MOLITOR. 1755-1833: MASTER 1787

Bernard Molitor was born in Betxdorf in Lux­embourg and settled while still very young in Paris, certainly before 1778. In that year he is mentioned in the Petites Affichcs advertising a product to kill bugs. At the time he was established at the Arsenal where he subleased a workshop. In 1782 he advertised ‘hand-warmers. . . made in the form of books, for use in church, in a carriage, at the theatre or when travelling’. These ingenious little boxes were in mahogany or walnut and contained metal canisters designed to hold preheated brickettes or stones. He did not become a master until 1787. He must have practised the craft of ebeniste for some time before this. as. on the occasion of his marriage in 1788. his

assets were estimated at the considerable sum of

15,0 livres. In the spring of 1787 he was commis­sioned to construct a mahogany floor for Marie – Antoinette’s boudoir at Fontainebleau, with the Queen’s cipher incorporated in the design. He made the acquaintance of Julie-Elisabeth Fessard, daughter of the charpentier du roi’, at Fontainebleau, whom he married on 7 June 1788. Shortly after his marriage he

/526/ (opposite) Secretaire d abattant in mahogany stamped Molitor, с. 1787-90, reputedly made for Mesdames at Bellevue. (Formerly in the Marquis de Villcfranchc’s collection)

moved from the Arsenal to the rue de Bourbon (now rue de Lille) to a house owned by Trompette who was the chief menuisier to the Garde-Meuble Royal.

Molitor’s business was extremely successful and amongst his elegant clientele were not only members of the Queen’s circle, the Polignac family, the Fitz – Jameses, the Duchesse de Vaudemont and the Com – tesse de Lamarck (to whom he supplied furniture until 1792) but also La Fayette, Boisgelin, Levy-Mirepoix, Medavy, the Comte deTesse, La Vieuville, Bonnecar – rere. the Comtesse de La Charte, Jaucourt, M. de Ver­dun and the Swedish ambassador, husband of Mme de Stael. Molitor employed his father’s cousin, Michel Molitor. whom he paid 1.500 livres for works between 1791 and 17%.

With the advent of the Revolution and the dis­appearance of his smart clientele. Molitor’s workshop was forced to close for a while (he had to appear before the Revolutionary Tribunal). Nevertheless he started up again with even greater success at the end of the Terror. In 1796, on the death of his wife, his workshop was again in full production, having eight work­benches (as many as Weisweiler. one of the most im­portant ebenistes of the period). The inventory after her death lists a large stock of furniture: 48 pieces of which a dozen were still incomplete and 4 commodes ‘without their bronze mounts’. Certain pieces had 15281 Commode with doors in

Japanese lacquer itamped Molitor, с. 1790; the frieze composed of palm leaves is characteristic of Molitor.

ISotheby’s Monaco. 7 February 1982, lot 346)
ungilded mounts. The main woods used were ma­hogany and satinwood (‘one secretaire 3 pieds in length with oak leaf decoration in bois jaune’ and ‘2 armoires in bois jaune with coloured marble tops 3 pieds 8 pouces in height, one with a drawer and the other with sliding shelves, priced together at 500 livres. . . one deep-rimmed table in bois jaune ). Neverthe­less. also to be found arc ‘one commode in tulipwood’ and 2 writing-tables a la Pompadour’ with marquetry valued at 400 livres. The high estimate and the term a la Pompadour’ indicate a piece out of fashion in 17%. This has enabled Ulrich Leben to identify the two tables, one today in the Huntington Library, the other in the Wallace Collection (530). All the commodes have a marble top ‘white with veining’ or ‘red Langue­doc’ or coloured’. Of the 48 pieces described, 24 are tables for various uses (writing, trictrac, tables with deep rims, ‘tables & patins’, dining-tables, and tables with shelves), 7 are commodes and there are 3 desks. 3 secretaires, 5 gueridons. 3 armoires. 2 coffers and one box. The inventory notes amounts owed to ‘Demay.

menuisicr, me de Clery. for works effected during Fructidor IV (17%]’ totalling 447 livres. This prob­ably implies that Demay made the various mahogany chairs for Molitor who sold them after having stamped them.

Under the Directoire his affairs prospered and in 1800 he bought a house, 17 me du Faubourg Saint – Нопогё to which address he moved in 1801. He moved to the corner of me Neuve-du-Luxembourg and the boulevard de la Madeleine between 1803 and 1811. and then returned to his old address in the Fau­bourg Saint-Honore. Between 1806 and 1812 he sup­plied furniture to King Jerome at Cassel and in 1811 he received a commission from the Emperor (all part of the Imperial policy of revitalizing the furniture trade, dismantled by the Revolution). Nevertheless, with the Restoration and the return of his former clientele, his affairs prospered even more and in 1833. when he died at the age of seventy-eight, he was in possession of a considerable fortune.

Molitor s production seems to have been an exten­sion of that of Weisweiler. Serving the same aristo­cratic clientele, he produced above all sumptuous furniture in mahogany or Japanese lacquer, more rarely in marquetry. Like Weisweiler he seems to have had a predilection for a type of lady’s ‘secretaire en cabinet’ of which the lower half forms a table, while the upper part is designed with caryatids at the cor­ners. Several examples in Japanese lacquer are recorded, in particular a pair reputedly ordered by Marie-Antoinette in 1790 (according to a tradition founded by Molitor himself) and bought in 1822 by the Garde-Meuble. The commodes usually have three doors, flanked at the corners by free-standing columns or pilasters. A small mahogany secretaire a abattant by him (formerly in the Rothschild Collection) is dec­orated with small detached bamboo columns entirely in Weisweiler’s style. Moreover, two gueridons in ma­hogany (one in the Petit Trianon, the other in the Adersale. Monaco. 11 November 1984) are obviously derived from tea-tables by Weisweiler. Even before the Revolution. Molitor used certain gilt-bronze mounts which became his hallmark: palmette friezes and the motif of opposed griffons which we think of as Empire style are already found on a mahogany com­mode and secr£taire (formerly Marquis de Ville – franche Collection – [526, 527)) that can be dated before 1792. Another characteristic of Molitor found on these pieces is detached columns around which curl ivy trails, a detail which is found again on another commode with doors as well as a secretaire formerly in the Wildenstein Collection (now in the Cleveland Museum of Art). At a later date he used a gilt-bronze frieze made up of palmcttes and the cornucopiae which run like a leitmotiv through his work. These are to l>e found on a suite in Japanese lacquer consisting of a commode, console-desserte. pair of secretaires en cabinet and pair of low cabinets which were made around 1796 for the Due de Choiseul-Praslin (private collection).

There is little noticeable artistic development in Molitor’s production between the 1790s and the 1820s. The types of furniture produced are similar. The only concessions to fashion were the use of mounts such as Egyptian heads in about 1796-1800 and the shape of the stands of cabinets (legs of square section with capitals).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ulrich Leben: official thesis on Molitor. Bonn University. 1988: ‘17%. 1‘atelier de Bernard Molitor sous la Revolution’. L’Estampille, January 1985; ‘Die Werkstatt Bernard Molitor’, Kunst und Antiquitdten, 1V/87; ‘Une commando imperiale к Molitor. L’Estampille. no. 12, 1986 Denise Ledoux-Lebard: Les Ebenistes du XIXe siecle,

Paris. 1984, pp. 486-92

/530/ Table stamped Molitor; probably the table referred to in the inventory of Molitor’s workshop drawn up in 1796 as

‘table d la Pompadour’; the pair to it is now in the Huntington Gallery, San Marino, California. IWallace Collection, London)