Fall-front desk

On display in:

Baron's Room

Order image © All images subject to copyright

Artist or maker

Riesener, Jean-Henri (b.1734, d.1806)



Place of production

  • Paris, France


  • oak carcase and drawers, veneered with purpleheart, tulipwood and mahogany, with marquetry of sycamore, boxwood, holly, ebony, casuarina, burl woods and other woods, with gilt-bronze mounts and marble top

Type of object

  • fall-front desks

Accession number


Upright rectangular drop-front desk resting on a slightly projecting base, which is supported on four bracket feet. It has canted forecorners, and sides which splay out gently at their junction with the rear corners. The desk contains a drawer in the frieze above a drop-front, which is counter-weighted, and two doors. The nest behind the drop front is composed of a central pigeon-hole flanked on each side by three drawers, with above two further tiers, divided into three and two compartments respectively. The fittings for writing materials in the bottom right-hand drawer are missing. In the floor of the centre pigeon -hole a hinged flap, secured by a spring-catch operated by a secret mechanism gives access to a well which contains two drawers, one on either side. The doors open to reveal two compartments, below which there are, on the left, two superimposed drawers, and, on the right, a hinged flap to a safe which has matching false drawer fronts. Above the top compartments are two secret drawers which flank the well. Individual locks are fitted to the right-hand drawer and the safe. The double-throw lock of the drop-front also secures the drawer in the frieze. The desk is elaborately decorated with marquetry with, on the drop front, a figure of Silence, on the doors bouquets of flowers in two urns, and on the ends individual flowers in fret marquetry. Prominent caryatids of gilt bronze are fitted to the forecorners, and bearded masks to the frieze drawer and base.

This desk was delivered for the use of Louis XVI in his private study to the Petit Trianon, in the grounds of Versailles, in August 1777. It is recorded both in the Journal du Garde Meuble and Riesner’s own memorandum also survives. It cost 8,120 livres and was delivered along with a ‘beautiful marquetry writing table’, now also at Waddesdon (WM 2528), a larger writing-table, now owned by the Getty but on loan to the Petit Trianon and a chest of drawers in the collections at Versailles.


Its ownership by Louis XVI had been forgotten by the time of its sale in 1882, but it retained an association with him, as its key was said to have been made by him. Alice de Rothschild repeated this assertion in her 1906 catalogue: ‘The key of this cabinet is said to have been made by Louis XVI - a tradition that needs authentication’. She also noted similar desks in Sir Richard Wallace’s collection (made for Marie-Antoinette, and now in the Wallace collection, inv. no. F300) and Lord Rosebery’s collection, at Dalmeny House.

Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild acquired it from his agent Samson Wertheimer, who purchased it at the Hamilton Palace Sale (lot 518, £1,575), one of the greatest sales in the nineteenth century, and at which a number of exceptional pieces of eighteenth-century French furniture were bought by Ferdinand, his sister Miss Alice de Rothschild, and their cousin Baron Edmond. He displayed it in his private sitting room at Waddesdon Manor.

Physical description

Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)

1421 x 1135 x 481


Hamilton Palace No.518.
on the top of the back, the figures in ink

under the marble on the top



  • Ordered by Queen Marie-Antoinette of France (b. 1755, d. 1793) for the use of King Louis XVI of France (b. 1754, d. 1793) at the Petit Trianon, Versailles, delivered on 6 August 1777; acquired by Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton (b. 1767, d. 1852) by 1852; by descent to his son William Alexander Archibald, 11th Duke of Hamilton (b. 1811, d. 1863); by descent to his son William Douglas-Hamilton, 12th Duke of Hamilton (b. 1845, d. 1895; his sale, 17 June–20 July 1882, lot 518, at which bought by Samson Wertheimer (d. 1892) for £1,575 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b. 1839, d. 1898), inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d. 1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon (National Trust) in 1957.


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


  • Journal du Garde Meuble; 01 3319, folio 221; 01 3626
  • Pierre Verlet; French Royal Furniture; London; Barrie and Rockliff; 1963; no. 15, pp. 130-132, illustr.
  • Gazette des Beaux-Arts; Paris; Gazette des Beaux-Arts; 2ème trim., 1959, pp. 27-28
  • Kunst & Antiquitäten; VI/80, Nov./Dec.
  • Country Life; London; Country Life; 24th Oct. 1985; black and white illustr.
  • Pierre Verlet; Möbel von J.H. Riesener; 1955?; pp. 15,19,Fig.4
  • The Burlington Magazine; The Burlington Magazine Publications Limited; July/Aug. 1959, Fig.19
  • Oliver Garnett; Living in Style; London; National Trust Enterprises Limited; 2002; pp. 128-129
  • 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; vol. I, pp. 348-357; cat. 69
  • Pierre Verlet; Le Mobilier Royal Francais; III; Paris; Picard; 1994; p. 10; pp. 152-155
  • Helen Jacobsen, Rufus Bird, Mia Jackson; Jean-Henri Riesener: Cabinetmaker to Louis XVI & Marie-Antoinette Furniture in the Wallace Collection, the Royal Collection & Waddesdon Manor; Philip Wilson Publishers; cat. 9

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