Yenra : Furniture : Furniture Making : The Construction of an Intricate 18th-Century French Marquetry Table

The Getty's popular "Making of" series continues with The Making of Furniture, opening at the Getty on October 7, 2003. The installation looks at the design and craftsmanship involved in the production of an 18th-century French marquetry table, intricately inlaid with elaborate floral patterns and framed with gilt bronze mounts. The Making of Furniture evokes the workshop of an 18th-century Parisian furniture maker, revealing the beauty and precision of his art.

"Our furniture making collection is a great favorite with Getty visitors," says Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "Yet the complex techniques used to make them are often unfamiliar to a modern audience. It's not unusual for marquetry to be mistaken initially for painted decoration, although in reality the intricate designs are made up of inlaid wood of many colors. This installation, by focusing on the crafting of just one extraordinary table, will explain how these amazing pieces were created. Visitors will see all the components and gain an understanding of how they were worked into a highly complex piece of furniture." The small and elegant French writing table, dated about 1754 (during the reign of Louis XV) and created by Jean-François Oeben (1721-1763), is part of the Getty’s permanent collection. Made of oak with gilt bronze mounts, it is notable for its highly detailed floral and trellised marquetry pattern, made up of multicolored inlaid woods, including kingwood, tulipwood, amaranth, boxwood, holly, and stained fruitwoods. A similar table is shown in a portrait of Madame Pompadour, mistress to Louis XV, painted about 1763 by François Guérin (private collection).

The installation will include the actual table and three models showing the various stages of construction. The first model shows the basic components of the piece with the joints cut but held apart so that they are visible. The second explains the shaping of the table and mechanical functions of the sliding top and drawers, and shows the undulating forms of the table ready to receive the veneer. The third model follows the progression of the inlaid work on the aprons and legs, as well as the production of the mounts. The installation will also feature displays of period cabinetmaking tools and finishes and engraved illustrations showing the working environment of an 18th-century Parisian craftsman.

The Getty's collection of French furniture and decorative arts is one of the finest in the country, and is particularly strong in 18th-century furniture making, spanning the reigns of Louis XIV through Louis XVI. The Making of Furniture is part of the popular "Making of" series, which explores the historical techniques behind various art forms. Other presentations in the series include The Making of a Medieval Book, which has been on view at the Getty since May (through September 28, 2003).