Bernard Van Risenburgh - Writing desk
Louis XV

Bernard Van Risenburgh


Bernard II Vanrisamburgh, the eldest of Bernard I's five children, was already a maître when he married in 1730 (the guild archives for this period no longer exist, so the precise date when he acceded to the maîtrise is unknown). He doubtless worked in his father's atelier, which he continued to carry on after the latter's death in 1738. By 1752, however, he had moved to the Rue Saint-Nicolas and later, in 1765, took a house in the Rue de Charenton, where he died before February 1767, probably sometime during the preceding two years.

Bernard II Vanrisamburgh specialized in the production of luxury furniture. Apart from a large number of small tables of similar design, his creations were, on the whole, highly individual and probably often produced to satisfy individual taste. He appears to have worked almost exclusively for the marchands-merciers, especially Hébert, Poirier, and Lazare Duvaux, and was one of the most brilliant craftsmen of his period.
He worked in various techniques: marquetry of floral design, lacquer (both European and Oriental), and plaques of Sèvres porcelain. He occasionally combined two of these techniques. Vanrisamburgh was probably the first ébéniste to apply this last technique, perhaps at the instigation of a marchand-mercier (possibly Poirier, who later had a near-monopoly from the Sèvres factory of the purchase of such plaques for the decoration of furniture).

Success came early, and by September 1737 he was supplying, through the marchand-mercier Hébert, a commode veneered with lacquer for Marie Leszczynska's use at Fontainebleau. This piece is stamped with his initials, although the use of the stamp had not yet become mandatory.


Later he supplied furniture for Louis XV, for Mme de Pompadour, and for many members of the French court, always through the intermediary marchands-merciers.
All Bernard II's work is in the Louis XV style, except for a few very rare pieces in the Louis XVI style, bearing his stamp, which may conceivably have been made by Bernard III, his son, after his death. Bernard II made pieces of every sort - commodes, lean-to desks, upright secrétaires, and, above all, large numbers of small tables of a type perhaps known as « à la Pompadour ». His standard of craftsmanship were remarkably high, and he had an extremely elegant sense of design ; he was one of the great masters of the fully developed Louis XV style. His marquetry is generally of a highly individual type, consisting of trailing sprays of flowers in end-cut wood (generally purple-wood) standing out against a ground usually of tulip-wood. Sometimes this is enlivened with sprays of stained shell or horn. Later, probably after 1750, he adopted a more sober type of marquetry in which a ground of tulipwood or kingwood is inlaid with circular or oval fillets in a darker tone, generally of purple-wood. Whatever materials he adopted, his design remained both supple and subtle.

His mounts are equally individual and were perhaps latterly modeled by his son Bernard III Vanrisamburgh. They often take the form of scrolled ribs or flat bands around which floral trails are entwined, framing panels of marquetry. In his earlier work the corners of these frames are often emphasized by a sort of cusped and foliated crosslet, though this motif was also used occasionally by Jacques Dubois. He usually emphasized the silhouettes of his pieces with a narrow molding of gilt bronze or brass, generally running right down to the feet.

Bernard II aimed at bold yet subtle effects and would, for instance, combine scarlet with black and gold lacquer. he did not hesitate to modify the design of Oriental lacquer panels by the superimposition of feigned lacquer features on top, so as to adapt the design more happily to the shape of his panel.

His initials were generally stamped with the conventional maindron, or iron tool, but on his smaller pieces are sometimes written in ink, on account of the delicacy
of much of his work. It has sometimes been suggested that the mysterious initials used on his stamp were deliberately forced on him by the marchands-merciers to conceal his identity. This is doubtful; it was probably due merely to the impossibility of stamping a name of such length in full, as was the case with another Parisian ébéniste, Roger Vandercruse, or Lacroix, who likewise sometimes used a stamp, R.V.L.C., composed of his initials only, on account of the length of his name.

Bernard II's work was highly prized by his contemporaries. It is probably to be identified with certain pieces of furniture mentioned as the work of "Bernard" in sale catalogues. Apart from Boulle, Cressent, and Oeben, no other ébénistes are ever accorded this rare distinction, which is thus a mark of the esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries.

Bernard II Vanrisamburgh's work can be seen in the Louvre, Château of Versailles, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Windsor Castle, the National Gallery, Washington, D.C., and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, to cite only a few, as well as in great private collections.