Tuesday's Titillating Treasure: The Queen's Desk

Over 220 years ago, Marie Antoinette met in private with Jean-Henri Riesener. The German-born craftsman was considered one of the finest cabinetmakers of the day, a master at marquetry. His richly decorated pieces of furniture, usually covered with mahogany veneers and elaborate floral designs, could be found in the most noble houses of France.

In fact, as ébéniste du roi (Cabinetmaker to the King) Riesener had supplied many of the pieces of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne (furniture designed for the palaces of France). That is, until one of the cabinetmaker's bills somehow made its way into Louis XVI's beefy hands!  The frugal king took one look at Riesener's exorbitant fees and deciced to revoke his royal patent!  ("Adieu Monsieur Ebéniste, do not let the cabinet door hit you on your way out.")

When Antoinette needed to fill the rooms of her precious hameau with furniture, Riesener's gilted pieces came to mind.

Antoinette, never one to let money (or Louis), stand in her way of obtaining a tantillizing treasure, commissioned Riesener to make her a lovely writing desk for her private salon at le hameau.

Riesener crafted a desk fit for...well...a queen.

Mechanical table also
made by Riesener
for Antoinette
The veneer is made from purplewood, sycamore, and rosewood and is decorated with gilt bronze ornaments depicting allegories (Music, Painting, and Sculpture) and baskets of flowers.

One can't help but wonder how many billet doux Antoinette scratched off while sitting at this Riesener desk. Did she pause, run her hands over the desk's smooth, shellacked surface and marvel at the many tiny pieces of wood used to create its design?

A few years later, while Antoinette sat at the rough hew table in her cell at the Conciergerie, composing her last words, did she remember her costly desk in le hameau?  Did she regret her capriciousness or rejoice that she had once beheld such beauty?

The Revolution was not kind to Antoinette or her furniture.  While the Queen found her neck on the chopping block, her furniture made their way to the auction block.  The much-coveted Riesener desk was sold at auction during the Revolution.

Since 1950, Versailles has been trying to get the original furnishings back into the palace. Unfortunately, some pieces have been lost to time, others are installed in the great palaces of the world, and still others bear a hefty price tag.

The Rothschild Family acquired the Riesener desk and recently sold it back to Versailles...for $9.4 million.

Although the desk was used in Antoinette's salon in le hameau, it will be on display in the Cabinet Doré (in the queen's petit apartments in the palace). 
Side Story about another of Marie Antoinette's desks by Leah Marie Brown:  In 2005, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a behind the scenes tour at the palace of Fontainbleau.  Knowing of my passion for Antoinette, the curator took me into a large room that was being used to store pieces of furniture awaiting restoration.  She pointed to a desk and told me that it had been Marie Antoinette's desk at Saint-Cloud.  She even let me get down on all fours so that I might gaze at the stamp on the bottom of the desk, a crest with some numbers, that indicated it had once been the property of the queen of France.  I asked many questions about the desk and discovered that the palace had recently acquired it from an antiques store in New York City.  How it made its journey from France to the United States is still a mystery. 


  1. You have no idea how much I look forward to seeing it when I go visit Versailles again! You know I will be thinking of you extra hard when I do see it! :)

  2. I (emphasis on the "I") have no idea how much one could look forward to seeing one of Marie Antoinette's treasures? Seriously? That's a good one. :)

    I am glad you have the opportunity to view this particular Riesener desk. Be sure to snap pictures. Bon Voyage!

  3. I love your side story. You really are a Marie Antoinette aficionado. I have learned so many new things about MA, thanks to you. Good detective work! :)

    XoX Sandy


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