Joseph Poitou (attr. to), Wardrobe, Paris, c. 1715-1720

Bronze mounts attributed to Charles Cressent (1685-1768)
Carcase of oak, kingwood veneer, gilt bronze
275 x 163 x 56 cm
Bequest of Laure Mottart in memory of her husband, Paul Mottart, 1949
Inv. 36222
© Les Arts Décoratifs / photo: Jean Tholance

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This large armoire, long attributed to the cabinetmaker Charles Cressent, was actually produced by the workshop of Joseph Poitou, a master carpenter with whom Cressent had trained and a nephew of the cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle. Poitou specialized in metal marquetry, thereby following in the footsteps of his father, cabinetmaker to the Duc d’Orléans, who had made many precious parquets for royal residences. Joseph Poitou worked in his father’s workshop for many years, and did not become a master until 1717; by then Charles Cressent, who had trained as a sculptor, seems to have created the models used in the workshop for the most ornate bronze mounts, some of which he kept when he took over the workshop in 1719 at Poitou’s death. The mounts adorning the four panels of this armoire were definitely designed by him, and reappear on pieces from the following decade. The gilt bronze decoration forms an arabesque pattern in which two pairs of children, representing Poetry and Astronomy, each stand under a sort of pavilion crowned by a canopy with valances, recalling the compositions of the ornamentalist Jean Berain (1646-1711) and his successors Claude III Audran (1658-1734) and Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). The bronze openwork decoration is accentuated by the quality of the kingwood parquetry. The parquetry technique, playing with the geometric patterns created by arranging pieces of the same precious wood, reached its peak in the early eighteenth century and overshadowed floral marquetry for several decades. The geometric pattern on the doors combines two layouts: a diagonal, (diamond-shaped) layout framing a central rosette (or heart-shaped) motif. The gilt bronze decoration stands out against this background, created by arranging the veneer slantwise rather than following the grain of the wood. Armoires acquired the status of ceremonial furniture in the late seventeenth century, replacing cabinets as collector’s pieces. During the first half of the eighteenth century, they were the most highly prized pieces produced by workshops until commodes took their place. According to Joseph Poitou’s posthumous inventory, two armoires were still in the process of being manufactured at the time of his death. Charles Cressent, who succeeded his master Poitou, upheld the tradition, producing even more precious armoires, most of which were veneered with satinwood rather than kingwood.

Alexandre Pradère, Charles Cressent, sculpteur, ébéniste du Régent, Dijon, Éditions Faton, 2003, p. 312, cat. 302.

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