Jean-Henri Riesener – French furniture designer

Posted on 25th May 2011 in French Designers, Furniture Designers

Illustration from Illustrated History of Furniture, From the Earliest to the Present Time from 1893 by Litchfield, Frederick, (1850-1930) - Writing table. Made by Riesener for Marie-Antoinette. Collection Mobilier National (From a pen and ink drawing by H. Evans) period: late Louis XV. Source files:

In the early 1700s, Baroque accents in design were still heavily in vogue as was the Rococo influencein visual arts and modern design. It was during the Renaissance that these designs gave way and were heavily influenced by ancient Roman and Greece designs, but was in the early 1800s that modern design began to pull away from the Baroque influence into a more neoclassical influence from a more traditional Rome and Greece that didn’t emphasize the romantic elements of church and religion which inspired an entire design concept.

It was during this time that the ebeniste became popular in France. Ebeniste means cabinet-maker in French, but truly goes beyond the simplicity of a cabinet-maker. While early on in the 1700s baroque was popular, it became clear as time passed that a simpler, cleaner look was influencing design despite the ostentatious designs of King Louis XVI who later on in life simplified his designs, but still loved the embellishments of marquetry created by the proper ebeniste.

One popular ebenist and furniture designer was Jean Henri Riesener, born July 4, 1734 in Gladbeck, Westphalia, Germany before moving to France later on in life to begin his modern furniture design career.  After marrying the widow of the man he apprenticed with, he became master ebeniste before working for the king where he eventually rose in the ranks to be known as the “greatest Parisian ebeniste of the Louis XVI time period.” His work became significant in what is now known as the Louis XVI style, a mix of Baroque and Rococo influence with the beginnings of Neo-classical design beginning to influence modern interior and furniture design.

Louis XVI was married to the infamous Marie Antoinnette who loved Riesener’s marquetry work on her cabinets and regularly had him make her creations. Riesener was skilled in may techniques from parquetry to trelliswork to gilt-bronze mounts and he preferred to hide the screwhesads on his work.

Riesener made many different items from cabinets to desks to secretaries to commodes with fancy inlay for the new King and Queen and was in high demand until he died in poverty. His pieces for Royalty and for the upper-elite may have made him wealthy. His designs were innovative with mechanical fittings that raised or lowered the table or desk.

Despite surviving the French revolution by removing fancy emblems from his furniture design, Riesener bought back many of his grand creations in hopes it would become vogue again, but eventually they didn’t and he finished his life in obscurity despite his heavy influences on the new neo-classical furniture design.

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