Monday, January 26, 2015

Tiroirs secrets

high tech desk from 1781 by David Roentgen

I have not yet been able to pop over to Versailles to see the design exhibit that is showing until February 22, but I will Soon! 

In case you haven't seen it either, I've found this two minute video to be a beautiul demontration of the architecture and efficency of a very fine 18th century desk. A demo that would be silent if not for the  doors and drawers and other movable parts that click and slide crisply into position at the biding of  gloved hands. The desk is by the German cabinetmaker, master of marquetry and mechanisms, David Roentgen, who worked a great deal for the French court.

This is just a  foretaste of  the exhibit 18th Century aux sources du Design at Versailles where works of decorative art are taken out of context to be appreciated as museographical specimens - jewels on pedestals - but as often as possible no longer monolithic and static. Instead they are up for analysis and finally reveal their proud secrets through a play of mirrors, neon lighting and documentary films.

More than one leg to stand on... and the etymological source of  "design."
For me, the French word dessein has always been the equivilant of design, 
but it is the English expression (derived from the French in the 16th century) that is used today to get across in a flash the more modern conception of the not so recent idea,
The idea, namely, that there is a skilled author and craftsman behind the desirable designed object and that that object contains a quality of innovation, of being up-to-date. That is an aspect that is hard to grasp when looking back through history. When it is done, it is often with condescension.
Remember, no one who was interested in decoration in the 18th century wanted to hang on to Grandfather's old furniture. Antiques were from the antique world - Greece and Rome.

 Photo RMN-Grand Palais Château de Versailles/Christophe Fouin
Commode André-Charles Boulle, 1708

Architect Jean Nouvel was invited to provide his own modern point of view with 
commentaries that punctuate the exhibit.

screen cap from Hack King's Design, a 
design contest associated with the exhibit
So often, the ancients and the moderns are in opposing camps.
 Today's designers should be able to study these ancient constructions differently - 
with the very definition of Respect = 
to look back at something to better consider what is in the present.

for more on the exhibit see: château de Versailles

another video:  Louis XV's desk , here


  1. Hello,

    We loved watching the little film with the gloved hand revealing, flick by flick, each of the desks hidden secrets. Indeed, should one have been an C18 burglar suspecting that treasures were hidden within this most glorious if desks,it would have surely been best to simply take the desk, lock, stock and hidden drawer!

    This will, no doubt, be a wonderful exhibition. And, how right you are in that the past exists so that we can reflect upon it to make the present more beautiful. However, sadly, we rarely learn from history!

    1. Jane and Lance Hattatt. Each generation contains its part of arrogance, but let's just say that it too serves a purpose as we keep spiraling through time.

  2. Hear, hear! Couldn't agree more! Would love to see this exhibit.

  3. This sounds to be the type of exhibit I would most enjoy. I enjoyed watching the short video and I can see why no words were needed; the desk spoke for itself in a universal language.

    I have a bookcase secretary that has secrets of its own. There is a secret recess concealed beneath the bottom of a locked door, and two secret boxes accessed by pushing the back of them forward. One would not know they were there at first sight and I found them quite by happy accident shortly after I purchased the item when trying to clean and dust it. Such a fun find.

    1. Lady Domus, I hope you have placed something very precious or unspeakably private in that well-dissimulated recess! I had a desk like that as a teenager, bought at auction and still containing the former owner's papers and deeds. From this point date my romantic tendancies toward objects of the past!

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  5. Malheureusement c'est une vraie épreuve de visiter le château de Versailles, étant donnée l'affluence! Souvent nous nous contentons de jardins et des Trianons etc. Mais l'expo a l'air bien belle!
    Très bonne soirée!

    1. Swig C'est vrai mais je vais quand même braver la foule pour l'expo! Mon expérience la pire était à la sortie des Grands Eaux Nocturnes - la masse des gens qui sortait par une ouverture étroite - suffoquant! Le fantôme de Louis XIV doit ricaner.

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  7. What a marvelous desk! The only problem I can see is that I would hide everything so well, that I would forget where I put it. Wouldn't it be terrific if modern furniture makers would create pieces like this? xo, N.