Fall Front Secretary

Secrétaire à abattant

French (Paris)
about 1788
Attributed to Jean-Ferdinand Schwerdfeger (French, active 1760–1798)


Object Place: Europe, Paris, France

Dimensions

140.3 x 84.4 cm (55 1/4 x 33 1/4 in.)

Accession Number

1979.484

Medium or Technique

Oak and mahogany, gilt-bronze, brass, white marble

On View

Ann and William Elfers Gallery (Gallery 245)

Collections

Europe

Classifications

Case furniture and boxes

Drop front secretary, central panel flanked by veneered columns, gilt bronze capitals. Interior: six open sections, two groups of three small drawers. Locking drawer within frieze of gilt bronze sunflowers


This desk and the matching chest of drawers at the opposite end of this gallery were probably made for Marie-Antoinette’s Trellis Bedchamber in the Petit Trianon, her private residence near Versailles. The unique, gilt-bronze mounts imitating basketwork harmonize with other furnishings ordered by the queen for this elegant, garden-like room. Carved on this seat furniture and wall paneling were roses, jasmine, wheat sheaves, and basketry, all painted in naturalistic colors. Little is known about Schwerdfeger, except for the exquisitely crafted furniture, like this desk, which he supplied to the queen.

Provenance

Possibly part of furnishings made for Marie-Antoinette's Trellis Bedchamber at the Petit Trianon, near Paris [see note 1]. 1794-1796, probably acquired in Paris by James Swan, Boston, MA [see note 2]; after 1796, with his wife, Hepzibah Clark Swan (d. 1825), Dorchester, MA; 1825, after her death, by inheritance to one of her three daughters [see note 3], and eventually inherited by a descendant, Mrs. Marianne S. Rogers, Savanah, GA (d. 1979); 1979, bequest of Mrs. Marianne S. Rogers. (Accession date: October 17, 1979)

NOTES:
[1] Several hypotheses concerning the early provenance of this fall front secretary, along with a chest of drawers (MFA 60.242) are provided by Jeffrey Munger in "Royal French Furniture in 18th Century Boston," p. 121-124. [2] James Swan was a merchant established in Paris, and was appointed an official agent for the purchase of supplies in the United States in 1794 by the French Government. His partner was Johann-Caspar Schweizer, a Swiss. According to Howard Rice, the French Government placed at his disposal luxury goods to be exchanged in America for food supplies and war materials. The Swan and Schweizer agency shipped these articles to the United States between 1794-1795, where much of it was sold. However, this piece was among those that Swan kept for his personal use. See H. Rice "James Swan, Agent of the French Republic 1794-1796" The New England Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 3, Sept. 1937, p. 464-486. [3] The three daughters of James and Hepzibah Swan were Mrs. John T. Sargent, Mrs. William Sullivan, and Mrs. John C. Howard, all of Boston, MA.

Credit Line

Bequest of Marianne S. Rodgers