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Etymology and ambiguities
As opposed to ébéniste, "menuisier" denotes a woodcarver or chairmaker in French. The English equivalent for ébéniste, "ebonist", is not commonly used. Originally, an ébéniste was one who worked with ebony, a favoured luxury wood for mid-seventeenth century Parisian cabinets, originating in imitation of elite furniture being made in Antwerp. The word is 17th century in origin. Early Parisian ébénistes often came from the Low Countries themselves: an outstanding example is Pierre Golle, who worked at the Gobelins manufactory making cabinets and table tops veneered with marquetry, the traditional enrichment of ébénisterie, or "cabinet-work".
Ébénistes make case furniture, which may be veneered or painted. Under Parisian guild regulations, the application of painted varnishes, generically called vernis Martin, was carried out in separate workshops, sawdust being an enemy to freshly varnished surfaces. At the outset of the French Revolution the guilds in Paris and elsewhere were abolished, and with them went all their regulations. One result of this is that Paris chairmakers were now able to produce veneered chairs, as London furniture-makers, less stringently ruled, had been able to make since the first chairs with splats had been produced shortly before 1720, in imitation of Chinese chairs.
Because of this amalgamation, chairs and other seat furniture began to use veneering techniques which were formerly the guarded privilege of ébénistes. This privilege became less distinct after the relaxation of guild rules of the Ancien Régime, and after the French Revolution's abolition of guilds in 1791. Seat furniture in the Empire style was often veneered with mahogany, and later in pale woods also.
From the mid-nineteenth century onward, the two French trades, "ébéniste" and "menuisier," were often assembled under the single roof of a "furnisher", and the craft began to make way for the industry.
From the mid-17th century through the 18th, a notable number of ébénistes of German and Low Countries extraction were pre-eminent among Parisian furniture-makers, as the abbreviated list below suggests.
Some 18th-century Parisian ébénistes
- Joseph Baumhauer
- Pierre-Antoine Bellange
- Guillaume Beneman
- André-Charles Boulle
- Martin Carlin
- Adrien Delorme
- François-Honoré-Georges Jacob-Desmalter
- Pierre Garnier
- Antoine Gaudreau
- Pierre Golle
- Jean-Pierre Latz
- Jean-François Leleu
- Pierre Macret
- André Jacob Roubo
- Roger Vandercruse Lacroix
- Jean-François Oeben
- Jean Oppenord
- Jean-Henri Riesener
- Bernard II van Risamburgh
- Adam Weisweiler
Later French ébénistes
Ébénistes outside France
- Georg Haupt (Stockholm)
- Christopher Fuhrlohg (London)
- Gerrit Jensen (London)
- Pierre Langlois (London)
- Charles-Honoré Lannuier (New York)
- Abraham Roentgen (Neuwied)
- David Roentgen (Neuwied)
- Pierre Verlet, 1963. Les Ébénistes Du XVIII Siècle Français
- Pierre Verlet and Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, 1991. French Furniture of the Eighteenth Century
- G. Janneau, 1975. Les ateliers parisiens d'ébénistes et de menuisiers aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles
- Alexandre Pradère, 1990. French Furniture Makers: The Art of the Ébéniste from Louis XIV to the Revolution The standard modern text.