LEVASSEUR

1721-98; MASTER 1767

O

ne of the most important ebenistes of his time, Etienne Levasseur is also one of the least known. We know nothing of his forma­tive years apart from the assertion made by his grand­son in an advertisement in the Bazar parisien in 1822 that he was trained by Boulle. This is certainly fanci­ful, as Levasseur was only eleven years old at the time of Boulle’s death in 1732. It is more likely that he was apprenticed in the 1740s with one of Boulle’s sons, such as Andre-Charles, known as ‘Boulle de Seve’ (died 1745) or Charles-Joseph (died 1754). He began his career as an ‘ouvrier privil£gie’ at ‘Ли Cadran Bleu’ in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. He then mar­ried the daughter of the ebeniste Nicolas Marchand
and was himself made a master in 1767, benefiting from the favourable conditions accorded to the sons-in-law of a master. He worked almost exclus­ively for the marchands-merciers. producing luxury furniture in Japanese lacquer, in mahogany, and above all in Boulle marquetry. He was mainly concerned with the restoration of Boulle furniture. His stamp is therefore found on a great many Louis XIV pieces which he restored. This is the case with many cabinets and pedestals in the Louvre, various pieces at Ver­sailles and in the Wallace Collection, and several pieces at Vaux-le-Vicomte and in English country houses.

The principal intermediary in the trade of Boulle

furniture was Julliot. and Levasseur was one of his suppliers, as were Montigny. Joseph Baumhauer. Jean-Louis Faizelot-Delorme and Weisweiler. Julliot would not only resell period Boulle furniture repaired by Levasseur but also commission pastiches of this style. Inspired by an example by Boulle made for the Due de Bourbon at Chantilly (19). Levasseur created a whole series of low bookcases with two glazed doors flanking a solid door, some decorated with fauns’ heads, others with oval medallions (352. 354). l^cvas – scur made at least four examples of each model. Of the model with fauns’ heads, a pair is in fact recorded in the collection of the Duke of Wellington at Strat – field Saye. Hampshire, while a second pair is in a pri­vate collection in Paris (formerly in the l^ondonderry Collection) (352). Of the second type, with med­allions. a pair is listed in the sale of the stock of Julliot
in 1777. while a second pair (or perhaps the same pair) was included in the Comte de Vaudreuil’s sale in 1787 (354).

While Levasseur was transforming cabinets-on – stands by Boulle into low cabinets (37.38). he was also making pastiches in that style during the 1770s (349). These cabinets, of a new type, had a single door or a front with three drawers and their construction was much simpler than the cabinets of Boulle. They were very popular and were often repeated by Levasseur and after him by Weisweiler. Levasseur also produced a secretaire a abattant in the same technique, the lower half of which was based on a Boulle commode. This sec^taire came from Julliot and was included in the Comte du Luc sale in 1777. In the same year the Comte d’Artois acquired another piece by Levasseur again from Julliot. the commode destined for the

[3511 (below) Large bookcase stamped Levasseur, c. 1770. The marquetry panels are copied from a piece by Boulle, rtow lost, the design of which existed in Berlin.

I Wallace Collection, l^ondon)

1352f (left) This bookcase, one of a pair stamped Levasseur, once in the collection of the Marquess of Isondonderry, is <i pastiche of a set of bookcases by Boulle /19J; the faun’s mask has been moulded from a motif frequently employed by Boulle. However, the gilt-bronze cornice is typical of Levasseur, as is the plinth. (Private collection I

13531 (ofsposite) Medallion decorating the bookcase forming the pair to the one illustrated at 13541, representing the Abduction of Io, attributed to the sculpteur Foucou

/354/ Bookcase, one of a pair stamped Lcvasseur, c. 1775, identical to another pair in the Wallace Collection. This type ims apparently designed for the dealer Julliot, as one of the pairs first appeared in the sale of his stock in 1777. This same pair later featured in the Baron de Saint-Julien sate in 1784 Hot 186), and in the Vaudreuil stile in 1787. A third example was in the Comte du Luc sale in 1777 and then in the Comte de Merle sale in 1784. (Private collection) 1355J Bookcase stamped Levasseur, originally part of the furnishings of Mme Vigce – Ixbrun’s house, 8 rue du Sentier, built between 1785 and 1787 by the architect Raymond, assisted by the sculpteur Foucou. The latter designed the oval bas-relief representing Prometheus creating Man out of clay which was chased by Thomire according to (he Lebrun sale catalogue in 1791. This bookcase was one of a set of six. all with different medallions, representing allegories of the arts. The others were ’Dibutade’, ‘Alexander and Apelles’. The death of Ixonardo da Vinci’, Charles V and Titian and The Victor of Rhodes’.

(Private collection)

Palais du Temple (Musee de Versailles). On these pieces, architecture dominated the Boulle marquetry decoration. While in Boulle’s work the architecture is simple and the emphasis is on the surface orna­mentation. where the marquetry appears as an ex­tension of the gilt-bronze mounts, Levasseur concentrated on the architectural elements. The cor­ners are emphasized by jutting pilasters with bronze bases and capitals, the frieze forms a dominant cornice and the base is emphasized by the use of large mould­ings. Certain characteristic elements are repeatedly found on most of these pieces: the small circular masks set half-way up the pilasters, or the gilt-bronze frieze composed of openwork gadroons alternating with foliate motifs. The theme of gilt-bronze med­
allions or oval cartouches in the centre of the front panels is also characteristic of his work.

Besides the restored antique’ furniture and the Neo-classical pastiches, there is a group of furniture peripheral to Levasseur’s production, of uncertain date and which for the most part consists of genuine Louis XIV furniture remodelled in the 1770s. An ex­ample is an armoire in the British Royal Collection. Though almost identical to the armoires in the lx>uvre and in the Wallace Collection by Boulle. the Windsor armoire is decorated with two oval medallions typical of Levasseur. surrounded by dense marquetry. It is probable in this instance that Levasseur replaced the central section of the armoire with panels to his own design.

Besides Boulle marquetry. Levasseur produced a number of rare pieces in marquetry, as well as others in Japanese lacquer and mahogany. The most beauti­ful lacquer pieces are two cabinets in Japanese lacquer which are inserted into a Boulle marquetry structure (357). They belonged to Randon de Boisset and fea­tured in his sale in 1777. lot 772. Following this, they next appeared in the Hamilton Palace sale in 1882. Of the furniture in mahogany, an exceptional group is recorded, now dispersed among several French mu­seums. It consists of a bureau with gradin and a com­mode with doors (Louvre) and a pair of encoignures with shelves and a table (Versailles). ЛИ these pieces came from the Chateau de Bellevue where they belonged to the Kings aunts, Mesdames Adelaide
and Victoire. In 1794 they were deposited with the Darnault brothers, the dealers who had already sup­plied many other fine pieces by Carlin to Bellevue [403, 420), which suggests that they too had been sup­plied by the Darnaults and therefore that Levasseur would have worked for them. Л final piece in this series, the secretaire a abattant in the Louvre, which bears the marks of Bellevue and Madame Adelaide, is decorated at the corners with caryatids identical to

I357J This cabinet in Japanese lacquer stamped levasseur is one of a pair made in about 1770, which appeared in the sale of the financier Randon de Boisset in 1777. Here a lacquer cabinet has

those found on furniture by Weisweiler made for Daguerre between 1787 and 1788. Was it in fact made by Levasseur for Daguerre, or for Darnault? What­ever the case it must be dated about 1789. just before the Revolution.

Levasseur became an adjudicator for his guild in 1782. In 1785 and in 1789 he supplied fairly simple pieces of furniture in mahogany or walnut to the Garde-Meuble Royal. It would seem that he did not continue working after the Revolution but remained in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine where he died on 8 December 1798. Mis son and grandson followed in his footsteps and extended the production of Boulle marquetry in Paris into the 1820s. His son. Pierre – Etienne. born of Levasseur’s second marriage to Marie-Louise Montraud in about 1770, was not made a master, probably owing to the upheavals of the Rev­olution. He married a daughter of Roger Vandercruse and moved in 1798 to 15 rue Martel, later to 182 Fau-

Bellemie which идо stored with the dealer Damault during the Revolution. IMusee de Versailles)

bourg Saint-Martin where he is recorded in 1807. and finally to 114 Faubourg Saint-Antoine where his son succeeded him in about 1823. The latter, known as Levasseur the Younger, placed an advertisement in the Bazar parisien in 1822 in which he described him­self as perhaps the only ebeniste making and repairing Boulle furniture in Paris, ‘furniture seldom seen but avidly sought by collectors and dealers’. It would appear that neither son nor grandson stamped his work.

(359J Secretaire d abattant in Japanese lacquer stamped Levasseur. c. 1780.1Private collection)

(360] (right) Comrmxic in Japanese lacquer stamped Levasseur, c. 1780. (Sotheby’s LmiUm, 17 April 1964, lot 51)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

F. dc Salvcrte: Les Ebenistes. pp. 206-07

Denise Ledoux-Lebard: Les cbtnistes du XIXe siecle.

pp. 432-33

Pierre Verlct: La Revue des arts. 1953, pp. 241-43 F. J. B. Walson: The great duke’s taste for French furniture’, Apolb. July 1975

Alexandre Pradfcre: ‘Boullc. du Louis XIV sous Louis XVI’. L’Objet d’Art. no. 4. pp. 28-43 Daniel Alcouffe: exh. cat. Cinq Annees d’enrichissement du patrimoine national 1975-1980. p. 104

Charles