The bureau plat with a leather inset writing surface surrounded by a molded ormolu border, the frieze of slightly breakfront outline, fitted with three drawers and with a writing slide at one end, the central drawer fitted with ribbon-tied foliate ormolu rinceaux enclosing flowerheads, the flanking drawers with conjoined S-scrolls enclosing acanthus leaf clusters, the angular outset corners fitted with rosettes and centered at each end by a satyrs' mask; raised on tapered legs inset with ormolu flutes and chandelles headed by an ormolu collar of egg-and-dart flanked by scrolled capitals, ending in laurel leaf and gadrooned toupie feet; the cartonnier of rectangular outline and fitted at each side with a pair of cupboard doors enclosing a shelf, the upper part with four gilt-tooled leather document boxes, the corners fitted with pendant ribbon-tied swags, the sides centered by masks and the whole outlined with ormolu borders, surmounted by an ormolu-mounted plinth fitted with a drawer supporting an associated clock with white enameled dial inscribed Robin a Paris within an arched case flanked by patinated bronze putti linked by swags, raised on a rectangular base; the associated movement inscribed C.H. Dutertre a Paris.\nINSCRIPTION ON THE DOCUMENT BOX\nOne of the document boxes has a label with ink inscription (illustrated above):\n"This table & inkstand belonged to the Duc de Choiseul Prime Minister of Louis XV. They were bought at the sale of his house and effects in 1796 by the first Lord Malmesbury during his diplomatic mission to the Directory at Paris for 100 Louis. A duplicate is at Versailles wh (sic) belonged to the King. Malmesbury."\nFamily tradition holds that this note regarding the purchase of the desk is probably in the hand of James Howard Harris, 3rd Earl of Malmesbury (1807-1889).\nTHE ATTRIBUTION TO JOSEPH\nThe inventory taken on March 28, 1772 after the death of Joseph lists numerous pieces of furniture still under construction which were evaluated by the ébénistes Martin Carlin and Charles Joseph Dufour. The first and the most expensive piece was listed as follows:\n"Un grand bureau de six pieds de longeur plaqué en ébène à gaines avec des canelures garni de ses bronzes non doré, prisé huit cent livres ...800"\nAnother bureau was listed as follows:\n"Un autre bureau de même grandeur non garni de ses bronzes prisé quatre cent livres ... 400"\nIt is interesting to note therefore that the value of the bronzes without gilding was estimated at 400 livres, a large sum, and one half the value of the bureau. At this period, Joseph had been using two maîtres fondeurs Oblet and Prevost and three maîtres ciseleurs Piault, Crampon and Tielman.\nOnly one other identical bureau is known: this was formerly in the collection of Lord Elgin and has no cartonnier. Another of this model but veneered in kingwood and also lacking its cartonnier, formerly in the collection of Edmund de Rothschild, was sold, Christie's, London, June 20, 1985, lot 93.\nThe present desk is fitted with ormolu frieze mounts incorporating foliate rinceaux in the center flanked by S-scrolls enclosing acanthus leaves. These are identical to the frieze mounts on a commode and a pair of corner cupboards, stamped Joseph and supplied before 1776 for the Marquis de Brunoy, formerly in the collection of René Grog, now in the Louvre, illustrated, D. Alcouffe, A. Dion-Tennenbaum & A. Lefébure, Furniture Collections in the Louvre, Dijon, 1993, pp. 194-195. The legs are also fitted with identical ormolu laurel leaves above gadrooned toupie feet. The commode and one of the corner cupboards bears the trade label of the marchand mercier Darnault, one of the leading dealers of the day.\nIdentical mounts decorate the frieze and apron of a commode and a pair of corner cupboards, stamped Joseph, supplied in 1769 by Darnault for the Duchesse de Mazarin, now in the British Royal Collection. The commode is illustrated, Pradère, op.cit. p. 239, fig. 243, and one of the corner cupboards is illustrated, Augarde, op. cit. p. 36, fig. 33. Each of these pieces is veneered in Japanese lacquer; the commode was originally fitted with a Sèvres porcelain plaque in the center which was exchanged for a Japanese lacquer panel after George IV acquired it in 1825.\nThe laurel leaf mounts at the base of the legs and toupie feet are found on a bas d’armoire attributed to Joseph, made circa 1765-70, now in the Wallace Collection, illustrated, Hughes, op. cit. pp. 574-575, No. 124. The same mounts are fitted to the legs of another bas d’armoire stamped Joseph, illustrated, Pradère, ibid. p. 239. Each of these pieces was probably made to the order of the influential marchand mercier Julliot. Another cupboard also stamped Joseph, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, has chamfered corners inset with ormolu flutes and chandelles which are surmounted by ormolu Ionic capitals identical to those on the present piece.\nEbony bureaux plats were rare in the 18th century, although several ébénistes such as Dubois, Carlin, Weisweiler and Montigny are known to have made them. A bureau of this type is described in the Beaujon sale in April 1787. The cartonnier decorated wtih pine needles recalls the work of Montigny.\nIn 1788 Daguerre supplied to the cabinet of the Garde des Sceaux at Versailles: "un bureau et son serrepapier en bois d'ébène garni d'ornemens de bronze doré d'or moulu, le dessus dudit bureau couvert en marroquin vert avec une pendule aussi de bronze doré d'or moulu ... 2000". The description in this bill is magnified in the Ministry inventory at Versailles.\nA second, smaller bureau lacking clock, was delivered the same day for the arrière cabinet for 1,000 livres. This same bureau lacking cartonnier and clock was sent to the Convention Nationale in Paris on the 15 Messidor An 2. It is now in the Palais Bourbon (J.-P. Samoyault, La Patrimoine de l'Assemblé Nationale, 1996, p. 37).\nJAMES HARRIS, 1ST EARL OF MALMESBURY (1746-1820)\nBorn in St. Ann’s Gate House in Salisbury, the eldest and only surviving son of James Harris (1709-1780) MP and philosopher, and his wife, Elizabeth Clarke, Harris, who was educated at Winchester College, Merton College, Oxford, and at the Dutch University at Leiden, rose spectacularly to become the leading British diplomatist of the last quarter of the 18th century and an important adviser to the government.\nAfter successful postings in Madrid as chargé d’affairs and at St. Petersburg as envoy-extraordinary to Catherine II, then as envoy-extraodinary and plenipotentiary to the Hague, Harris had clearly become the leading professional diplomatist of his generation. He was a ruthless professional who also had the exceptional social skills which were so necessary for any successful 18th century diplomatist.\nHarris was promoted to the rank of Ambassador in 1788 and was ennobled as Baron Malmesbury, a title which was subsequently raised to an earldom. In late 1788 he was considered for the Paris embassy which was the equivalent in rank of a cabinet post and would have been testimony to his pre-eminence in the British diplomatic corps; following normal practice, however, the post was filled by an aristocratic amateur.\nMalmesbury carried out extended and wide-ranging missions to the continent and his final missions were linked to the search for peace with France in 1796-7. Britain’s quintessential ancien régime diplomatist now encountered the very different methods of the French revolutionaries. A period of difficult, often futile, discussions ensued with very little progress. His efforts were effectively resolved by the coup d état in September 1797 which purged the Directory of the moderates who had been conducting the peace negotiations. They were replaced by hard-liners and Malmesbury, who could do no more, was recalled, breaking off the discussions in Lille.\nMalmesbury had arrived in France in October 1796. In his diary he records a visit on November 1 to an hôtel in the rue Grange Batelière where he viewed some very fine appartements. There can be little doubt that this was the hôtel de Choiseul , being as it was the only one of any significance on that street. On November 5 he visited the dealer Paul Eloy Lignereux where he admired some "beautiful furniture". He purchased furniture there on November 17. By 21 Pluviose an 5 (February 9, 1797) he still owed 2040 livres to Daguerre-Lignereux.\nTHE HÔTEL DE CHOISEUL\nThe hôtel de Choiseul, situated at the former No. 3, rue neuve Grange Batelière, now rue Drouot, was built by the architect Lecarpentier for the fermier général Michel Bouret.\nAcquired by the duc de Choiseul in 1782 and subsequently restored, it served as the duc's Paris residence until his death in 1785 when it was rented to the Tribunal des Maréchaux. Seized following the Revolution, from 1793-1795 it served as the War Ministry, and subsequently during the Directoire, it functioned partially as a sales room as witnessed by an advertisement dated 23 Frimaire an V (December 13, 1796). Citoyen Richard exhibited fourteen pawned items including two pieces of furniture that had belonged to Marie Antoinette in the "appartements et galerie de la dite maison". A rental advertisement was posted on March 20, 1797 and the space appears to have been taken rapidly by the dealer Baudoin who is recorded at this location by October 5, 1797. During the Restoration the new opera house was erected in the gardens and the house was converted into storage for the opera sets and a foyer. The hôtel was demolished at the end of the 19th century following extensive fire damage; it was replaced by a block of flats.\nJOSEPH BAUMHAUER (?-1772) Ebéniste Privilégié du Roi c. 1749\nJoseph Baumhauer takes his place amongst the distinguished group of German émigré ébénistes who contributed so greatly to the pre-eminence achieved by cabinet-makers in 18th century Paris. He was universally known by his first name, rather than his surname which was difficult for his French contemporaries, and he used his first name for his estampille. Nothing is known about Baumhauer’s youth or when he actually settled in Paris, but it was before 1745 which is the recorded date of his marriage to Reine Chicot. Joseph Baumhauer never became a maître ébéniste, but rather became Marchand-ébéniste privilégié du roi suivant la cour (as had Jean-Pierre Latz before him) circa 1749 working from his establishment located in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine. When Baumhauer died in 1772 the size of his workshop revealed an extremely successful enterprise, however very few pieces were left in stock. This would tend to confirm the theory that Joseph Baumhauer worked largely on specific commissions which he received from the marchands merciers who supplied his furniture to a distinguished and highly discriminating clientèle.\nJoseph was unique amongst his peers in that he was equally adept in the rococo and nascent neoclassical idioms. In both styles he created extremely luxurious and exquisitely well-executed pieces of furniture, and he was the only ébéniste of his generation to work with Japanese and Chinese lacquer, with pietra dura, porcelain and even metal (‘Boulle’) marquetry, not to mention the extremely fine marquetry which he made using a variety of exotic wood veneers. The very high quality of the materials used by this ébéniste again confirms that Joseph worked closely with the leading Parisian marchands merciers who controlled much of the supply of these precious materials.