Jean-François Leleu

Dates1729 - 1807, master 1764

A hot-tempered man, Jean-François Leleu was one of the most distinguished Parisian ébénistes of the latter part of the eighteenth century. Leleu completed his apprenticeship in the workshop of the renowned ébéniste Jean-François Oeben; after his master's death in 1763, he undoubtedly hoped that Oeben's widow would make him head of the shop. She, however, favored Leleu's rival Jean-Henri Riesener and eventually married him in 1767. This so upset Leleu that fighting erupted between the two men and the police had to intervene. Leleu's jealousy and disappointment was probably exacerbated by Riesener's Germanic origin. Native French members of the furniture-making guild strongly resented the influx of foreign craftsmen, especially Germans, into the Paris guild system.

Leleu, seeing no future in the Riesener workshop, left in 1764 and became a master in the same year. He quickly established himself on his own and soon counted Louis XV, the king of France, the king's mistress Madame du Barry, and the Prince de Condé among his clients. Leleu worked in lacquer, with Sèvres porcelain plaques, and in marquetry, with both pictorial and geometric patterns. His talent for creating complicated mechanical fittings and locks, together with his expertise in marquetry, were techniques he learned from his master Oeben.