centerlogobigAAD logo

enarzh-CNnlfrdehiplrues
Antiques

A gentle breeze blew through the limbs of a handsome one hundred year old Fagus Sylvatica in a forest near the city of Paris in the year 1752. The beech tree knew he was one of the most beautiful specimens reaching about 130 feet high (40 meters) and when it was his turn to be cut he would be put to very good use. He had a creamy white color beneath his bark with a fine textured straight grain which would be the choice of any skilled artisan. He hoped that his beautiful “self” would not eventually fall into the hands of a journeyman who would attempt to make his first masterpiece (chef-d’oeuvre) in order to prove he could become a Menuisier or Joiner.

This Fagus Sylvatica felt he way too fine for someone who did not have years of experience in the world of joinery. His wish was to be a beautiful salon suite made by skilled hands for the members of the Royal Court.

Chairs changed greatly over the first half of the eighteenth century as construction and form was quite complicated. The use of stretchers eventually diminished as the rococo form took precedence over the more severe shape of the Louis XIV style. The chair became lighter in appearance with more comfortable tilted backs and stretchers would interfere with the flowing sinuous lines rich with carvings and wider seat rails. King Louis XV of France had ordered that there had to be a collaboration of various artists with precise and strict regulations according to the guild system. The proud beech tree knew that the first step would be the designs executed by a designer, draftsman or architect with the collaboration of a menuisier.

TWIST AND STRETCH

He dreamed of what he would become this one night in the forest and was to be awakened by the sound of saws the next morning. He overheard the men with their axes as they discussed the prices his neighborhood trees would bring when sold at market. He stretched his limbs out proudly and gently swayed them back and forth to draw attention. The other trees in the forest admired him with exception of a conceited old Juglans Regia who was a descendent from trees in the forest when the Romans occupied the area.

He often taunted the beech tree and argued that his walnut was the preferred wood for he reasoned when it was his time to be cut and sold he would be made into furniture enhancing the warm glow of his wood in a natural state. The walnut tree was also very proud because some of the members of his family had been made into beautiful case pieces which had become popular in the eighteenth century called commodes, armoires and buffets and were furnishing beautiful chateaux in the countryside. His cousins in the forests around Lyon were often used by a menuisier by the name of Nogaret. The old walnut tree barked out that the beech wood was more often than not painted, gilded or painted or “just” gilded. The fashion was for salon suites and consoles to be made to coordinate with the paneling of rooms. “Twist and stretch my old friend for you will be concealed with paint and gold” said the walnut tree. The beech tree, ignoring the old fool knew he just had to be selected by an important maker to be used for a commission by an important family. He would be in one of the finest homes in France and he secretly wished the walnut tree would be delegated to a lesser home.

The wood cutters spotted the beech tree and his new adventure was about to begin. Cut into beautiful pieces he was sold to the workshop of Hertaut where there was a father and a son by the name of Nicolas Hertaut. Nicolas had been working with his father as a sculptor since 1742. This was quite irregular for sculptors to have this precious wood for it was not yet their turn in the sequence and rules laid out by the King. He wished he could file a complaint with the Corporation des Menuisiers which was the organization that controlled the guilds of the two trades, paneling for buildings or carriages and furniture makers. The latter trade had two categories which were joiners for seat furniture, beds and consoles allowing the other category to be the cabinetmakers. What was he to do about this situation?

Alas, the gossip among the wood planks was true and he was going to become the model by which Nicholas Hertaut would present in order to be a menuisier. The year was now 1753 and Hertaut had the designs to make the masterpiece or chef-d’oeuvre, which would place the talented man in a distinct category of artisans. “Oh my goodness”, said the beech planks but as they were fretting about the situation they began to notice the most beautiful carvings made from their cousins on the legs, arms, rails and backs of furniture.

Surely if this man can make these beautiful carvings he can be one of the finest joiners in the land. First models were made in miniature wax form which was often done to present models for an additional fee to clients. Nicolas was pleased with the models which expressed a new type of form. He began his work as all the components of the beautiful beech tree hummed along as they were made into the frame, joined and then carved by the same hand as opposed to being sent to another to carve. They sang continuously as they became fauteuils and consoles….later being painted and gilded by another with the strokes of an angel. The hussier (upholsterer) and Hertaut had selected a most glorious silk damask woven by the finest looms in Lyon. The results were beautiful and he was made a menuisier which meant that it was not long that this talented man would work with numerous marchands-tapissiers and enjoy the patronage of a large clientele.

THE NATURAL STATE OF THE FAGUS SYLVATICA

His work was a classical symmetrical Rocaille style which was a compromise between the Rocaille and Classical styles. Hertaut became one of the most important craftsmen in his field during the eighteenth century. The proud beech tree components were so very happy to be the first of this great body of work. Time has come and gone and we hear but the faint song of these beautiful works. Over the years the paint and gilding has worn away from many of the fauteuils, bergeres or consoles made by this famous menuisier. Many private collectors and Museums have honored the works by proper conservation but there are those who prefer the natural state of the Fagus Sylvatica and the warm happy glow of the natural beech wood.

So, my friends, this concludes the story of the most handsome beech wood tree in the forest but we continue to hear his music and the soft music of his cousins made by great artisans as they pass through the centuries of time reminding us that we are here only as stewards to enjoy their lives. As a reminder, this is but a story made up by the writer but hopefully it shares some information which may encourage you the reader to research more about the fate of many of such trees. Oh yes, by the way, rumor has it that the walnut tree…….shhhh…..for another day!

May God bless you all, and the wonderful art, antiques and design which we all purvey.

About the Author

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy

Mary Helen McCoy is a woman with a mission – that is, to deliver to her clients the ultimate in period furniture and decorative arts. Her firm is considered one of the nation’s premier sou...