The closest comparison to this remarkable bureau plat is the celebrated furniture supplied by Leleu to the Prince de Condé at the Palais Bourbon from 1770 following the radical redecoration carried out. Leleu was the official ébéniste to the Prince and the furniture he supplied between 1772 and 1777 at the enormous cost of over 60,000 livres, represented his most spectacular commission. conceived in the most advanced taste of the period, it included some of the earliest and most influential pieces to be made in the purely neo-classical style. The same combination of uncompromising architectural forms and refined craftsmanship is found on the Flahaut bureau and Eriksen therefore considers it to be contemporary with the most important Palais bourbon pieces supplied in 1772 and 1773 for the Salon Reze, and the bed-chamber of the Prince and his daughter-in-law, the Duchesse de Bourbon (Eriksen, op. cit., fig. 127-130). The pair of commodes from the Duchesse de Bourbon's bed-chamber (delivered in May 1773) have similarly distinctive foliate capitals and a small bureau plat supplied later in the same month had the same feature (Pradère, op. cit., fig. 390 illustrates another table of this model). The pair of commodes from the Duchesse's bed-chamber and the larger commode in the same room (supplied in November 1772), all of rectangular profile with no breakfront, are the earliest pieces of veneered furniture known to have been actually executed with straight legs and classical capitals. Leleu's clientele included some of the most adventurous pioneers of the neo-classical style - particularly Madame du Barrywhose extensive patronage had a widespread influence on the introduction of neo-classical forms into furniture design and the Baron d'Ivry for whom Leleu executed many pieces of case furniture between 1765 and 1771 supplied for the Château d'Hénan ville, which had been modernised by the architect Nicolas Barré. He is also known to have supplied furniture for the château du Marias, also designed by Barré, and the château de Méréville, decorated and furnished in the most up-to-date taste for the Court banker, the marquis de Laborde. It may be worth noting, in view of Flahaut's tenuous connection with Marigny (see introduction to lots 1- ) that Leleu is also thought to have provided furniture for Marigny at the château de Menars (Eriksen, op. cit., p.201 where he quotes Verlet as the source).
A bureau plat by Leleu, later but of somewhat similar proportions is in the Wrightsman Collection (F.J.B. Watson, The Wrightsman Collection, Metropolitan Museum, 1968, vol. II, no. 150). Watson (p.304) draws attention to Leleu's practice of concealing the fastenings of the mounts (as on the Flahaut table), a skill he probably learnt, like Riesener (who also used this technique) in the workshop of J.-F. Oeben where both ébénistes trained. Another technical feature which compares with Oeben and Riesener's practice is the use of concealed steel spring buttons (now incomplete) which were designed to raise the integrally designed keyhole covers, obviating the need for any sort of handle or pull. Leleu uses this device to preserve the architectural unity of the frieze and the illusion is further enhanced by the lack of any sort of division betwen the drawers so that the frieze reads as the entrablature joining the massive columnar legs. Leleu has also used massive steel framing and bolts to anchor the legs securely to the frame, so avoiding the bowing in the centre taht sometimes occurs on large neo-classical bureaux plat. The mounts are all of the very highest quality, lavishly gilded and chased with subtle but marked contrast between the mat and burnished areas and the naturalistic flowerheads on the frieze have great individuality.
A LOUIS XVI AMARANTH BUREAU PLAT by Jean-François Leleu, the rectangular top lined with green morocco leather, the border tooled in gilt with key-pattern and an alternating design of putti and lyres, framed by boxwood fillets, the broad ormolu edge with a matted band and acanthus angle clasps, the panelled frieze lavishly mounted with entrelac bands framing naturalistic flowerheads encircled by laurel wreaths and divided by foliate bosses pierced to reveal the green-stained ground and incorporating the handles of the three drawers, the square tapering legs mounted with flutes capped by blocks panelled with foliate plaques and headed by massive crisply-cast foliate capitals with bead-and-reel collars, on stepped block feet, stamped on the upper edge of the left-hand drawer J.F. LELEU JME, the underside inscribed in ink Madame la Comtesse de Flahaut Mai 1-5..
Property from the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection
Svend Eriksen, Early Neo-classicism in France, London, 1974, pp.81 and 323 and plate 126
A Pradère, French Furniture Makers, London, 1989, p.341, fig. 400 P. Kjellberg, Le Mobilier Français du XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1989, p.516
The Comte and Comtesse de Flahaut de la Billarderie (1785-1870) and his wife Margaret, Baroness Nairne and Keith (1788-1867)
Their eldest daughter Emily Jane Mercier Elphinstone de Flahaut, Baroness Nairne (1819-1895), wife of the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne (1816-1866)
By descent in the Lansdowne family to the 8th Marquess of Lansdowne, Meikleour, Perthshire, sold Christie's London, 3 December 1981, lot 97