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A highly important louis xvi ormolu-mounted amaranth bureau plat circa

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The rectangular removable top inset with a gilt-tooled green leather writing surface on an amaranth ground inlaid with stringing and surrounded by an ormolu border fitted at the corners with acanthus leaf-cast clasps, the frieze with three drawers and mounted all around with ormolu interlocking circles enclosing finely chased flowerheads within laurel wreaths, and foliate paterae respectively, three laurel wreaths forming the drawer handles, all flanked by scrolling berried foliage on a stained green ground and surrounded  by borders cast with leaf tips, the legs surmounted by foliate capitals above rectangular blocks inset with ormolu paterae continuing to tapered legs inset with ormolu flutes and ending in stepped ormolu sabots.  The underside of the desk with ink inscription: Madame la Comtesse de Flahaut Mai 185(?) Jean-François Leleu, maître in 1764  \nThe underside inscribed in ink  Madame la Comtesse de Flahaut Mai 1-5 .. Jean-Francois Leleu, maitre in 1764 (stamped on upper edge of left hand drawer)\nAuguste-Charles-Joseph, Comte de Flahaut and Margaret, Baroness Nairne and Keith Auguste-Charles-Joseph, Comte de Flahaut (1788-1867) was the natural son of Talleyrand and nephew of the Comte d’Angiviller (nephew of Marigny and his successor as directeur-général des bâtiments du Roi).   Flahaut was a professional soldier who had been Aide de Camp to Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.  He was the lover of Hortense, wife of Louis Napoleon (later King of Holland), an affair which the Emperor’s sister, Caroline Murat, had tried to prevent because of her own infatuation with the young officer.  That her attempt was futile is evident since in 1811 Hortense bore Flahaut’s son, Monsieur de Mornay.  After the Restauration and in exile in England, he courted the enormously rich Margaret Mercer against the wishes of her father, Admiral Lord Keith, who not only mistrusted the motives of the impecunious Flahaut, but also was a  confirmed anti-Bonapartist.    Over her father’s objections, Margaret married Flahaut in 1817 and henceforth they embarked upon a  peripatetic life which periodically changed in response to the prevailing political conditions.\nSharing a common, passionate interest in politics, the Flahauts were variously associated with both the Orléans and Bonaparte families.   They maintained houses in great style and lived very much in the manner of the ancien régime  in London, Paris, Vienna and  in Perthshire in Scotland.  For these houses they amassed a justly celebrated collection of French furniture and works of art, much of which was inherited by their eldest daughter, Emily Jane Mercer Elphinstone de Flahaut who married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne in 1843 and it was through this marriage that much of the collection passed  into the Lansdowne family.\nAs persona non grata in France, the Comte de Flahaut was obliged to live with his bride in London and Scotland after their marriage in 1817.  Madame de Flahaut had already inherited the Mercer family property at Meikleour in 1790 through her mother and later, on her father’s death in 1823 she came into the Keith estates in Fife including the newly-built Tullyalan Castle (built between 1817-1820).  Inspite of the risks involved in travelling to France, Flahaut did go to Paris in the early 1820’s which is confirmed by records kept by Madame de  Flahaut, in her own hand, referring to purchases which had been made by her husband in Paris in 1823, the same year that she inherited  Tullyanan.\nThe couple returned to France in 1827 eventually purchasing the former Hotel de Massa which they furnished from 1830-1831 to universal acclaim.  It is of considerable interest to note that there are contemporary accounts which confirm the Flahaut’s taste for the furniture of the ancien régime such as the present lot.  A bill from Bresson Jeune who was a dealer in “ancien Bronzes ainsi que d’anciennes Porcelaines; en general tout ce qui concerne l’antiquité …”  cites five items, including a commode, purchased for the sum of 290 francs.  The maréchal de Castellane also noted, “l’ameublement est magnifique … ce sont des formes d’anciens meubles et de belle étoffes, de mode il ya a de longues années et qui le redeviennent.”  It seems most likely that the Flauhauts acquired the present lot in Paris during this period.  The couple remained in their Paris residence during the 1830s, frequently visiting England.  In 1841 Flahaut was appointed Ambassador in Vienna where, once again, a suitably impressive residence was furnished.\nBy the mid 1850s the Flahauts were settled in England where they leased Coventry House at 106 Piccadilly  for their London residence.  A partial inventory of items at Coventry House in Madame de Flahaut’s hand notes a number of pieces known to have passed later into the Lansdowne collections.  The present desk cannot be identified in any inventories of any of the Flahaut’s many residences during their respective lifetimes nor has it yet been determined when they purchased it.  It is interesting to note that the inventory marking beneath the table refers to Madame la Comtesse .. and not to the Comte, making it likely that this was recorded in a European residence rather than any of the Scottish or English estates where, after her father’s death in 1823, she was habitually referred to as ‘Lady Keith’.  An inventory taken at Tullyanan Castle, Fife,  in 1895 lists “1 do (Writing Table) much ornamented with brass”;  a “French Writing Table” recorded as the property of comte de Flahaut in the proposed list of items belonging to the Dowager Marchioness of Lansdowne to be moved from Tullyanan Castle to Meikleour in 1868 following her mother’s death in 1867  could possibly be the same table which was described as a “Rosewood oblong writing table with chased ormolu mounts” recorded in an inventory taken at Meikleour in 1895; either one of which might prove to be the present piece.\nJean-Francois Leleu (1729-1807) was born in Paris and was first apprenticed in the workshop of Jean-Francois Oeben.  On Oeben’s death in 1763, the thirty-four year old Leleu was poised to take over the workshop, only to be supplanted by his younger colleague Jean-Henri Riesener who later married Oeben’s widow.\nReceiving his maitrise in 1764, Leleu settled in the Chaussée de la Contrescarpe in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, he later moved to the street now known as the Rue Birague near the Place des Vosges.\nLeleu’s clientele included notable pioneers of the neo-classical style, among them were Madame du Barry who although arguably more of a fashion-follower than a trend-setter,  nevertheless had a notable collection of highly innovative neo-classical furniture.  Leleu provided a number of pieces of case furniture for the baron d’Ivry for the château d’Henonville which had been modernized by the architect Nicolas Barré.  Barré also designed the château du Marais for which Leleu provided some important furniture; also notable was furniture in extemely advanced taste delivered to the château de Méréville for the Marquis de Laborde who was the Court banker.  Leleu also made furniture for the Duc d’Uzès whose Paris residence had been altered by Ledoux in 1769.  We see, therefore, a pattern of newly-built or modernized residences owned by fashionable  and discerning patrons who turned to Leleu for some of their most innovative “modern” furniture, executed in his inimicable architectural style.\nBy far the most important commission Leleu was to receive came between  April 1772 and June 1776 when the Prince de  Condé ordered furniture for the Palais Bourbon.  These furnishings delivered at the tremendous cost of over 60,000 livres included: “two secrétaires a abattant, two bureaux à cylindre; seven commodes; two writing desks, twenty-seven games tables and eleven screens of various kinds”.  Some of this furniture is today in the Wallace Collection, London, in the Petit Trianon and the Louvre.\nThe furniture made by Leleu for the Palais Bourbon incorporated designs at once intensely modern and yet classical and was considered to be extremely influential in the emerging neoclassic style in Paris.  The present table is certainly made in the same spirit and almost certainly at the same period in time, indeed Eriksen has written “The workmanship is of the same high order as that found on the Palais Bourbon furniture and, while no table like this is listed in the bills Leleu rendered to the Prince, it is probably not far wrong to assume it is contemporary with the Bourbon pieces”.  (Eriksen, op. cit., p. 323).\nA pair of commodes delivered for the Duchesse de Bourbon’s bedchamber at the Palais Bourbon by Leleu in May 1773 is fitted with similar foliate capitals surmounting the legs as has a writing table delivered that month, illustrated top right.  Another writing table of this model is illustrated, Pradere, op. cit. p. 390, illustrated bottom right.  It is interesting to note that it is veneered with marquetry  around the frieze incorporating interlocking guilloche enclosing flowerheads, reminiscent of the ormolu mounts on the frieze of the present table.\nThe present table is notable for a feature which is not currently operable, that is a concealed spring button which will release the integrally designed keyhole cover when engaged, thus obviating the need for a drawer handle which would interrupt the design.  This is a refinement which Leleu almost certainly learned in Oeben’s workshop, along with the practice of concealing the fastenings of the ormolu mounts.  These devices both represent standards of the highest possible quality, and in the case of the keyhole covers, means that the architectural integrity of the frieze mounts is uninterrupted and the eye follows a straight line running from each of the forceful columnar legs.\nThe ormolu mounts on the present desk are of the highest quality.  Leleu’s suppliers do not appear to be recorded, however when working in Oeben’s workshop, he would have been familiar with the mounts provided to Oeben by the bronze-founders Hervieu and Forestier, and also those of Pierre Caron and Anne-Francois Briquet who were both doreurs-ciseleurs who executed orders for Oeben (Eriksen, ibid. p. 208).


Height 31 1/4 in. by width 72 in. by depth 37 3/4 in.


S. Eriksen, Early Neo-Classicism in France, London, 1974, pp. 81 and 323 and fig. 126. A. Pradère, French Furniture Makers, London, 1989, p. 341, fig. 400. P. Kjellberg, Le Mobilier Français du XVIII Siècle, Paris, 1989, p. 516. G. Wannenes, Le Mobilier Français du XVIII Siècle, Milan, 1999, p. 261.


Auguste-Charles-Joseph, Comte de Flahaut de la Billarderie (1785-1870) and his wife, Margaret, Baroness Keith and Nairne (1788-1867). Their eldest daughter Emily Jane Mercer Elphinstone de Flahaut, Baroness Nairne (1819-1895), wife of the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne (1816-1866). By descent in the Lansdowne family at Meikleour, Perthshire to the 8th Marquis of Lansdowne, sold Christie's, London, December 3, 1981, lot 97. Barbara Piasecka Johnson, sold, Christie's, London, June 11, 1992, lot 61.


The underside inscribed in ink  Madame la Comtesse de Flahaut Mai 1-5 .. Jean-Francois Leleu, maitre in 1764 (stamped on upper edge of left hand drawer)

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