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S. What can you tell me about this Boulle style bureau plat?

Hi Robert S. What can...
Hi Robert S. What can you tell me about this Boulle style bureau plat? https://imgur.com/a/qovXO It needs a lot of work. I haven't started yet so my apologies for the dusty and cob-webby condition. The brass and tortoise shell inlay is coming off and completely off in some sections. And there's a lot of chips in the veneer and you can see how the previous owner started repairs. All the ormolu and hardware are still intact. The ormolu on the legs is in three segments. Something about the chunky drawers and the way it looks underneath reminds me of mid 20th C reproductions made in Indonesia. Let me know if you need more pics or additional information.
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Robert S.
Robert S., Antiques and Collectibles Researcher
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Hi Janney,

Thanks for the Boulle bureau Q. That's quite a project you've landed yourself with!

I'll have an answer for you as soon as I can.

Robert

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Customer reply replied 1 month ago
I know. I know. But I fell in love with it and it was at a bargain price :)

Hi Janney,

The more I look at this the more I like it, and the overall proportions and 'flow' are completely pleasing, I can see why you fell for it, but heavens! Is is it a fixer-upper, or what!? This is going to take some time and expertise to put right, especially since once those brass strips have been pulled away, they will have bent and stretched and therefore be impossible to seat properly again. You would do better to cut them from scratch or faux paint the missing pieces, in my opinion. And there's no telling how much further springing of the veneers will happen as you re-acclimatize it back to normal domestic temperatures and humidity. It looks like it must have been in unheated/non air-conditioned storage. In picker's parlance it's in "barn fresh" condition.

It's a classic example of Boulle work, which is primarily the adornment of ebonized wood with brass and tortoiseshell marquetry, in its purist form, and about as French as furniture decoration gets, named, as I'm sure you know, for the genius artist and craftsman André-Charles Boulle (1642 - 1732) royal cabinetmaker or "Ébéniste du Roi" to Louis XIV at Versailles.

Looking at the construction, it seems very authentically made with proper hand-cut dovetailing and the inlays on the top are unusually elaborate. Also, I believe that's French walnut in the sides of the drawers, which is what it should be. I would say this could be as old as second quarter 20th century, certainly pre-World War II.

  • A French Louis XV-Style Boulle-style marquetry & ebonized bureau plat, the rectangular top shaped with serpentine edges, the surface elaborately inlaid with panels of boulle work forming a cartouche-shaped frame, above a serpentine ebonized veneer frieze with central set-back drawer, flanked by one drawer on each side, and the same but sham arrangement verso, the drawers with acanthus scroll ormolu handles, raised on cabriole legs headed by ormolu espagnolette chutes and ending in sabot clad feet.

Even with the distressed state of the inlay and veneers, this piece has such good bones that it would sell, as is, for $400 - $600 at the right auction. If it were professionally restored (and I could not even give a ballpark on what that would cost from this remove) you'd have a piece of furniture that would be worth conservatively $1,800 - $2,750 at auction. Full retail: $6,000.

Hope this helps!

Best wishes,
Robert.

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Customer reply replied 1 month ago
Thanks Robert. This was very helpful as always. I was thinking of faux painting the missing brass inlays but have seen similar ones listed (on high end sites) where they've left the missing brass as is and think that will be the rote I take. I may see how feasible it would be to swap out the back pieces that are in quite good condition to the drawer fronts...
Do you think that's real tortoise shell? Others very similar are saying late 1800s (1890s). Any chance?
I think a more accurate current day pickers parlance would have to be "storage unit fresh" instead of barn fresh. Just sayin.

That's what I would do, just faux in the missing pieces and lacquer it well and it will look the part for 'parade' purposes, which is all you want.

It doesn't look like real tortoiseshell or, if it is, it's been additionally stained, and that's why I don't think it could be as old as late 1800s. The bottoms of the drawers would be chamfered and the interior wood still looks a bit bright for over a hundred years of oxidation, even out of UV light.

And yes, these days the phrase is definitely "storage unit fresh". Barns are for storybooks now. But here in north Georgia about a decade ago at an estate sale, with an archipelago of rotting barns dissolving into the forest, the whole property abandoned by a feuding family for a generation, I did pull out my most spectacular and valuable barn find, a piece of immaculate Satsuma pottery by Yabu Meizan, the most sought after of all the Meiji Satsuma painters. I'll have to show you a picture one day. Sadly, with many of the other pieces, water had dripped through holes in the roof, filled the vases, which then froze and thawed for innumerable winters, cracking every one.

Robert S.
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Customer reply replied 1 month ago
I'm not quite sure when I'll get around to fixing my desk. I hate project pieces. But your information has been a great help.
Congrats on your Yalu Meizan find. I see that a single tea cup is listed in dibs for $5 grand! I wish I knew more about porcelain and glassware. Most was so mass produced that I pretty much stay away from it except for pieces I want for personal use. (Of which I already have more than I need.)
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