The Riesener Project

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The Riesener Project

The Riesener Project

The curators and conservators at the Wallace Collection are working in collaboration with colleagues from Waddesdon Manor and the Royal Collection, to better understand the works of Jean-Henri Riesener in our collections.

Who was Jean-Henri Riesener?

Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) is one of the most celebrated French furniture makers of all time. A German immigrant who travelled to Paris to make his fortune, his fame is largely based on his role as official cabinetmaker to the king, Louis XVI, and the pieces he produced for the royal court. He was a particular favourite of Marie-Antoinette and made beautiful furniture for her private apartments that reflected her love of exquisitely detailed works of art and refined elegance.

What is the Riesener Project?

The Wallace Collection is lucky to possess eleven pieces attributed to Riesener. Over the past few years we have been conducting a research project to learn more about the furniture maker and his workshop, and to cast light on the materials he used, the way in which his business operated and the evolution of his designs. We have been joined in this project by Waddesdon Manor and the Royal Collection, who also own important collections of Riesener furniture. Together, we have been studying the development of the fashion for Riesener furniture in Britain, which reached its peak in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The project includes employing cutting-edge technology, using photogrammetry and 3D modelling, to recreate how these exceptional pieces of furniture originally appeared.

The intention of the Riesener project is to publish its findings and to bring the work of this remarkable master back into the forefront of furniture history.

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A Conservation Story

A Commode made for Marie-Antoinette by Jean-Henri Riesener

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Riesener’s Roll-Top Desks

Riesener is famous for making roll-top desks. After delivering the bureau du roi to Louis XV in 1769, he continued to develop the model, supplying them in various sizes and forms to members of the French royal family and their court.

Each desk is complex in construction, it having a roll-top which conceals drawers and shelves (and sometimes secret compartments) for storing books, papers and writing implements, above a textile-lined surface for letter writing. The contents of the lower drawers would have been protected from prying eyes by an ingenious locking mechanism which prevents them from being released without unlocking and opening the roll-top.

Watch the video of a desk at the Wallace Collection below to discover the technical brilliance of Riesener’s furniture design.

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Riesener’s roll-top desks

Complex Constructions

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Digital Deconstructions

The Riesener furniture examined during the course of the Project has been documented digitally as 3D models and presented using the interactive online platform, Sketchfab. Following the release of its first Sketchfab model of Marie-Antoinette’s chest of drawers (F248), the Wallace Collection is excited to release two more models of a fall-front desk which also belonged to the queen (F300). They run as looped video sequences.

The new sequence below reveals how the object’s carcase has been constructed, while the second sequence reveals the many pieces of wood veneer which make up a panel of marquetry decoration on the side of the desk. The upper part of the panel shows how the colours of the marquetry might have looked when the desk was delivered to Marie-Antoinette in 1780, while the lower part of the panel shows the marquetry as it appears today.

You can pause the video sequences at any point to explore the technically-accurate models in three-dimensional space using your mouse or touchpad: left click allows you to rotate around the objects, right click allows you to pan, whilst scrolling the wheel of a mouse, or pinching and stretching out your fingers on a touchpad, controls the zoom function. Sketchfab also has virtual reality capabilities, being compatible with most mainstream VR technology.