Boulle and the Wallace Collection
The Wallace Collection is a museum in London, with a world-famous range of fine and decorative arts from the 15th to the 19th centuries, arranged into 25 galleries.
It was established in 1897 from the private collection mainly created by Richard Seymour-Conway, who left it to his illegitimate son Sir Richard Wallace.
Wallace’s widow bequeathed the entire collection to the nation and the museum opened to the public in 1900 in Hertford House, Manchester Square, where it remains, housed in its entirety, to this day, as a condition of the bequest was that no object ever leave the collection, even for loan exhibitions.
The Wallace Collection holds one of the most important collections of French furniture in the UK, and ranks alongside the Musée du Louvre, Waddesdon Manor, the Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art as one of the greatest and most celebrated in the world.
Totalling more than five hundred pieces, consisting largely of eighteenth-century French furniture, one highlight is the major collection of items (22 in total) attributed to Andreé-Charles Boulle (1642–1732), perhaps the best-known cabinet-maker ever to have lived.
The collection ranges from cabinet furniture, much of which is veneered with brass and turtleshell marquetry (commonly known as "Boulle" marquetry) or with wood marquetry, to seat furniture, clocks and barometers, gilt-bronze items including mounted porcelain and hardstones, mantelpieces, mirrors, boxes and pedestals.
In the metropolitan culture of France, French furniture, connoting Parisian furniture, embodies one of the mainstreams of design in the decorative arts of Europe, extending its influence from Spain to Sweden and Russia.
An unbroken tradition of apprenticeship, already fully formed when the design center for luxury furnishings shifted from Antwerp to Paris in the 1630s, was slowly disrupted by the Industrial Revolution, but lasted until the Second World war period: to this regard, the last of the Parisian ébénistes working from a traditional atelier was perhaps Èmile-Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933).
Andreé-Charles Boulle (11 November 1642 – 28 February 1732) is generally considered to be the prominent artist in the field of marquetry and "the most remarkable of all French cabinetmakers”.
His fame led to his name being given to the fashion he perfected of inlaying brass and tortoise-shell, known as Boulle (or, in 19th-century Britain, Buhl work).
He was the son of Jean Boulle, whose original name was Johan Bolt and was of German origin.
Boulle's reputation must have begun by age 30, when he had already been granted one of those lodgings in the galleries of the Louvre set apart by Henri IV for the use of the most favoured artists employed by the crown.
Boulle was given the deceased Jean Macé's own lodging in 1672, upon the recommendation of the minister of the arts Jean-Baptist Colbert, who described Boulle as "le plus habile ébéniste de Paris" (the most skilled cabinetmaker in Paris), and was employed for many years at Versailles, where the mirrored walls, the floors of wood mosaic, the inlaid panelling and the marquetery furniture in the Cabinet du Dauphin (1682–86) were regarded as his most remarkable work.
Boulle's royal commissions were numerous: foreign princes and great nobles, government ministers and financiers of his own country crowded to him with commissions and the mot of the abbé de Marolles, "Boulle y tourne en ovale", has become a stock quotation in the literature of French cabinetmaking.
Despite his distinction, the facility with which he worked, the high prices he obtained, and his workshops full of clever craftsmen, Boulle appears to have been constantly short of money, mostly as the result of his obsession for collecting works of art.
He did not always pay his workmen.
Clients who had made considerable advances failed to obtain the fine pieces they had ordered; more than one application was made for permission to arrest him for debt under orders of the courts within the asylum of the Louvre.
In 1704, the king granted him six months' protection from his creditors on condition that Boulle use the time to regulate his affairs or "ce sera la dernière grace que sa majesté lui fera l'dessus" (this will be the last thanks to him that His majesty will allow).
Twenty years later, one of his sons was arrested at Fontainebleau and kept in prison for debt until the king had him released.
In 1720 his finances were still further embarrassed by a fire which, beginning in another atelier, extended to his workshop in the Place du Louvre, where it destroyed twenty workbenches and their associated tools of eighteen ébénistes and two menuisiers.
The inventory of his losses in the fire, which exceeded 40,000 livres, enumerates many old masters, including 48 drawings by Raphael, wax models by Michelangelo and the manuscript journal kept by Rubens in Italy.
Boulle attended every sale of drawings and engravings.
He had borrowed at high interest to pay for his purchases, and when the next sale took place, fresh expedients were devised for obtaining more money.
Collecting was to Boulle a mania of which, said his friend Mariette, it was impossible to cure him.
He died in 1732, full of fame, years and debts.