Le premier ébéniste du Roi

Boulle3I keep seeing the name “Boulle” when I look at French antique furniture, so I thought I should learn a bit about him. André-Charles Boulle was the preeminent French cabinetmaker active early in the 18th-century. The style that he created of marquetry that combined inlays of brass and tortoiseshell along with the typical fine woods was named after him.

CIS:W.18-1997Boulle’s work was so highly valued by king Henri IV that he was given an lodgings in Louvre, providing both economic security and freedom from the rules of the trade guilds. He was the named le premier ébéniste du Roi (prem-e-ay ay-ben-ist due rwah), or the king’s first cabinet maker. Before Versailles was the vast, gilded jewel box that it became under Louis XIV, it was a hunting lodge – a pretty swanky royal hunting lodge. There, Boulle worked for many years, creating wood mosaic floors, inlaid paneling, and marquetry furniture. A suite of furniture created for the Dauphin (heir to the throne) was considered a masterpiece of the art. When not busy with his royal commissions, Boulle worked for the aristocracy and influential families of Europe, crafting chests, desks, armoires, pedestals, clock cases, and lighting-fixtures.

Boulle1Despite his talents and the volume of his commissions, Boulle constantly lacked for money. His own art collection seems to have absorbed all of his financial resources. He borrowed money at a high rate of interest to pay for purchases bought at auction when art treasures came available. His workers were not paid consistently and clients did not always get furniture for which they had paid substantial deposits. Living at the Louvre provided him with a certain degree of protection from his creditors. Even one of his sons was arrested and held for his father’s debt until the king got him released.

Boulle2Several years after this event, his financial situation was further affected by a fire that destroyed his workshop and all of the tools and supplies inside. He may have been even more cut-up by the loss of his art collection, which, according to the fire inventory included fourty-eight drawings by Raphael, wax models by Michelangelo, and a journal belonging to Rubens. Boulle was simply addicted to collecting, and he could never kick the habit. He died famous and deeply in debt.

514KN7Ytq-L__SL75_André-Charles Boulle: A New Style for Europe, 1642-1732

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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