THE NEUWI ED WORKSHOP

The workshop that initially employed fifteen assis­tants in the 1770s employed more than twenty-four in

1779. and up to forty before the Revolution (certain eye-witnesses even speak of three hundred). Its pro­duction was vast. It is more accurately to be called a manufactory than a workshop, as it was organized on an industrial rather than artisanal basis, with very spe­cialized groups of craftsman in different workshops. The house at Neuwied consisted of one floor reserved for two large workshops, a laboratory and an office. On the second floor there was furniture in its final stages of construction and also a showroom. The third floor was reserved for the Roentgen family and rooms for the workers. On the street side the house was flanked by two pavilions which were used as shops, and there was also a warehouse for storing wood. Phis

manufactory was equally well-equipped to build the carcase of a piece of furniture as the execution of its marquetry, complicated mechanisms, the screws and gilt-bronze mounts, the locks and clock movements. To leave the business for the long periods that he spent in Russia or France. Roentgen obviously had to rely on competent assistants. Among them David Hacker and Christian Harder were the most import­ant. and Roentgen helped to establish them in Berlin and Brunswick when the manufactory at Neuwied had to close. Christian Krause was the principal technician and for a long time his right-hand man. A number of his assistants, including Frost. Holst. Klinkerfuss. Knesing, Kronrath. Johan Georg Roentgen. Rottig, Rummer and Streuli. having worked for Roentgen, went on to open their own workshops. The principal clock-maker employed by Roentgen was Peter Kinz – ing who seems to have worked independently, receiv­ing the title of clock-maker to the Queen’ in 1785. Finally, the painter Januarius Zick. working near Coblenz, provided Roentgen with designs for his elab­orate marquetry.

In spite of the semi-industrialized production that Roentgen aimed to achieve in his workshop, the qual­ity of the furniture remained exceptional. The work­shop excelled in the production of mechanical furniture, so popular among the princes of Europe, with its secret compartments which spring out when buttons are pressed to reveal further small secret drawers. These pieces were constructed and assem­bled to a standard far superior to any in France, with the carcase neatly constructed in oak (and sometimes certain parts in pine) and the drawers in cedar and ma­hogany, made with the precision of English cabinet­making. But Roentgen’s supreme achievement lay ultimately in his marquetry. The panels representing scenes from the Commedia deH’arte. chinoiserie, con­cert or theatre scenes, or simple bouquets of flowers suspended on long ribbons, were created with the use of tiny pieces of wood mosaic to render shades, with­out resorting to French pokerwork methods or to engraving. In Roentgen’s work even the shadows are indicated by means of different pieces of wood. These pictures were created on a striped sycamore ground to create warm ground tones. The quality of the pieces in mahogany or pale wood rests on the beauty of their form. They are indeed architectural miniatures, always with fluted pilasters, entablatures underlined by gilt-bronze triglyphs, steps and Doric columns. The technical excellence of Roentgen’s Neo-classical furniture is such that it seems to have discouraged the latter-day faker.

Roentgen’s influence continued into the early nine­teenth century in the form of numerous imitators in Germany and Russia, in the first place those who had trained under him – David Hacker, Christian Harder and Johan Frost, as well as Anton Reusch at Neuwied, Klinkerfuss at Stuttgart, and Knesing in Leipzig. But the most beautiful pastiches in Roentgen style were the pieces of furniture made by Christian Meyer and Heinrich Gambs in St Petersburg between 1799 and 1815.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hans Huth: Roentgen Furniture. London, 1974 Catalogue of the Linksy Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York. 1984, pp. 223-25

Gaspard