Andre Boulle Furniture
Andre Boulle Furniture is antique furniture created in the 17th and 18th century by the French designer Andre Charles Boulle.
Brief history and description of designer/manufacturer
Andre Charles Boulle (born 11th November 1642) was a French furniture designer, famed for popularizing tortoiseshell, pewter, and inlayed brass designs. Despite having not invented the technique, he is the designer with which it is most readily associated and achieved great fame for his works. As such this style is nominally referred to as ‘boulle work’.
His output was varied and extensive, comprising everything from cabinets, to commodes, to lighting fixtures. He was so highly-regarded in his lifetime that in 1672, he was invited to live at the Palais du Louvre, and commissioned to produce cabinets and fixtures for Louis XIV.
Despite charging high prices for his works and those works being in continuous high demand, Boulle frequently endured financial troubles, compounded by his constant desire to obtain new and beautiful objects, and in particular a passion for art collecting which rendered him permanently impoverished. He died on 28th February 1732.
Guide for collectors
It is difficult, even amongst trained experts, to accurately establish the authenticity of a piece of Boulle furniture, as not only were his imitators numerous but his son’s, taking over Boulle’s production, continued the same design traditions until several years after his death.
However, even imitation Boulle work is distinctive and somewhat coveted. Authentic pieces can fetch very high prices at auction, and the better the quality, the higher the price. Inlaid furniture can suffer greatly by the ravages of time and therefore pieces which remain in good condition are most highly sought after by collectors.
Given their rarity and elaborate design features, certain works attributed to Andre Boulle are in residence at museums, such as an oak veneered table with bronze mounts, tortoiseshell, brass and ivory, dated from around 1680, which is currently on display at The Gerry Centre in Los Angeles.
Notable auction sales
Given the difficulty in identifying authentic Boulle works, and the rarity of those which are identifiable, many auction sales refer not to Boulle works but those in the same style or influenced by his works.
Despite this, there are instances of rare finds attributed to the designer himself, such as the sale of a bronze-mounted, tortoiseshell, brass and pewter-inlaid bracket, dated from 1720, which sold from Sotheby’s auction house in London for £8,400 on 12th December 2001.
Another example is the sale of a pair of gilt-bronze mounted parquetry armoires, one attributed to Andre Boulle himself, which sold from the same auction house for £146,500 on 7th December 2000.
Other finds attributed to Boulle include a Louis XIV table clock, dated from 1675, which sold from Sotheby’s in New York for $55,375 on 26th April 2001, and a gilt-bronze mounted, brass-inlaid ebony and tortoiseshell commode, sold for £685, 500 on 7th December 2000 from Sotheby’s in London.
The most expensive piece of Boulle furniture ever to sell at auction is a rare mounted pewter, brass, tortoiseshell and ebony Boulle sarcophagus-shaped casket, sold for $800,000 from Sotheby’s New York on 3rd November 2005