Jean-Henri Riesener Microsite
This microsite presents in-depth content about one of the eighteenth century’s most celebrated furniture-makers, Jean-Henri Riesener (1734–1806). The Wallace Collection has recently completed a major five-year research project into Riesener’s furniture that involved both the conservation and curatorial departments of the museum. By closely studying the large collection of Riesener furniture in the Collection, its aim was to shed light on the workshop practices, materials, and techniques used by the great eighteenth-century cabinetmaker. The microsite showcases this new research in an accessible way, designed to engage audiences of all ages and backgrounds. In a purposefully different approach to that taken before by historians of Riesener, the Wallace Collection Project tried to bring a greater understanding of the materiality of the objects and the skills and innovations that he brought to the business of furniture-making. Two other collections in Britain hold internationally important pieces of Riesener furniture — Waddesdon Manor and the Royal Collection — and early on in the Project, it was decided that the scope would be greatly enhanced by the involvement of these two collections. We are delighted that a close collaboration followed, with curators and conservators in all three institutions working together. This allowed the in-depth analysis of thirty pieces of furniture across the three collections, many of which had been made for the royal court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. This comprehensive group of objects provided the starting point for what was the first ever major research project dedicated to Riesener and his workshop. Despite the continuing popularity of Riesener’s furniture throughout the centuries and the high status it enjoys in museums and on the art market, there has been no monograph on Riesener and very little has been written about him in English. This Project aimed to fill that gap with the first methodical study of his work. Unlike previous research, which considered Riesener in the context of his patrons, this was also an object-based study, focusing on Riesener’s work as a cabinetmaker. We treated the furniture as evidence, as source material to tell us more about his workshop and his business practice. The leads of enquiry thrown up by this unique ‘bottom-up’ approach were rich and exciting and involved art historians, conservators, scientists and digital specialists. The opportunities offered by the digital world have given us several exciting ways to show our research through the microsite. We have built accurate three-dimensional models of all the furniture, which show the constructional details of every piece and allow them to be examined virtually. For some of the pieces, we have produced models for Sketchfab, which allow for a greater level of interactivity. These ‘exploding models’ show the extraordinary engineering and complexity of Riesener’s furniture, for example showing that more than 500 pieces of wood were used to make one chest-of-drawers, or that hundreds of individual coloured elements go into making even a small piece of marquetry. We have also used social media to promote both these models, animations and detailed high-resolution photography. All of these are presented through the microsite for audiences to learn and understand how Riesener’s furniture was made. As well as the microsite, the work of the five-year Project is celebrated in a major display at the Wallace Collection, which opened on 3 December 2020, and through a milestone book, published in November 2020. ‘Jean-Henri Riesener. Cabinetmaker to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’ is the first full-length monograph on Riesener. It traces his life and career, bringing new insights into his business practice, his designs and construction techniques. The microsite distils the key research of the Project and presents it in an accessible, bitesize format for non-specialist audiences. The site is divided into the following sections: THE CABINETMAKER THE FURNITURE THE DESIGNS, MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES THE COLLECTOR THE RIESENER PROJECT A unique resource, the Riesener microsite can be accessed free of charge and provides a wealth of Learning material that complements the important holdings of French eighteenth-century decorative art at the Wallace Collection.