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Andries Bongcn (ca. 1732-1792) en de Franse invloed op de Amsterdamse kastenmakerij in de tweede helft van de achttiende eeuw

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

As was the case with silversmiths (Note 3), many more cabinet-makers were wcrking in Amsterdam during the second half of the 18th century than in any other city in the Dutch Republic, the names of 195 of them being now known as opposed to 57 in The Hague and 32 in Rotterdam (Note 2). Most of those 195 names have been culled from the few surviving documents of the Guild of St. Joseph in Amsterdam, to which the cabinet-makers belonged (Note 4), supplemented by other sources, such as printed registers of craftsmen and shopkeepers (Note 6). Another important source is the newspaper the Amsterdamsche Courant with its advertisements placed by craftsmen themselves, with notices of sales, bankruptcies, lotteries and annual fairs and with advertisements concerning subsidiary or related trades. Since these advertisements were directed at the consumer, they often contain stylistic descriptions such as are not found elsewhere. Moreover, they aford valuable clues to archival material. Hence an investigation of all the advertisements from the years 1751-1800 has formed the basis for a study of Amsterdam cabinet-making, some results of which are presented here. Such a study is doomed largely to remain theoretical. The records can hardly ever be linked with surviving pieces, as these are virtually always anonymous since Amsterdam cabinet-makers were not required to stamp or sign their work. Moreover, only a few pieces of Dutch 18th-century furniture have a known provenance, so that it is only rarely possible to link a piece with a bill or another document and identify its maker. Thus it is not yet possible to form a reliable picture of a local Amsterdam style, let alone embark on attributions to individual makers (Note 8). In this light special importance may be attached to two commodes of the third quarter of the century which are exceptional in that they bear a signature, that of Andries Bongen (Figs. 1, 2, Notes 10, 11). These commodes, being entirely French-inspired, illustrate a specific and little-known aspect of Amsterdam cabinet-making. French furniture was so sought after in Amsterdam at that period that in 1771 a strict ban was imposed on its importation in order to protect local cabinet-makers (Note 12). It had begun to be imitated even before that and the commodes by Bongen exemplify this development. Andries Bongen, who was probably born in Geldern, south of Cleves and just east of the border of the Dutch Republic, is first recorded in Amsterdam in May 1763 on his marriage to Willemina, daughter of the smith Lambert van der Beek. He registered as a citizen on 5 July 1763 and became a master cabinet-maker some time between March 1763 and March 1764 (Note 19), so that, accordirtg to the Guild regulations, he must previously have trained for two years under an Amsterdam master (Note 20). At the time of his marriage he was living in St. Jorisstraat, but by the end of 1766 he had moved to Spui and between 1769 and 1771 he moved again, to Muiderpleinlje. When he and his wife made their will in 1772, their possessions were worth something under 8000 guilders (Note 23). This suggests that the business was quite flourishing, which seems to be confirmed by the fact that Bongen received a commission from the city of Amsterdam in 1771. Two more pieces were made for the city in 1786 and 1789, but in the latter year Bongen was declared bankrupt. The inventory of his possessions drawn up then (see Appeytdix) shows how parlous his conditions had become, his goods being valued at only 300 guilders. The reference to a shop indicates that Bongen sold his own furniture, although he had no stock to speak of at that point. The mention of eight work-benches, however, sugests that his output had previously been quite large. This is confirmed by the extent of his debts, notably that to the timber merchant Jan van Mekeren (Note 27). Other creditors included 'Rudolfeus Eyk', who probably supplied iron trelliszvork for bookcases and the like (Note 28), and the glass merchants Boswel en Zonen (Note 29) No debtors are listed and the only customer who can tentatively be identified is a 'Heer Hasselaar' who might be Pieter Cornelis Hasselaer (1720-95), several times burgomaster of Amsterdam between 1773 and 1794 (Note 30). Bongen died three years after his bankruptcy, at which time he was living in Nieuwe Looiersstraat. He appears to have continued working as a cabiytet-maker up to his death and his widow probably carried on the business until her own death in 1808, but nothing is known of this later period. The clearest insight into the character of part of Bongen's output is aforded by the advertisement he placed in the Amsterdamsehe Courant of 4 December 1766, describing three pieces of furniture 'in the French manner'. This is the first announcement by an 18th-century Amsterdam cabinet-maker of work in the French style. Bongen mentions two commodes decorated with floral marquetry, a technique which had flourished in Amsterdam in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (Note 34), but which had largely fallen into disuse on the advent around 1715 of a more sober type of furniture with plain walnut veneers on the English model (Note 36). In France a form of floral marquetry reappeared in the 1740s, being further developed in the following decade under the influence of Jean-François Oeben (1721-63). From the late 1750s there are indications of the presence of pieces of French marquetry furniture in the new style in Amsterdam (Notes 42, 43). The earliest explicit description of floral marquetry appears in a sale catalogue of 5 June 1765 (Note 44), while in another of 25 March 1766 (Note 46) many French pieces are detailed. Obviously, then, Bongen was endeavouring to capture a share, of this new market. The reappearance of elaborate marquetry on Amsterdam-made furniture was the result of a desire to emulate the French examples. The two commodes described in Bongen's advertisement can be identified with the one now in Amsterdam (Fig.2) and the one sold in London in 1947 (Fig.1). The latter still had more of its original mounts at the time nf the sale (Fig. 4) and the two probably formed a pair originally. The unusual fact that they are signed indicates that Bongen intended them to serve as show-pieces to demonstrate his skill at the beginning of his career (cf. Note 51, for another craftsman from abroad who began his career in Amsterdam by similarly advertising a spectacular piece). The commode in Amsterdam, with all its original mounts, demonstrates most clearly how close Bongen came to French prototypes, although his work has many personal traits nonetheless. In the marquetry the vase on a plinth on the front and the composition of the bouquets on the sides are notable (Fig.5), as are the large, full-blown blooms. The carcase, made entirely of oak, is remarkably well constructed and has a heavy, solid character. The commodes are outstanding for the complete integration of the marquetry and the mounts, in the manner of the finesl French furniture. The mounts presenl a problem, as it is not clear where they were made. They do not appear to be French or English, but one hesitates to attribute them to Amsterdam, as it is clear from documentary material that ornamental furniture-mounts were hardly ever made there in the second half of the 18th century. The mounts advertised by Ernst Meyrink in 1752 (Note 53) were probably still of the plain variety of the early part of the century and there is no further mention of mounts made in Amsterdam in the Amsterdamsche Courant. Once, in 1768, the silversmith J. H. Strixner placed an advertisement which refers to their gilding (Note 55). There is virtually no indication either of French mounts being imported and there is little Dutch furniture of this period that bears mounts which are indisputably French. In contrast to this, a large number of advertisements from as early as 1735 show that many mounts were imported from England, while among English manufacturers who came to sell their wares in Amsterdam were Robert Marshall of London (Note 60), James Scott (Note 61), William Tottie of Rotterdam (Note 62), whose business was continued after his death by Klaas Pieter Sent (Note 64), and H. Jelloly, again of Rotterdam (Notes 66, 67). It seems surprising that in a period when the French style reigned supreme so many mounts were imported from England, but the English manufacturers, mainly working in Birmingham, produced many mounts in the French style, probably often directed expressly at foreign markets. On the two commodes by Bongen only the corner mounts and the handles are of types found in the trade-catalogues of the English manufacturers (Figs. 7, 8, Notes 65, 70). The corner mounts are of a common type also found on French furniture (Note 71), so they doubtless copy a French model. The remaining mounts, however, are the ones which are so well integrated with the marquetry and these are not found elsewhere. Recently a third commode signed by Bongen has come to light, of similar character to the first two (Fig.3). Here all the mounts are of types found in the catalogues (Figs.7-10, Note 72). Apparently Bongen could not, or did not choose to, obtain the special mounts any more, although he clearly wanted to follow the same design (Fig. 6). This third commode was undoubtedly made somewhal later than the other two. The marquetry on it is the best preserved and it is possible to see how Bongen enlivened it with fine engraving. Because this piece is less exceptional, it also allows us to attribute some unsigned pieces to Bongen on the basis of their closeness to it, namely a commode sold in London in 1962 (Fig.11, Note 73) and two smaller, simpler commodes, which may originally have formed a pair, one sold in London in 1967 (Fig.12, Nole 74) and the other in a Dutch private collection (Figs.13, 14). The first one has a highly original marquetry decoration of a basket of flowers falling down. On the sides of this piece, and on the front of the two smaller ones, are bouquets tied with ribbons. These were doubtless influenced by contemporary engravings, but no direct models have been identified. The construction of the commode in the Netherlands tallies completely with tltat of the signed example in Amsterdam. The mounts are probably all English, although they have not all been found in English catalogues (Fig.15, Note 76). A seventh commode attributable to Bongen was sold in Switzerland in 1956 (Fig.16, Note 77). It is unusual in that walnut is employed as the background for the floral marquetry, something virtually unknown in Paris, but not uncommon on German work of French inspiration (Note 78). That commodes constitute the largest group among the furniture in the French style attributable to Bongen should cause no surprise, for the commode was the most sought after of all the pieces produced by the ébénistes not only in France, but all over Europe. Two other pieces which reveal Bongen's hand are two tables which look like side-tables, but which have fold-out tops to transform them into card-tables, a type seldom found in France, but common in England and the Netherlands (Note 80). One is at Bowhill in Scotland (Figs.17, 19, 20), the other was sold in London in 1972 (Fig.18, Note 79). The corner mounts on the Bowhill table, which probably also graced the other one originally, are the same as those on the two small commodes, while the handles are again to be found in an English catalogue (Fig.21, Note 81). What sounds like a similar card-table was sold at auction in Amsterdam in 1772 (Note 82). In Bongen's advertisement of 1766 mention is also made of a secretaire, this being the first appearance of this term in the Amsterdamsche Courant and Bongen finding it necessary to define it. No secretaire is known that can be attributed to him. A medal-cabinet in the form of a secretaire in Leiden (Figs.22, 23) hasfloral marquetry somewhat reminiscent of his work, but lacking its elegance, liveliness and equilibrium. Here the floral marquetry is combined with trompe l'oeil cubes and an interlaced border, early Neo-Classical elements which were first employed in France in the 1750s, so that this piece represents a later stage than those attributable to Bongen, which are all in a pure Louis xvstyle. Virtually identical in form to the medal-cabinet is a secretaire decorated solely with floral marquetry (Fig. 24, Note 87). This also appears not to be by Bongen, but both pieces may have been made under his influence. The picture we can form of Bongen's work on the basis of the signed commodes is clearly incomplete. His secretaire was decorated with '4 Children representing Trade', an exceptionally modern and original idea in 1766 even by French standards (Note 88). His ambitions in marquetry obviously wentfar beyondflowers, but no piece has yet beenfound which evinces this, nor is anything known of the Neo-Classical work which he may have produced after this style was introduced in Amsterdam around 1770. Bongen may perhaps have been the first Amsterdam cabinet-maker to produce marquetry furniture in the French style, but he was not to remain the only one. In 1771 and 1772 furniture in both the Dutch and French mode was advertised for sale at the Kistenmakerspand in Kalverstraat, where all furniture-makers belonging to the Guild of St. Joseph could sell their wares (Note 89). The 'French' pieces were probably decorated with marquetry. Only a small number of cabinet-makers are known to have worked in this style, however. They include Arnoldus Gerritsen of Rheestraat, who became a master in 1769 and sold his stock, including a 'small French inlaid Commode', in 1772, and Johan Jobst Swenebart (c.1747 - active up to 1806 or later), who became a master in 1774 and advertised in 1775 that he made 'all sorts of choice Cabinet- and Flower-works', the last term referring to furniture decorated with floral marquetry. Not only French types of furniture, but also traditional Dutch pieces were now decorated with French-inspired marquetry,for example a collector's cabinet advertised in 1775 by Johan Jacob Breytspraak (c.1739-95), who had become a master in 1769-70; a bureau-bookcase, a form introduced in the first half of the century probably under English influence (Note 100), exhibited in 1772 (Note 99); and a display cabinet for porcelain supplied, though not necessarily made, by Pieter Uylenburg en Zoon in 1775 (Notes 101, 102). Even long-case clocks were enriched with marquetry, witness the one advertised by the clock-maker J. H. Kühn in 1775 and another by him which was sold by auction in Edam in 1777 (Note 104). The latter was, like the bureau-bookcase exhibited in 1772, decorated with musical instruments, again a motif borrowed from France, where it was used increasingly from the 1760s onwards (Note 105). A clock signed by the Amsterdam clock-maker J. George Grüning also has a case with marquetry of musical instruments. This must date from about 1775-80, but its maker is unknown (Fig. 25, Notes 106, 107). All four of the Amsterdam cabinet-makers known to have done marquetry around 1770 came from Germany and all were then only recently established in Amsterdam. In fact half of the 144 Amsterdam cabinet-makers working in the second half of the 18th century whose origins it has been possible to trace came from Germany, so the German element was even stronger there than in Paris, where Germans comprised about a third of the ébénistes (Note 108) and where they had again played an important role in the revival of marquetry. None qf the four in Amsterdam was exclusively concerned with marquetry. Indeed, for some of them it may only have been a secondary aspect of their work. This was not true of Bongen, but he too made plain pieces, witness the four mahogany gueridons he made for the city of Amsterdam in 1771 or the two cupboards also made for the city in 1786 and 1789 (Notes 111, 112).No marquetry is listed in his inventory either. Perhaps fashions had changed by the time of his bankruptcy. Such scant knowledge as we have of Amsterdam cabinet-making between 1775 and 1785 certainly seems to suggest this. In the descriptions of the prizes for furraiture-lotteries, such as took place regularly from 1773 onwards (Note 114), marquetry is mentioned in 1773 and 1775 (Notes 115, 116), but after that there is no reference to itfor about tenyears. Nor is there any mention of marquetry in the very few cabinet-makers' advertisements of this period. When the clock-maker Kühn again advertised long-case clocks in 1777 and 1785, the cases were of carved mahogany (Notes 121, 122). Certainly in France the popularity of marquetry began to wane shortly before 1780 and developments in the Netherlands were probably influenced by this. Towards the end of the 1780s, however, pieces described as French and others decorated with 'inlaid work' again appear as prizes in lotteries, such as those organized by Johan Frederik Reinbregt (active 1785-95 or later), who came from Hanover (Note 128), and Swenebart. The latter advertised an inlaid mahogany secretaire in 1793 (Note 132) and similar pieces are listed in the announcement of the sale of the stock of Jean-Matthijs Chaisneux (c.1734-92), one of a small group of French upholsterers first mentioned in Amsterdam in the 1760s, who played an important part in the spread of French influence there (Note 134). In this later period, however, reference is only made to French furniture when English pieces are also mentioned, so a new juxtaposition is implied and 'French' need not mean richly decorated with marquetry as it did in the 1760s. In fact the marquetry of this period was probably of a much more modest character. A large number of pieces of Dutch furniture in the late Neo-Classical style are known, generally veneered with rosewood or mahogany, where the marquetry is confined to trophies, medallions on ribbons, geometric borders and suchlike. A sideboard in the Rijksmuseum is an exceptionally fine and elaborately decorated example of this light and elegant style (Fig. 26) None of this furniture is known for certain to have been made in Amsterdam, but two tobacco boxes with restrained marquetry decoration (Fig.27, Note 136) were made in Haarlem in 1789 by Johan Gottfried Fremming (c.1753-1832) of Leipzig, who had probably trained in Amsterdam and whose style will not have differed much from that current in the capital. Boxes of this type are mentioned in the 1789 inventory of the Amsterdam cabinet-maker Johan Christiaan Molle (c.1748-89) as the only pieces decorated with inlay (Note 138). In the 1792 inventory of Jacob Keesinger (active 1764-92) from Ziegenhain there are larger pieces of marquetry furniture as well (Note 139), but they are greatly in the minority, as is also the case with a sale of cabinet-makers' wares held in 1794 (Note 141), which included a book-case of the type in Fig.28 (Note 142). Similarly the 1795 inventory of Johan Jacob Breytspraak, one of the most important and prosperous cabinet-makers of the day, contains only a few marquetry pieces (Note 144). The 1793 inventory of Hendrik Melters (1720-93) lists tools and patterns for marquetry, but no pieces decorated with it (Note 145). Melters seems to have specialized in cases for long-case clocks, the Amsterdam clock-maker Rutgerus van Meurs (1738-1800) being one of his clients (Note 146). The cases of clocks signed by Van Meurs bear only simple marquetry motifs (Note 147). The Dutch late Neo-Classical furniture with restrained marquetry decoration has no equivalent in France; it is more reminiscent of English work (Note 148). The pattern-books of Hepplewhite and Sheraton undoubtedly found their way to the Dutch Republic and the 'English' furniture mentioned in Amsterdam sources from 1787 probably reflected their influence. However, the introduction of the late, restrained Neo-Classical style in furniture was not the result of English influence alone. Rather, the two countries witnessed a parallel development. In England, too, marquetry was re-introduced under French influence around 1760 and it gradually became much simpler during the last quarter of the century, French influences being amalgamated into a national style (Notes 150, 151). On the whole, the Frertch models were followed more closely in the Netherlands than in England. Even at the end of the century French proportions still very much influenced Dutch cabinet-making. Thus the typically Dutch late Neo-Classical style sprang from a combirtation of French and English influences. This makes it difficult to understand what exactly was meant by the distinction made between ;French' and 'English' furniture at this time. The sources offer few clues here and this is even true of the description of the sale of the stock of the only English cabinet-maker working in Amsterdam at this period, Joseph Bull of London, who was active between 1787 and 1792, when his goods were sold (Notes 155, 156).


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