Writing table

(table à écrire)

On display in:

Tower Drawing 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 veneered with purpleheart; with marquetry of satinee, satinwood, boxwood, ebony, sycamore and other woods and gilt-bronze mounts

Type of object

  • writing tables

Accession number


Small writing table veneered with fret marquetry and five panels depicting trophies of the arts, with elaborate gilt-bronze mounts.

Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, used this exquisite writing table at the Petit Trianon, the small palace she used as a retreat from the court at Versailles. An intimate piece of furniture from the Queen's private domain, the table was commissioned from her favourite cabinet-maker Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806).


Although Riesener made a number of small writing tables for Marie-Antoinette and other ladies at court, the extremely fine modelling of the gilt-bronze mounts sets this table apart from the others. Composed of incredibly realistic flowers carefully chased, gilded and burnished so that they shimmer in the light, the mounts can be compared to the fineness of jewellery.

The central oval reserve of the table-top and the panels on the four sides are decorated with intricate marquetry trophies of love and music, while geometric ‘fretwork’ marquetry fills the remaining table-top and lower shelf. The front frieze pulls out to reveal a writing slide, which can be adjusted to the preferred angle, beneath which is a drawer. A subsidiary drawer contains silvered compartments for writing implements and can be pulled out to the right when the writing slide is in use.

Although the table bears an inventory number from the Petit Trianon, and its decoration would have certainly harmonised with the interiors there, its exact early history is unclear. As a commission for the Queen, the table bears the brand of Marie-Antoinette’s personal garde meuble (furnishing administration) rather than that of the crown. The records of the Queen’s garde meuble are missing and the table has not been definitively identified in inventories of Royal residences.

It has been suggested that the table was created for the Petit Trianon but was transferred to the Château de Marly for the last stay of court there in June 1789 (see Castelluccio, 1996). Riesener had supplied a pair of chests of drawers for the Queen’s rooms at Marly in 1782 which feature similar mosaic and floral marquetry and spectacularly refined bronzes which one could imagine complementing the table (now Versailles, inv. no. V 3759; Louvre inv. no. OA 12012). Alternatively, it has been suggested that the table may have first been made for the Queen’s boudoir at Versailles, the cabinet de la Méridienne, before being moved to the Petit Trianon (see Pradère).

Research by Christian Baulez in the records of the gilder François Rémond (c 1747-1812) reveal that he gilded bronze mounts for Riesener’s furniture (see C. Baulez,’Toute l’Europe tire ses bronzes de Paris’, in "Bernard Molitor 1755-1833", exh. cat., 1995, pp. 77-101). The intricate mounts for a small table listed in Rémond’s journal on 27 January 1782 sound very similar to those on the Waddesdon table.

Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the writing table via the dealer Samson Wertheimer at the famous Hamilton Palace Sale of 1882. It was listed en- suite with two other pieces made by Riesener for Marie-Antoinette – a chest of drawers and a fall-front desk – both now in the Frick Collection, New York (acc. no. 1915.5.76; 1915.5.75). These two pieces have a similarly uncertain history but appear to have been supplied for one of several residences the Queen was refurbishing in the early 1780s, possibly the Château de Saint-Cloud. Although the table shares the same trelliswork and floral marquetry, it is unlikely that it was originally en-suite with the Frick pieces. Rather they were probably purchased by one of the Dukes of Hamilton to create an ensemble.

Ferdinand paid the then vast sum of £6000 for the table in 1882, which provoked comment and even ridicule in the press. Ferdinand, like many of his contemporaries, was fascinated by Marie-Antoinette. As a personal effect of the Queen, the table must have held a special appeal as well as representing the epitome of the style developed for her by Riesener in the early 1780s. This was demonstrated when Ferdinand chose to illustrate the table as a work of art in "The Red Book", an album he privately published in 1897 to record the architecture, interiors and collection at Waddesdon. Marie-Antoinette’s table was one of only two pieces of furniture featured, the other being a fall-front desk decorated with Sèvres porcelain plaques by Martin Carlin (c. 1739-1785 ) (acc. no. 2321).

Emily Roy, 2016

Physical description

Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)

733 x 582 x 422


Maker's mark
beneath left hand rail

M A crowned and encircled with: GARDE MEUBLE DE LA REINE
Owner's mark
on underside of shelf


Duke Hamilton
on label on underside of bottom panel


Tower Drawing Room Left of Fireplace
in ink

on underside of bottom panel



  • Made for Queen Marie Antoinette of France (b.1755, d.1793); acquired for the collection of the Dukes of Hamilton; sold at Christie's London by William Douglas-Hamilton, 12th Duke of Hamilton (b.1845, d.1895) on 17 June 1882; acquired on behalf of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898) by Samson Wertheimer (d.1892); inherited by Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust), in 1957.

Exhibition history

  • 'Special Exhibition of Works of Art of the Mediaeval, Renaissance, and more recent Periods', South Kensington Museum, June 1862, no. 826, loaned by the Duke of Hamilton


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


  • Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Works of Art of the Medieval, Renaissance and more recent Periods, on loan at the South Kensington Museum. June 1862; London; South Kensington Museum; 1863; p. 37, no. 826.
  • Examples of Art Workmanship ... Decorative Furniture French ...; London; The Arundel Society for Promoting the Knowledge of Art; 1871; Pl. XV.
  • ♦; Alfred de Champeaux; Le Meuble. II. XVIIe, XVIIIe et XIXe siècles.; Paris; L. Martinet; 1885; Vol. II, p. 232, Fig. 63.
  • Émile Molinier; Histoire Générale des Arts Appliqués à L’Industrie du V à la fin du XVIII Siècle; Paris; E. Levy; 1896; Vol. III, p. 167.
  • Sir Francis Watson, French Eighteenth Century Furniture at Waddesdon, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 28-31; fig. 6.
  • Pierre Verlet, Some Versailles Furniture preserved at Waddesdon, The Burlington Magazine, 1959, 267-271; ill.
  • Sir Francis Watson; Louis XVI Furniture; London; 1960; no. 114.
  • Geneviève Souchal, Simon Watson Taylor; French 18th Century Furniture; London; Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1963; 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; vol II, pp. 520-527, cat. no. 106
  • Stéphane Castelluccio, Marie-Antoinette à Marly, L'Estampille. L' Objet d'Art, November 1993, 48-65; ill. p. 61.
  • ♦; Pierre Ramond; Chefs-d'Oeuvre des Marqueteurs; vol 3; Paris; Éditions Gallimard; 1999; Vol. III, pp. 64-65.
  • ♦, ♦; Jeanne Faton, Waddesdon Manor: joyau des collections anglaises, L'Estampille. L' Objet d'Art, September 2002; p. 90.
  • ♦, ♦; 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, ill. p. 11.
  • ♦; Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel, Xavier Salmon; Marie-Antoinette; Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 15 March - 30 June 2008; Paris; Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux; 2008; p. 214.

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