The eye of the collector by Jean-luc Ferrand

LACQUERED furniture

Tuesday 16 February 2016, by Barbara Cogollos

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

With the discovering of Road to India during the XVth century, westerners discover the lacquer and the Asian art and craft. With the business relationship between Asia and Europe, many lacquered furnitures and panels are send to royal and noble houses.

Actually, the lacque comes from a tree, (Rhus Vernicifera for japanese lacque and Rhus Succedanea for chinese lacque). The lacquer master uses the sap of the tree and mix to different products (drier oils, pigments etc). There are many recipes due to different geographical origins and also to lacquer masters. Traditionally, the lacquer is used to protect furnitures from water, dust etc.

The lacquer is applied on a polish surface, sometimes tinted. The lacquer needs a lot of humidity for application, many workshop are located directly close to a lake or sometimes they are even on a boat.

The lacquering operation inclued 3 steps : the lacquering (3 strates minimum and 18 strates maximum), the decoration and finally the completion lacquering.

In Europe, people admires lacquered furnitures and objects since 1698 at The Palais Mazarin which is full of lacquered pannels and cabinets. («In the inventory of Palais Mazarin, we found old lacquered cabinets from China or Japan » in Le Mercure de France, 16/01/1905). In 1686, the king Louis XIV receives the Siam ambassador who gives

many lacquered objects as a present. This importation of Asian objects increases inspiration of cabinet maker, indeed, in this late XVIIe cabinet makers are tired of the baroque style. The demand of Asian style and lacquered furnitures grow and many merchant seamen sail accross the ocean to bring back furnitures, decorative and lacquered objects in France. The Royal family and court are very interested by this pieces and by the chinese or japanese taste. For example, the first Trianon or Trianon de porcelaine is build with many white/blue porcelain tiles and decorated with lacquered pannels, the furnitures and decorative objects are also inspired by chinese and japanese art and crafts.

The cabinet-makers quickly understand the importance of this new taste for asian style but they don’t have the secret of lacquer. Many imitations are invented but nothing could replace the authentic lacquer from Japan. The solution is to make furnitures in France and send them to Japan and make them lacquered. But this operation take a very long time (2 years) and it’s too expensive. And, with Japan borders closing in 1639, this solution is no longer effective even if the Dutch keeps a weak connection business with Japan.

In 1730, to create a realistic alternativ to japanese and chinese lacquer, Brother MARTIN develop a new formula to vernish which looks alike asian lacquered. This varnish, called Martin varnish, is very successful, many furnitures and objets are decorated with (coaches, boxes, commod etc). This varnish allows many kind of decoration and pattern. At first, cabinet makers copy the chinese style but they quickly start to develop western pattern like compositions or genr scenes.

To continue the production of lacquer furnitures many lacquer panels are removed from old furnitures for to bereplaced into new furnitures.

The merchants begin to sell many lacquer and exotic objects, particularly the « marchand mercier » GERSAINT into his shop « A la Pagode » sells almost exclusively exotic furnitures, lacquer objects like cabinet, shell, paintings, pannels etc. Customers are very attracted by all this things.

In the late of the XIXth century, with the reopening Japan borders, westerner rediscover the lacquer, in particularly with the World’s Fair. A new fashion appears : the Japonism. Many furnitures are inspired by Japan and the Liberty Style such as the Art Nouveau. During the XXth century, the lacquer is often used by cabinet-makers and decorator in the Art Deco style.

Today, the lacquer is still very valued for collectors and decorators. For example, a commode with chinese lacquer and gilded bronze, XVIII, stamped MACRET et JME, estimate $200 000, sold $300 000 (Sotheby’s Paris, 11/10/09) or a pair of darked wood commods with japanese lacquer and gilded wood, stamped Henry DASSON, estimate $105 000 and sold $222 496 (Sotheby’s Paris 10/02/08).

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