Jean-François Oeben

Datesborn Germany, 1721 - 1763, master 1761
RolesArtist, Maker

Despite the disadvantages of foreign birth, Jean-François Oeben pursued an important career as a royal cabinetmaker in France. The son of a Catholic postmaster, Oeben was born in Germany but emigrated to Paris in the 1740s. After marrying the sister of another ébéniste, he was given the prestigious title of ébéniste du roi (Cabinetmaker to the King) and obtained lodgings and a workshop at the Gobelins Manufactories. There were many advantages for craftsmen who were granted a place at the Gobelins: after six years there, an ébéniste could become a master without paying the usual fees. Furthermore, after ten years, a foreigner such as Oeben became a naturalized Frenchman and had the right to will his assets to his children. The ébénistes Jean-Henri Riesener and Jean-François Leleu worked as assistants in his workshops, and Riesener eventually took over the shop in 1768, when he married Oeben's widow.

In 1756 the King gave Oeben extensive accommodations and a workshop at the Arsenal, with permission to build a forge to cast his own metal fittings. Oeben soon specialized in small, elaborately fitted, multi-purpose pieces of furniture with mechanical parts. He is also credited with having reintroduced naturalistic floral marquetry, which had fallen out of fashion. He produced furniture for the most fashionable members of the aristocracy and was patronized by Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress.