ROENTGEN. 1743-1807; ACTIVE AT NEUWIED 1772-95; MASTER IN PARIS 1780; EBENISTE-MECANICIF. N DU ROI ET DE LA

REINE 1785

Although he lived and worked in Germany, Roentgen has a place in this book as he was admitted master in Paris. Born in the Rhine­land town of Neuwied, he was the son of Abraham Roentgen (1711 -93), a cabinet-maker and member of a zealous Protestant sect, the Herrnhuter. In 1772 David took over the running of the workshop founded by his father in 1750, and where he had already been working for a number of years. The reputation of the workshop extended only as far as neighbouring Ger­man principalities, and its products were sold mainly at the Frankfurt fair. From the beginning David Roentgen showed a spirit of enterprise, having the idea in 1769 of organizing a sale by lottery of his furni­ture in Hamburg. The project, greeted with consider­able hostility by the Herrnhuter community, was nevertheless a financial success, as well as excellent publicity for the Roentgens. Their reputation rapidly extended into Saxony, Prussia. Bavaria and even as far as Courland. From 1770, hoping to extend commer­cial links in the direction of the Baltic and the Russian and Polish courts. David Roentgen planned to settle in Berlin. Frederick the Great did not. however, lend his support to this project and the Neuwied furniture – maker had to remain in his home town. He then sought a commercial opening in France and in 1774 undertook his first trip to Paris. There, thanks to the engraver Wille. he established fruitful contacts. He thus came into contact with the Neo-classical taste

/508/ Secretaire d abattant attributed to Roentgen, c 1785. with floral marquetry on a sycamore ground. The gilt-bronze mounts, of exceptional quality, must have been made in Paris.

IPrivate collection)
fashionable in Paris at the time, as well as the work of the decorators Boucher fils. Lalonde and Delafosse. On his return to Neuwied he received his first import­ant commission; between 1775 and 1779 he provided Prince Charles of Lorraine, an uncle of Marie Antoi­nette and Governor of the Low Countries at Brussels, with about 15 pieces of furniture totalling 25.(XX) flo­rins in value. Amongst them was the bureau-cabinet and the large marquetry wall panelling delivered in 1776 and 1781 respectively, preserved today in Vienna.

In March 1779 he made his second trip to Paris. This time he arrived with a selection of furniture which he exhibited at the Salon des Artistes et Savants. Pahin de la Blancherie noted ‘a number of pieces remarkable for their marquetry and a mahog­any table with a polish so perfect that to eye and hand it gives the illusion of marble’ {Nouvelles de la repu – blique des lettres et arts, 23 March 1779). An advertise­ment in the same journal reads: ‘Small marquetry
table for use as a chiffonni£re by M. David Roentgen at M. Brebant. rue Saint-Martin. The marquetry’ top of this table represents a group of shepherds…’ His success was enormous and the royal family acquired a number of pieces. Л large ‘secretaire a tombeau’. iden­tical to the one made for Charles of Lorraine, was ac­quired by the King for the astronomical sum of96.000 livres and placed in the Salle de la Vaisselle d’Or at Versailles [512]. The King also bought a commode, probably the one in the Linsky Collection, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. for 24.000 livres [509]. This commode was placed in the Salle des Buffets at Versailles. The King’s brother, the Comte d’Artois, as well as his wife, also wanted the same commode. The Comtesse d’Artois placed hers in her Petits Apparte – ments at Versailles: this one is probably the example now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Queen also acquired a commode by Roentgen which is recorded in 1797 in the sale of Citizen Collignon (16th Thermidor. VI): ‘A commode in figured mahogany of 4’/> pieds. decorated with swags of fronds, leaves and fruit, escutcheons, handles and mouldings, all in bronze with matt gilding, perfectly made by David of Neuwied. repaired and restored at 4.310L. Sold to

Citizen Le Pa yen for 3.600L’.

In Paris Roentgen moved in with Brebant. a mar – chand-miroitier in the rue Saint-Martin opposite the rue du Vertbois, and to whom he entrusted the sale of his furniture. He was soon in trouble with the Parisian guild of ebenistes. who forced him to obtain his mas­tership in May 1780 at a cost of 600 livres. He should therefore have stamped the pieces of furniture des­tined for the Paris market; so it is astonishing to find henceforth only one piece with the stamp ‘D. Roent­gen’. From 1781 Roentgen had his own shop in Paris in the rue de Crenelle (now rue Jean-Jacques Rous­seau) close to the rue Saint-Honorc. An advertisement appeared in Les Annonces, afftches et avis divers for 8 January 1781 indicating that ‘In the shop of M. Roent­gen. £beniste. formerly of the rue Saint-Martin, oppo­site the rue de Vertbois. and at present in the rue de Crenelle, at the first arch to the right coming from the rue Saint-Honore, there are bureaux of various types, cabinet chairs, toilet-tables, mechanical strong-boxes, pianofortes, games-tables for quadrille, trictrac and others in mahogany, well finished and polished like marble. The aforesaid undertakes all kinds of ebenis – terie’. Despite his success, his French clientele did not

15111 Mechanical table in mahogany, с. 1780; Roentgen made numm>us examples of this model with sophisticated
mechanisms and characteristic notched gilt’bronze (cadres brettes/on the tegs. (Private collection

(512] Bureau-cabinet which originally belonged to King Frederick-William II of Prussia. Ijouis XVI bought a piece identical in all respects for the Piece de la Vaisselle d’Or at Versailles; the complexity of the mechanisms and the extraordinary quality of the marquetry justified the price of 96,OOOL paid by the King for what was the most expensive piece of furniture of the eighteenth century. (Schloss Kbpenick, Berlin)

know him by his own name, no doubt difficult for them to pronounce. Amongst Louis XVI’s personal accounts is this reference to him: ’I paid the Germans 2.400L for a large commode’. Charles of Lorraine re­ferred to Roentgen as ‘the man from Neuwied’ and he was elsewhere referred to as ’David’.

Roentgen probably also sold marquetry panels in Paris to his colleagues to incorporate in their own pieces. This is suggested by a pair of encoignures by Riesener in the Victoria and Albert Museum with marquetry panels typical of Roentgen. The latter placed one of his compatriots, the Berliner Johann Gottlieb Frost (1746-1814) in charge of his Paris shop, and in 1785 Frost bought the shop from Roent­gen. In the same year the Comte de Provence bought from Roentgen a secretaire a cylindre (either the one now at Versailles or the one in Buckingham Palace), and the Queen received an automaton in the form of a female tympanist (today in the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers. Paris). The final royal acquisition, a long – case clock by Roentgen 1515] in the form of a double column, belonging to the Queen or the Comtesse d’Artois. was part of the furniture and objects listed in a confiscation at Versailles in 1793. Roentgen’s final trips to Paris took place in 1784, 1785 and 1787.

In the meantime Roentgen was also doing business in Russia. In 1783, with the help of a flattering letter of introduction from Baron Grimm (who described him as ‘the best ebeniste mecanicien of the century’) to Catherine the Great. Roentgen made the trip to St Petersburg. The Empress immediately bought the sumptuous secretaire a cylindre which Roentgen offered to her for 20,000 rubles (to which she added a tip of 5.000 rubles) and ordered numerous pieces for the Hermitage and Pella. Nevertheless, in an amusing letter to Grimm she described her dislike of Roentgen: ‘Your M. Roentgen (who doesn’t rhyme badly with Gretschen!) has burst in upon us with such a load of furniture. And he wanted to "herrnhutize” the entire Hermitage. There is too much about sheep and lambs in his religion and he failed to arouse our interest in his faith. So he got his payment, gave us the keys, and

IS13J Secretaire a abattant attributed to Roentgen, с. 1780, with marquetry of chinoiserie

took away his preaching. With him gone, boredom has gone as well.’ (5 April 1784.)

This dislike notwithstanding, the Empress sent her grandsons Alexander (the future Tsar) and Constan­tine to Roentgen for a course of instruction in cabinet­making. In 1784 the orders for furniture comprised five rectangular tables or stands for writing standing or seated, five toilet-tables in mahogany or palm, two oval tables, three large mahogany armoires decorated with mounts with garlands and medallions, one clock crowned by Apollo, the dial supported by the fig­ure of Time, one harpsichord stand, and four bureaux.

The order in 1786, much more important, was for fifty pieces of furniture, for the most part in ma­
hogany. with certain pieces in bois jaune. to a total value of 72.704 rubles. Between 1783 and 1789 Roent­gen visited St Petersburg five times. Besides the Empress, he was also able to sell furniture to the Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna, as well as Prince Gaiitzine and Count Shuvalov. En route Roentgen had the opportunity to stop in Berlin to expand his clientele there. Among them were King Frederick – William II. Prince Louis-Ferdinand of Prussia and Count Redern. In a number of European centres Roentgen established workers, trained by him. as his agents: in Berlin. David Hacker who acquired his own workshop in 1791: in St Petersburg. Christian Meyer, who. according to his contemporaries, was able to copy Roentgen’s work so well that it was impossible to tell the original from the copy. In Paris his agent was Frost: in Brunswick. Christian Harder, who was estab­lished in 1800. The French Revolution put a brake on Roentgen’s activities: in 1790 his Parisian agent Frost was forced to close the shop – and he went into liqui­dation in 1791. Roentgen’s stock in Paris, classed as emigre property, was confiscated and sold. In 1795 the advance of the French armies forced Roentgen to leave Ncuwied and move his stock and equipment eastwards. He did not return to Ncuwied until 1802. Napoleon’s armies had thrown the German aristoc­racy into confusion and Roentgen found his activities considerably curtailed. He was forced to sell his stock in 1805 and died in 1807.