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Mechanical writing table
  • Mechanical writing table
    Oeben, Jean-François, born 1721 - died 1763
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Mechanical writing table

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1760 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Oeben, Jean-François, born 1721 - died 1763 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oak, veneered with tulipwood, with marquetry of rosewood, sycamore, purplewood, boxwood, ebony, tulipwood and others; in part stained, shaded and engraved with gilt bronze mounts

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:

    1095:1 to 3-1882

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 3, case FS, shelf BY WW []

The Parisian cabinet-maker Jean-François Oeben invented this form of small, mechanical writing table in about 1750 and many were made, in a range of sizes. Oeben specialized in mechanical gadgetry and this table uses a complicated mechanism of ratchets and springs so that when the drawer is pulled forward, the top surface of the table moves backwards automatically, until the inner compartment is fully accessible. Oeben was also well known for the kind of delicate floral marquetry that decorates this piece. He was appointed cabinet-maker to the king in 1754. A portrait of the king's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, painted with her young daughter, and so dateable to before the death of the young girl in 1754, includes a table of just this pattern.

Physical description

Mechanical writing table of oak, with serpentine sides, veneered with tulipwood, with marquetry of rosewood, sycamore, purplewood, boxwood, ebony and other woods, in part stained, shaded and engraved to form decorative patterns of flowers and foliage, the table mounted in gilt bronze. The top of this table moves back on a spung mechanism as the drawer pulls out to reveal hidden compartments and a writing surface, lined with purple velvet.

The spring for the main compartment is cleverly released using the lock in the drawer front. When the key is turned once to the right, the bolt drops from its engagement in the top front rail of the drawer unit, unlocking the drawer. If the key is turned a second time to the right, a bolt drops down through the drawer front to press on one end of a long steel lever. This triggers the spring mechanism, pushing the table top back and pulling the main drawer compartment forward. As the main compartment moves forward a writing slope is automatically released and springs up on a ratchet system.

A square steel frame around the underside of the base of the main drawer pulls forward to release the ratchet system for the writing slope.

Place of Origin

France (made)

Date

ca. 1760 (made)

Artist/maker

Oeben, Jean-François, born 1721 - died 1763 (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Oak, veneered with tulipwood, with marquetry of rosewood, sycamore, purplewood, boxwood, ebony, tulipwood and others; in part stained, shaded and engraved with gilt bronze mounts

Marks and inscriptions

CR below a closed crown, the whole above two V's overlapping
Stamped on the underside, on a strut across the centre of the carcase

Montaror
Painted in black underneath the front rail and partially illegible.

Dimensions

Height: 679 mm, Width: 725 mm, Depth: 400 mm closed

Object history note

In the collection of John Jones before 1882

Descriptive line

Mechanical writing table, oak, veneered with tulipwood, with marquetry of rosewood, sycamore, purplewood, boxwood, ebony, tulipwood and others, in part stained, shaded and engraved with gilt bronze mounts, Jean-François Oeben, ca.1760, France.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Greenhalgh, Paul Ed., Art Nouveau : 1890 - 1914. London: V&A Publications, 2000. 464 p., ill. ISBN 1851772774
W.G. Paulson Townsend, Measured drawings of French furniture in the South Kensington Museum (London 1899), plates 85-7

Labels and date

Writing table
About 1760

This type of writing table was invented by the French royal cabinet-maker Oeben in the 1750s. He specialised in gadgetry such as the large springs that push forward the writing compartment as the table top moves back. He made many versions of this design. In 1756 Louis XV granted him workshops, with special permission to build his own forge.

France
By Jean-François Oeben
Oak; marquetry in European or tropical woods; gilded copper alloy mounts
Bequeathed by John Jones
[09/12/2015]
[Label text by Peter Thornton}
Lady's writing table
French (Paris); about 1760

Marquetry of harewood, tulipwood, sycamore and other woods. Mounted in ormolue. Stamped underneath wiht a crown above the letter 'CR' and a double 'V', which may indicate that this piece was formerly among the furnishings of the Palace of Versailles. It is likely to have been made in the workshops of the royal cabinet-maker, Jean-Francois Oeben (d. 1763), who produced a number of very similar tables.

Jones Collection
Museum No. 1095-1882 [1980]

Materials

Oak; Tulipwood; Rosewood; Sycamore; Purplewood; Boxwood; Gilt bronze; Velvet; Steel

Techniques

Cabinet-making; Veneering; Marquetry; Casting; Chasing; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Flowers; Foliage

Categories

Furniture

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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