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  • Abraham Roentgen

    Abraham Roentgen was known throughout Europe for fine cabinetmaking starting in the mid-1700s, when he established his shop in Germany. Today, his works are hailed as masterpieces, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has gathered nearly 60 exquisite pieces for a special exhibition in New York.

    He began crafting original designs that revolutionized 18th–century Continental furniture. His son followed in his footsteps and a dynasty was born. Many of his works that have survived until today have never been seen outside Europe.

    Roentgen’s Royal Furniture; click to enlarge.

    Extravagant Inventions, Exhibit Details

    Exhibition Dates: October 30, 2012—January 27, 2013
    Location: Special Exhibition Gallery, first floor
    Hours: Fridays and Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-9:00 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays-Thursdays 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

    From 1742 to its closing in the early 1800s, the Roentgen family shop used intriguing mechanical devices and a sophisticated business model that sampled potential patrons’ tastes before crafting furniture especially for them.

    Abraham Roentgen initially wanted to make furniture for everyday use when he opened his shop in the tiny village of Herrnhaag, in the Wetterau region near Frankfurt am Main. But the quality of his work attracted the attention of the wealthy nobility. So he was developing a specialized clientele for English Queen Anne style pieces.

    His own designs for a fashionable tea chest and multi-functional table were novel and a huge hit in Germany. He expanded his offerings with elegant French-inspired styles that combined with superb marquetry, fine carving, intricate gilded bronze mounts, and multiple mechanical devices, according to the museum. All of those features soon became hallmarks of his designs.

    Son David took over the enterprise in 1765 and perfected the sophisticated structure and intricate marquetry designs of the furniture. He was furniture maker at the court of Queen Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI at Versailles in 1779. David next revised his designs and reinvented his product line’s appearance to capture the attention of the Imperial residences of Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg.

    He caught the fancy of the Empress herself with his Apollo Desk (1783-84), which depicted her favorite dog as a gilded mount. After Catherine the Great paid a huge sum for the piece, Russian nobility ordering examples of “Neuwied Furniture” by the dozens. Despite all their success, the business suffered a major setback with the onset of the French Revolution.

    The exhibition will not only include pieces once owned by the royal houses of Europe. The most complicated mechanical devices in the exhibition will be illustrated through virtual video animations

    “Extravagant Inventions” is organized by Wolfram Koeppe, the Marina Kellen French Curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. The exhibition and catalogue are made possible by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation. For more info, check out the museum’s Web site.