ANDRE CHARLES BOULLE – Father of Marquetry

Andre was born in Paris, France in the year 1642 and died at the age of 90 in 1732.  He was a famous cabinet maker who practiced the art of marquetry.  Some call him the father of marquetry even though he didn’t invent the art but he did refine the art to a fine art.

His career began as an architect which only lasted a few years before merging over to cabinetry type work, another words he became a cabinet maker.  Within a few short years his work was so outstanding that at the age of 30 he was awarded the title of Master Cabinet Maker in 1672 by Louis XIV who granted him the royal privilege of lodging in the Palais du Louvre.  In the same year he achieved the title of cabinetmaker and sculptor to the king.    This allowed Boulle many privileges such as practicing two professions simultaneously which the guild through their strict rules prevented craftsmen from doing however, turned a blind eye to Boulle’s favoured position allowed him protected status and exempted him from these requirements.

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Guilds were created to protect the interest of the tradesman and to prevent outsider from entering into competition with them.  More on this in another blog.

Marquetry was originally used in the 16th century by Italian craftsman but Boulle took this craft to another level of artistic flair. Boulle specialised in the inlaying of ebony with exotic woods from India and South America such as mother of pearl. Large areas were covered with tortoiseshell, inlaid with arabesques of gilded brass. He added splendid bas-relief compositions, as well as sculptured rosettes, masks, and acanthus scrolls, all in gilded bronze.  Many of his inspirations came from his personal collections of paintings, drawings and prints which included the works of the Italian artists Raphael, Rubens and Italian engraver Stefano Della Bella.  These inspirations led to some of the world’s finest pieces ever made and all works after his death that were made by other artists that included inlays of copper that were on a black or red ground were known as the Buhl.

BoulleOrnateCommode

Commode, ca. 1710-32
Walnut veneered with ebony and marquetry
of engraved brass and tortoiseshell, gilt-bronze
mounts, verd antique marble top

BoulleOrnateTable

BoulleOrnateTable-Top

Table, c.1680
Oak veneered with ebony, tortoiseshell, pewter, brass,
ivory, horn, various stained and natural woods; gilt bronze mounts

 

Clock With Pedestal (centre picture)
Attributed to André-Charles Boulle
movement by Antoine Gaudron, clockmaker; Paris, c.1690
Oak veneered with tortoiseshell, pewter, brass, ebony,
and ebonized fruitwood; gilt bronze mounts

His work was so popular that it continued to be carried forward on by others to the last half of the 19th century, with the implementation of machinery by then enabling the creation of large quantities of furniture in the Boulle style.  Many of the cheap plastic mold recreations of clocks you see made in China and other Asian countries are based on his early work.  I’m not being a racist for naming Asian countries as producers of low quality productions as I do not blame them for the cheap productions that come out of their countries but the companies in western nations who pay them a pittance to produce such low quality diarrhea as Christopher Schwartz once said.  I am fully aware of the rich history of fine craftsmanship Asia’s talented has provided throughout the ages but as the old saying goes you get what you pay for.

Boulle left his work to be continued by his four sons Jean Philippe, Pierre Benoît, André Charles, and Charles Joseph along with the title of cabinetmaker to the king. Later in 1754 Charles-Joseph hired the brilliant German furniture designer Jean-François Oeben, from whom the Boulle tradition was inherited by Jean-Henri Riesener. His style continued with tremendous success in France during the 18th century and under Napoleon III.

Here are some more examples of this most talented true master craftsman which I hope you can appreciate my dislike of this word “master craftsman” being so careless attributed to many modern day craftsman who do not measure up to the standards of these high level of achievers and I would discourage you all to stop flaunting this word so carelessly and attribute it only to the ones who live up to such standards.

 

 

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To finish this blog here is a video of William Patrick Edwards the founder of OBG and Marqueter employing two methods of Boulle marquetry, première-partie, in which the tortoiseshell serves as the background with inlaid brass, and contre-partie, with tortoiseshell inlaid on a brass ground—and sometimes made complementary pairs of furniture pieces, utilizing each technique.

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4 thoughts on “ANDRE CHARLES BOULLE – Father of Marquetry

  1. Mind boggling level of skill and talent. I’m not sure we, as a world society, wil ever produce an atmosphere where talent and skill like this will fully be realized. There are countless unnamed masters throughout history who simply “did their jobs” feeding the demand of the wealthy elite. Ironically, the closing of the gap between rich and poor has been a contributing factor in the decline of works as exampled above. We tend to overlook the fact that the vast majority of craftsmen and artisans throughout history were poor and worked in grueling conditions.
    At any rate…at least we have works such as these to remind us of what is possible.

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  2. Very true Greg and as you said they serve us a reminder of what is possible and indeed it is possible with the correct training or endless trial and error. There isn’t enough time for one to master every aspect of the trade unless one starts at a very young age and devotes all their time and focus on developing their skills but if we could at our late age focus on a single task then in our old age we could get pretty good at it. I like Don Williams statement when he said about using the polisseur “I’m not an expert I’ve only been using it for a few years.” How many of us would readily accept the title of master if we had this guy’s knowledge.

    I think with what your currently doing your on to something and I think you should continue and further develop your skills in it. I’m going to continue exploring as many avenues as I can before I truly settle down on one aspect of the craft. That’s the plan anyway.

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