THE GUILD OF MENU1SIERS

D

uring the seventeenth century and even more so during the eighteenth, the trades involved in the making of articles of wood in France, the m£tiers du bois. were strictly regulated by the guilds. Originally craftsmen in wood were grouped together in one single guild, that of the menuisiers, which had broken away from the guild of carpenters during the Middle Ages. During the eighteenth century techniques of working with wood became more sophisticated, resulting in specialized groups of craftsmen. Two dis­tinct trades existed under the umbrella of the same guild, as well as the menuisiers specializing in wall-panelling or in carriages, with their own methods of work and places of business. The menuisiers who made furniture in solid wood (beds, chairs and consoles) were mostly of French origin and lived in the area around the rue de С1ёгу. They were used to working with wood-carvers, painters and guilders who also grouped themselves together in neighbouring areas. The menuisiers en ebene. who were later to be called ‘ёЬё – nistes’, specialized in furniture in veneered wood or marquetry (cabinets, commodes and bureaux) and embellished their furniture with bronze mounts. It was no longer the custom in the eighteenth century to combine ebenisterie and the making of articles in carved gilt wood in France, as Gole and Gucci had done in the seventeenth century, and similarly, chairs in France were no longer embellished with marquetry or gilt-bronze, as had been some work by Boulle for the Grand Dauphin. It was a question of work practices rather than written rules. The delineation between the two specialities of ebe – niste and menuisier was complicated by numerous exceptions. Many pieces of furniture in solid wood (walnut commodes, night – tables, dressing-tables) were made by £tenistes and not by menui­siers. The day-book of the Garde-Mcuble Royal has many entries for commodes in walnut, bidets and dressing-tables delivered by Gaudreaus and later by Joubert and Riesener. Furthermore, a cer­tain number of chairs are stamped by ebenistes such as Gamier. Cosson or L. Moreau. These were chairs dating from about 1778. made in mahogany in the latest fashion, and ebenistes had been commissioned to make them: mahogany, an ebenistes wood, was used for veneering and called therefore for an £b£niste’s technique. When, with Jacob, the use of mahogany for chairs became more widespread around 1785. the wheel could be said to have come full circle, with the menuisiers using the technique of veneering.

The guild of menuisiers gave itself new statutes in 1743. which were approved by the King: it was granted letters patent in 1744. These new statutes came into conflict with the interests of other guilds, such as the turners, upholsterers and marchands-merciers, from whom there was an immediate reaction. The various objec­tions were countered by successive orders made in 1745. 1749 and 1751 and the definitive registration of the new statutes by the Parle – ment took place in 1751. A resume follows.

Menuisiers and cbenistes formed a panel within the guild, annually electing a syndic or principal who sat for one year and three adjudicators who sat for two years. Thus at any one time there was one syndic and six adjudicators. The cbenistes who were new­comers to this ancient guild had a minority representation, one ebe – niste being elected every two years. The panel was responsible for the collection of fees due when a master was admitted and for the re­distribution of these monies, in part to the ‘poor masters’ or ‘widows of poor masters’, and in part to the Royal School of Design. Above all. the panel was responsible for preserving the privileges of the guild. The most important of these was the monopoly of pro­duction, which involved the exclusion of anyone not a master from working as an eteniste in Paris or the Faubourgs or even owning a shop or working at home. In fact, a monopoly of production of this nature could be applied only at the point of sale, to ensure that the only furniture on the market was that of the master cbenistes. This led to the idea of a stamp. The master ebenistes were therefore obliged to stamp their work, and they would receive a visit four times a year from the adjudicators, who were charged with ensuring that their work conformed to the rules and showed no ‘defects’ or ’poor workmanship’. At the time of their visit the adjudicators would place next to the maker’s stamp the official hall-mark, com­posed of the letters ‘J. M.E.’ (Jurande des Menuisiers-Ebenistes). and levy a modest charge.

Mastership could lie obtained after three years work as an apprentice, followed by a further three years work as a journeyman to a master ebeniste. It was necessary to produce a chef-d’oeuvre in the workshop of an adjudicator, proving competence as an £b£*niste. Finally, at the time of receipt of the letters of mastership, the ebe­niste had to pay a fee to the panel of the guild. This varied con­siderably. depending on whether the new master was the son of a master or a stranger to the guild. So a son or a son-in-law of a master adjudicator or former adjudicator had to pay only about 120 livres, whereas the son or son-in-law of a plain master ebeniste had to pay 180 livres if he was born after the date of his father’s mastership, and more than 280 livres if he was born before the date of his father’s mastership. The fees for a simple apprentice who was neither son nor son-in-law of a master amounted to more than 380 livres, and for a worker who was a complete outsider to the guild, more than 530 livres. These fees must have seemed very high, particularly for a young foreign db^niste (to give a point of comparison, the annual salary of a journeyman assistant would have been around 400 livres). In fact, many £benistes. as we shall see. obtained their mas­tership fairly late in their career. Masterships were, further, reserved for Catholics and French or naturalized French craftsmen. Thus many young craftsmen originating from Germany or Holland had no other choice than to work either illegally or as journeyman to a master, or else to avoid the obligation of gaining the mastership by working in ‘privileged areas’.

Certain areas in the neighbourhood of monasteries and convents had been placed under religious protection in the Middle Ages and had preserved their franchises. This was the case in the Enclos du Temple. Saint-Jean-de-Latran. Saint-Denis*de-la-Chartre and above all in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, and ebenistes who worked there could not lx – harried by the guild. However, the guild of menuisiers hindered the sale of such craftsmen’s work as much as possible, considering it to lx? illegal. Upholsterers were forbidden to sell the furniture of independent workers which was therefore not stamped. Master <Jb£nistes were also forbidden to buy the pro­duction of independent workers or even to stamp it or to lend them their stamp, although there are many indications that some of them found it very convenient to do so. These prohibitions were rendered effective by the right of inspection and of confiscation by the guild adjudicators. The guild increased its inspections on the fringes of the privileged areas in order to seize the furniture which the in­dependent craftsmen were trying to sell. The annual accounts of the guild for the year 1779 advised of

visits made with the bailliff and several strong men. by night and day. in the neighbourhood of Porte Saint-Antoine. Saint-Jean-de-Latran. Saini – Denis-de-la-Chartrc. the Temple and other privileged areas, in order to seize the miscreants and stop the contravention of the guild privileges, the said visits by night and day having been made many times and 4 occasioned many seizures [. . . | and having besides produced the sum of 23.850L in masters’ qualifying fees |. . .) the said masters would not have l>een received had they not l>een watched by the syndics and strong men who confiscated their works as soon as they were dispatched. [Arch. Nat. H22Ua.T?9.

The only outlets for these indcjxrndent artisans amounted to sell­ing directly to individuals, on condition that the latter themselves arranged the collection of articles purchased from workshops. The statutes were precise on this point:

When the citizens of Paris buy works from the said trade in the privileged areas, they are obliged to take and accompany them themselves, transporting them to their homes either themselves or having their children or servants do so. giving them a statement signed personally to the effect that they have ordered a certain piece from a certain worker or dealer living at f. .J for their own use and not for that of others [. . .J

Another outlet for the independent makers was sale to the deal­ers. the marchands-mcrciers. This powerful guild had actually resisted the attempts of the guild of ebenistes and menuisiers to force them to sell only furniture made by masters. The statutes of 1751 maintained the marchands-merciers’ right to ’do business in all works and pieces of furniture, stamped or unstamped, even to import it from outside the town or from abroad, in a finished or un­finished state’. I’he menuisiers and ebenistes had the right to stamp their furniture ‘without the marchands-mercicrs being obliged to sell only stamped work, neither may the said menuisiers inspect the marchands-merciers’ premises nor make any seizure from them.’

It is easy to understand that without the facilities to market their products freely, the independent craftsmen depended almost entirely on the marchands-merciers or on their colleagues, the mas­ter £b£nistes, even if in theory the latter could not touch their work. It should also l>e noted that the guild strove to constrain the trade of menuisier and ebeniste within the traditional craftsmen’s confines; the statutes indicate that each master of the said profession may not have more than one single shop or workshop either in the town, or in the Faubourgs, or in the privileged areas, and is obliged to make his residence in the place and building of his shop.’ They were per­mitted to have a yard or store of wood in a different place from their workshop on the condition that the door was kept locked and that it would not be used as a second workshop. The number of appren­tices a master could employ was limited to two at any one time (engaging one every three years for a period of six years), but the master could employ as many journeymen as he wished, on con­dition that he made sure they were registered with the guild com­mittee and declared them all at the annual inspection of the adjudicators.

Outside the privileged areas journeymen were forbidden to own tools or a workbench at home. ‘Any journeyman in the said trade is expressly forbidden to carry out any work, business or func­tion of a master for anyone in our aforesaid town {. . .) or to have at his place, in his room, house or inn or anywhere else, a workbench or strong table pierced with holes for a vice, on which he could work . . .’ Those journeymen who were established as independent craftsmen in the privileged areas had to work alone (‘Let us prevent all journeymen who may be in religious houses, colleges, commun­ities or other areas, whether privileged or not. such as we have in our aforesaid town, faubourgs and suburbs of Paris, from keeping or having under them either journeyman or apprentice [. . .]’).

The guild system, however rigid it seemed, could be manipulated in several ways. It never prevented foreign craftsmen from estab­lishing themselves in Paris and sometimes even succeeding and founding veritable dynasties. As well as acting as a fund of sup|>ort for the most needy, it had the advantage of keeping all the metiers du bois in a craft framework, ensuring quality and strength. The dis­appearance of the guild system at the beginning of the Revolution led to the end of the small eb^nistes’ workshops, which were now replaced by larger units, almost small factories. The workshop of Jacob employed 322 workers in 1808. and his successor Jeansclme also employed more than three hundred workers in 1850. The Rev­olution. from this point of view, marked the end of the golden age of French furniture. We can well believe Aimee de Coigny when she stated in her memoirs:

March 1791: The assembly dissolved the guilds which over the course of centuries have permitted the development of the best producers of all the

Подпись: Furniture in the eighteenth century acquired an element of social prestige clearly reflected in contemporary fiortraits. Portrait of the Abbe de Breteuil by Louis- Michel Van Loo. I Private collectionITHE GUILD OF MENU1SIERSbeautiful objects which the world used to buy from us at top prices. Furthermore, in grouping together people of the same trade, they were an intermediary body of the greatest use for the protection of the poor, henceforth delivered up as nonentities to the rapacity of the large entrepreneurs. [Journal d’Aimee de Coigny, p. 74. j