Rolltop desk

(bureau à cylindre)

On display in:

Baron's Room

Order image © All images subject to copyright

Artist or maker


marquetry panels after painting by Giovanni Paolo Panini (b.1691, d.1765)
after engraving by Pierre François Tardieu (b.1688, d.1754)
after engraving by Jean Baptiste de Lorraine
marquetry panels after painting by Jacques de Lajoüe (b.1686, d.1761)
after engraving by Charles-Nicolas Cochin I père (French, b.1688, d.1754)
mounts by Danchot



date stamped on bronze gallery

Place of production

  • Paris?, France


  • oak and pine carcass; veneered in tulipwood, purpleheart and mahogany; with sycamore, tulipwood, holly, boxwood, ebony, purpleheart, burl wood, plane wood and ivory marquetry and gilt-bronze mounts

Type of object

  • rolltop desks

Accession number


Roll-top desk decorated with marquetry images reflecting the interests of Caron de Beaumarchais and elaborate gilt-bronze mounts.



  • Open Furtniture Month, May 2014
  • For Open Furniture Month this year, Waddesdon Guides have chosen some of their favourite pieces.
  • Cylinder-top desk, French, 1777-1781
  • Maker - possibly Jean-François Leleu (1729-1807)
  • Carcase - oak and pine; veneered with tulipwood, purplewood and mahogany
  • Marquetry – sycamore, tulipwood, holly, boxwood, ebony, purplewood, burr woods, planewood and ivory
  • Mounts - chased and gilt bronze
  • This beautiful desk has always interested me because of its historical associations. It was made for Pierre-Auguste Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799), whose life spanned a fascinating period in French history, including the American War of Independence and the French Revolution.
  • Beaumarchais was a polymath. He began life as a skilled watchmaker and inventor but was also a talented musician, financier, revolutionary and a spy for Louis XVI.
  • This desk, commissioned for him by a group of his friends at a cost of 85,000 francs, reflects all these interests and more. The beautiful marquetry makes reference to his career as a scientist and mathematician; panels on the back of the desk and on the cylinder-top show his interest in science and astronomy. Three raised sections on the top of the desk have designs based on Roman ruins and are taken from engravings by Panini.
  • Tulipwood, purplewood and mahogany are used in the veneer, and the marquetry panels include sycamore, holly, boxwood, ebony and burr woods. Some of the blue and green colours of these woods remain.
  • This cylinder desk is a writing table with stacked shelves and drawers and a revolving section which covers the writing area when it is not in use. It is a very large desk, supported on six tapering legs and includes several secret drawers and a lead-lined safe on the right side. The mechanisms are operated by a single key. By varying the depth, pressure and direction in which the key is turned, different parts of the desk are opened.
  • The whereabouts of the desk following Beaumarchais’ death are unknown, but in 1831 it was offered as a prize in the French Loterie Royale, each ticket costing 50 francs. Later the desk came into the possession of the Duke of Buccleuch. It was bought from the Buccleuch family by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild and stands here, where he placed it, in his private sitting room.
  • Accession number: 2474; W1/25/4
  • Jane Rose
  • House Guide
  • Image captions :
  • Detail of mechanism inside desk. Photo Eost & Macdonald © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
  • Detail of gilt bronze mount. Photo Hugo Maertens © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
  • Detail of right marquetry panel on top of desk. Photo A.C. Cooper © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
  • Writing surface of desk. Photo John Bigelow Taylor © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Physical description

Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)

1335 x 2108 x 1137


vale / 3#
[in ink on the underside of the upper left drawer of the nest]

9 mai [?..7.] / pr 6# 12
[in ink on the underside of the centre drawer of the lower stage]

5 may / 4#
[in ink on the underside of the lower left drawer of the lower stage]

5 avril 1778 / pr 4#
[ink on the underside of the upper left drawer of the lower stage]

pour 10#
[in ink on the underside of the safe drawer on the right of the lower stage]

Repaired By J Wood / at Mr Baldocks 1832
[in pencil beneath the false bottom of the upper right-hand drawer of the nest]

Repaired by E. C. Souter / at Gore house Exhibition 1853.
[in pencil beneath the false bottom of the upper right-hand drawer of the nest]



  • Made for Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799); offered as a lottery prize in Paris in 1831; acquired by the dealer Edward Holmes Baldock (1777-1845) by 1832; owned by Walter Francis Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch and 7th Duke of Queensbury (1806-1884) from 1832; acquired by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898) from William Henry Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 6th Duke of Buccleuch and 8th Duke of Queensbury (1831-1914) prior to 1897; inherited by Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922); inherited by James de Rothschild (1878-1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon (The National Trust) in 1957.

Exhibition history

  • Gore House, Kensington, 1853


  • Waddesdon (National Trust)
  • Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957


  • J C Robinson; FSA; Catalogues of Specimens of Cabinet Work, and of Studies from the Schools of Art, Exhibited at Gore House, Kensington; Gore House, Kensington, London; London; Her Majesty's Stationery Office; 1853; no. 131.
  • Sir Francis Watson, French Eighteenth Century Furniture at Waddesdon, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 28-31; ill.
  • Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Flowers in Wood, Apollo, 87, 1968, 12-21; ill.
  • ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦, ♦; Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Anthony Blunt; Furniture Clocks and Gilt Bronzes: The James A de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; 2 vols; Fribourg; Office du Livre; 1974; pp. 308-326, cat. no. 65, ill.
  • ♦, ♦; Mark Girouard; Historic Houses of Britain; London; Artus Publishing Company Limited; 1979; p. 124, ill.
  • ♦; Jean-Pierre de Beaumarchais; Beaumarchais Le Voltigeur des Lumieres; Paris; Éditions Gallimard; 1996; ill. p. 50
  • Linley, Sunday Telegraph Review on Extraordinary Furniture, 1996; ill.
  • Donald C. Spinelli; L’Inventaire après décès de Beaumarchais; Paris; Honoré Champion; 1997; p. 55.
  • ♦; Maurice Lever; Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais:Tome III. Dans la tourmente 1785-1799; France; Librairie Arthème Fayard; 2004; ill. between pp. 220-221
  • ♦, ♦; Les collections exceptionnelles des Rothschild: Waddesdon Manor (Hors-série de l'Estampille/l'Objet d'Art, No. 14); Dijon; Éditions Faton; 2004; pp. 10-21.
  • ♦; Treasures from The National Trust; London; The National Trust; 2007; pp. 114-115.
  • ♦; Juliette Hibou, Waddesdon Manor: l'histoire d'une passion, Dossier de l'art, 172, March 2010, 93-95; p. 94, ill.

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