Secrétaire à Abattant
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Gift of J. Paul Getty
This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty's Open Content Program.

Martin Carlin, furniture worker; circular plaque by Jean-Jacques Pierre le jeune, metalworker
French, Paris and Sèvres, about 1775
Oak veneered with amaranth, tulip, ebony, and holly, incised with red mastic; eight soft-paste porcelain Sèvres porcelain plaques; gilt bronze mounts; white marble
H: 3 ft. 11 1/4 in. x W: 3 ft. 1 in. x D: 1 ft. 1 1/4 in.

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Many new styles of writing desks appeared in the 1700s. Desks such as this delicate model were not designed for serious work; rather, these precious objects ornamented the room while providing their owners with a place to lock up their private letters. The front of this piece opens to reveal a velvet-lined writing surface and several drawers surrounding a pigeonhole.

Parisian marchands-merciers were the first to use Sèvres porcelain plaques to decorate furniture. Creating a writing desk like this one was a complicated process involving many stages. First the dealer commissioned a design and ordered plaques from the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory. He then selected an ébéniste to make and veneer the carcass of the desk, leaving space for the plaques. A variety of craftsmen designed and made the gilt bronze mounts. Another specialized worker lined the drawers with silk or velvet. Finally, the ébéniste assembled the desk and returned it to the dealer to be sold.

The two frieze and two spandrel plaques were painted by Claude Couturier. The central frieze plaque was gilded by Pierre-André Le Guay.

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Painter's marks



Gilder's mark

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Desk open
Desk open