I’m addicted to The Met. As a Member, I can pop in and out at will, sneaking visits on my way to see clients or, more often when I finish my day, to recharge, get inspired or just chill. On a recent foray, I stumbled into an extraordinary exhibit of 18th Century Mechanical Furniture by Abraham and David Roentgen, German Cabinetmakers from the 18th Century.
It is the first exhibition in the States devoted to the creative ability of this father and son team, to exploit the natural characteristics of a variety of woods and other precious metals, turning them into pieces of compelling artistic and historical significance. Their original designs, combined with their use of intriguing mechanical devices, revolutionized traditional French and English furniture. At the turn of a key, many of these pieces literally unfold to reveal hidden compartments, secret drawers and mechanical musical devices.
The Roentgens’ playful and perfectly executed inventions, combined superb marquetry, fine carving and intricate gilded bronze. Their clientele included all the rulers of Europe – Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France, Catherine the Great of Russia and King Frederick William II of Prussia. T heir story is a tale of international success, fame and luxury but in the case of the son, David, it is also the tragedy of a deeply pious man who struggled to balance his creative soul and financial ambition with the regulation of his religious community, the Moravian brotherhood. His workshop employed nearly 200 specialists and the annual revenues over several years equaled those of the famous Meissen porcelain factory. But His fortune shifted dramatically with the progress of the French Revolution, as Europe’s nobility struggled to stay afloat, and the market for luxurious furnishings collapsed. Go see Les Miserables, to gain some insight into that part of history.
The masterpieces of the Roentgens is on view at The Met through January 27, 2013 and should not be missed, particularly by those who appreciate the puzzles and the mechanics of multi-functional design.