765. tMus/e du Louvre, Paris)
/ 1 00] Encotgnure called The piping of the birds’, described with three others in Cressent’s sales of 1749 (lots lOand 15), 1757 (lot 143 and 144), in 1765 (lots 86 and 89), and finally in the inventory drawn up after Cressent’s death; these pieces formed an ensemble with the commode shown at . (Private collection)
11011 Tulipwood encoignure, с. 1750, decorated with a head of a Chinesewoman and a monkey apothecary. (Sotheby’s London,
26 November 1971, lot 60)
f 1021 (below I Medal cabinet in bois saline, made by Cressent in about 1739for Louis. Due d’Orleans, son of the Regent. (Bibliotheque Nalionale, Cabinet des Medailles, Paris)
11041 Commode with hidden secretaire compartment, с. 1740-1745, in bow sating; described in the Cressent sales in 17491 no. 22), in 17651 no. 94) and then in the inventory after Cressent’s death. I Archives Catcrie Aveiine, Paris)
1106J (right) Commode “with child musicians’, c. 1730, in bois sating; decorated with typical Cressent motifs Ipalm fronds, ivy trails and rose sprays and festoon motifs), this piece was probably acquired by the Elector Charles – Albert of Bavaria between 1730 and 1737 when redecorating his palace (Residenzmuseum, Munich)