Jean Henri Riesener

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Portrait of Jean-Henri Riesener seated at one of his writing tables, 1786, by Antoine Vestier (Musée de Versailles)

Jean-Henri Riesener (German: Johann Heinrich Riesener; 4 July 1734 – 6 January 1806[1]) was the French royal ébéniste, working in Paris, whose work exemplified the early neoclassical "Louis XVI style".

Life and career[edit]

Riesener was born in Gladbeck, Westphalia, Germany. He moved to Paris, where he apprenticed soon after 1754 with Jean-François Oeben, whose widow he married;[2] he was received master ébéniste in January 1768. The following year, he began supplying furniture for the Crown and in July 1774 formally became ébéniste ordinaire du roi,[3] "the greatest Parisian ébéniste of the Louis XVI period."[4] Riesener was responsible for some of the richest examples of furniture in the Louis XVI style, as the French court embarked on furnishing commissions on a luxurious scale that had not been seen since the time of Louis XIV: between 1774 and 1784, he received on average commissions amounting to 100,000 livres per annum.[5]

He and David Roentgen were Marie-Antoinette's favourite cabinet-makers.[6] Besides commissions directly to the Garde-Meuble he delivered case furniture[7] for the comte and comtesse de Provence, the comte d'Artois, Mesdames the king's aunts, and the ducs de Penthièvre, de la Rochefoucauld, Choiseul-Praslin, Biron, as well as rich fermiers généraux.

Writing table made for Marie Antoinette, 1780-85 at Waddesdon Manor

He used floral and figural marquetry techniques to a great extent, contrasting with refined parquetry and trelliswork grounds, in addition to gilt-bronze mounts. His carcases were more finely finished than those of many of his Parisian contemporaries, and he attempted to disguise the screwheads that attached his mounts with overhanging details of foliage. It seems likely that as a royal craftsman he was able to circumvent guild restrictions and produce his own ormolu|gilt-bronze mounts: Riesener's princely portrait by Antoine Vestier[8] shows the cabinet-maker at one of his richly-mounted tables, with drawings for gilt-bronze mounts.[9] Many of his pieces featured complicated mechanisms that raised or lowered table-tops or angled reading stands. Through his wife he was related to other master craftsmen in Paris, notably the ébénistes Roger Vandercruse Lacroix and Martin Carlin.

Bureau du Roi, delivered to Louis XV

He completed the Bureau du Roi, which had been started in 1760, under his predecessor Oeben; his name alone appears in the marquetry.[10] The floral designs were derived from the Livre de Principes de Fleurs, an undated compilation of engravings of flowers by Juste Chevillet after drawings by Louis Tessier.[11]

In 1774 he delivered the commode for the bedroom of Louis XVI at Versailles, now in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.[12] An even richer commode replaced it the following year (now at the Musée Condé, Chantilly).

The drop-front secretary (sécretaire à abattant) initially designed by Oeben, or by Riesener in Oeben's workshop, presents a vertical rectangle of superposed panels and a frieze, on short legs. The upper panel drops down to provide a writing surface, revealing a fitted interior.

From 1784, with France near bankruptcy, the pace of court commissions dropped radically; Thierry de Ville d'Avray succeeded Pierre-Elizabeth de Fontanieu at the Garde-Meuble le la Couronne and turned for necessary economy to less expensive suppliers, such as Guillaume Beneman; Riesener's last pieces for the court featured sober but richly-figured West Indian mahogany veneers and more restrained use of gilt-bronze mounts. Queen Marie Antoinette continued to favour Riesener through the 1780s

Portrait by his son Henri-François Riesener, 1800, Waddesdon Manor.

With the French Revolution, Riesener was retained by the Directory, and sent in 1794 to Versailles to remove the "insignia of feudality" from furniture he had recently made: royal cyphers and fleurs-de-lys were replaced with innocuous panels. During the French revolutionary sales he ruined himself by buying back furniture that was being sold at derisory prices. When he attempted to resell his accumulated stock, tastes had changed and the old clientele dispersed or dead. He retired in 1801 and died in comparative poverty in Paris.


As a result of the French Revolutionary Sales in the early-19th century, UK collectors had bought for the decoration of their stately homes and palaces significant numbers of French royal furniture (mobilier royal), which today forms the basis of the great collections that still remain in the UK. Towards the end of the industrial age until the agricultural depression of the 1920s, large numbers of works, predominately in UK collections were auctioned off and made their passage to American collectors. Still to this date UK collections are especially rich in the works of French furniture and decorative arts, particularly of Royal provenance, and the UK continues to enjoy perhaps the greatest repository of Riesener's works outside Paris.


Writing table of Marie-Antoinette by Riesener (1786) in the petit appartement de la reine, Palace of Versailles.

Bureau à cylindre



  • Commode, c. 1774, delivered to Louis XVI's "Chambre du Roi" at Versailles, Royal Collection, UK
  • Commode, c. 1780, delivered to Marie-Antoinette's cabinet intérieur de la reine at Versailles, The Wallace Collection, UK
  • Commode, c. 1782, delivered to Marie-Antoinette for Chateau de Marly, The Wallace Collection, UK
  • Commode, 1782, delivered to Marie-Antoinette's 'Cabinet' at the Chateau de Marly, Musée du Louvre, France
  • Commode, 1776, delivered for the bedroom of the comtesse de Provence, sister-in-law of Louis XIV, Versailles, Waddesdon Manor, UK
  • Commode, 1778, delivered for the King's sister, Madame Elisabeth, Versailles, Waddesdon Manor, UK
  • Commode, c. 1775-80, V&A, UK
  • Commode, Dalmeny House, UK


  • Paire de encoignure, delivered to Louis XVI's "Chambre du Roi" at Versailles, c. 1774, Royal Collection, UK
  • Encoignure, delivered to Marie-Antoinette's cabinet intérieur at Versailles, c. 1783, The Wallace Collection, UK
  • Encoignure, supplied to Monsieur Fontanieu for his Hotel du Garde Meuble, Place Louis XV, 1773, V&A, UK

Jewel coffer et secrétaire

  • Jewel coffer et secrétaire, 1775-80, V&A, UK

Marquetry Panel

  • Panel, as part of a table-top delivered to Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon at Versailles (Riesener's largest and finest marquetry execution), 1776, V&A, UK

Petit table

  • Petit table, c. 1785, Royal Collection, UK
  • Petit table, 1777, delivered to Marie-Antoinette for the use of Louis XVI at the Petit Triannon, Versailles, Waddesdon Manor, UK
  • Petit table, c. 1780, perhaps the table delivered for Marie-Antoinette at the Petit Triannon, Versailles, Waddesdon Manor, UK
  • Petit table, delivered to the 'cabinet intérieur' for Marie Antoinette at Versailles, Scone Palace, UK


Secrétaire à abattant

  • Secrétaire à abattant, delivered to Marie-Antoinette's cabinet intérieur at Versailles, c. 1780, The Wallace Collection, UK
  • Secrétaire à abattant, delivered to Marie-Antoinette's cabinet intérieur at Versailles, c. 1783, The Wallace Collection, UK
  • Secrétaire à abattant, delivered to Marie-Antoinette's Petit Triannon at Versailles, c. 1783, The Wallace Collection, UK
  • Secrétaire à abattant, c. 1780-4, The Wallace Collection, UK
  • Secrétaire à abattant, c. 1780s, Dalmeny House, UK
  • Secrétaire à abattant, delivered to Louis XVI's "cabinet" at the Petit Trianon, 1777, Waddesdon Manor, UK
  • Secrétaire à abattant, 1783, delivered (with a commode and encoignure) to the 'cabinet intérieur' for Marie Antoinette at Versailles, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, United States
  • Secrétaire à abattant, c. 1775, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Switzerland
  • Secrétaire à abattant, called the Guerault secrétaire, c. 1770-75, (sold in Paris, 21–22 March 1935)
  • Secrétaire à abattant, called the Fontanieu secrétaire, c. 1771, (sold Christie's, 5 December 1974)
  • Secrétaire à abattant, called the Bergsten secrétaire, c. 1770-75, (sold Christie's, 23 June 1999)
  • Secrétaire à abattant, called the Wernher secrétaire, c. 1763-68, (sold Christie's, 5 July 2000)

Table à écrire

Table de toilette

Toilet et bureau

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Geoffrey de Bellaigue, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, II (1974, p. 879.
  2. ^ 6 August 1768, thus sharing her tenantcy under royal favor in workshops at the Arsenal (Watson 1966:555).
  3. ^ Succeeding the aged Gilles Joubert.
  4. ^ Francis J.B. Watson, The Wrightsman Collection II (Metropolitan Museum of Art) 1966, p. 555.
  5. ^ Watson 1966:555.
  6. ^ Svend Eriksen, Early Neo-Classicism in France 1974, p. 219.
  7. ^ Case furniture, such as tables, commodes and cabinets, were clearly distinguished in France from seat furniture, which was made by menuisiers.
  8. ^ Illustrated in Pierre Verlet, French Furniture and Interior Decoration of the 18th Century (1967), p 26.
  9. ^ Most cabinet-makers had to purchase their mounts ready-made from ciseleurs-doreurs. Riesener collaborated with Pierre Gouthière on many royal commissions of the 1780s.
  10. ^ Riesener's name appears in the marquetry also of the roll-top desk made for Stanislas Leszczynski, now in the Wallace Collection, London.
  11. ^ Yannick Chastang (2007), "LOUIS TESSIER'S "LIVRE DE PRINCIPES DE FLEURS" AND THE EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY MARQUETEUR", Furniture History, Furniture History Society, 43: 118, JSTOR 23410056, (Subscription required (help)) 
  12. ^ Illustrated

External links[edit]