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André-Charles Boulle, Prince of Cabinetmakers, at Chantilly

Published on , by Clara Scrève

Under the leadership of its director, Mathieu Deldicque, the Musée Condé-Château de Chantilly is staging the very first exhibition in France devoted to the famous cabinetmaker. An opportunity to admire André-Charles Boulle's finest creations and identify his pieces more accurately.

Detail of a leg of the desk executed by André-Charles Boulle for Louis-Henri de Bourbon,... André-Charles Boulle, Prince of Cabinetmakers, at Chantilly

Detail of a leg of the desk executed by André-Charles Boulle for Louis-Henri de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, brass and tortoiseshell marquetry en première partie, gilt bronze ornamentation, Paris, c. 1715. Musée Condé, on deposit from the Château de Versailles.
© Guillaume Benoit

André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) is best-known for his marquetry technique combining metal (brass or pewter) with tortoiseshell. Though not its inventor, the famous cabinetmaker took it to such heights of perfection that it now bears his name. “Boulle” marquetry involved placing a sheet of tortoiseshell and a sheet of metal face to face and cutting them together, with the same stroke of the saw. The 1723 Dictionnaire Universel de Commerce describes the next step: “the empty spaces of one sheet are then filled with the corresponding pieces from the other.” The result is two symmetrical compositions with the same decoration: the marquetry is called “en première partie” when the light brass or pewter decoration stands out against a dark tortoiseshell background, and “en contrepartie” when the dark tortoiseshell stands out against light brass or pewter. Boulle thus owes much of his fame to this specific technique. Recognized as the most skillful craftsman in his sphere from 1672, he had a major influence on both his contemporaries and the cabinetmakers of later centuries. In the second half of the 18th century,…
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