Two Coffers on Stands; Attributed to André-Charles Boulle (French, 1642 - 1732, master before 1666)
Artist

André-Charles Boulle

Chest of drawers by Boulle in Chantilly

André-Charles Boulle is the greatest furniture genius of all time: biography and best works

André-Charles Boulle (born November 10, 1642 – died February 29, 1732) is a famous artist of the late 17th – early 18th centuries, a brilliant French master of decorative and applied art, carver and draftsman. The style of exquisite antique furniture is named after André-Charles Boulle, and many examples of his work are still considered unsurpassed masterpieces.

André-Charles Boulle is one of the most famous furniture makers of all time. He was an incrustation genius and during his long life created a huge number of unique pieces of furniture (bureau, dressing table, showcases, consoles, tables), made in intarsia and marquetry techniques.

Two Coffers on Stands; Attributed
Two Coffers on Stands; Attributed to André-Charles Boulle (French, 1642 – 1732, master before 1666)

Biography

Andre-Charles Boulle was born on November 10, 1642 in the family of a hereditary cabinetmaker. His paternal ancestors were Dutch, and his maternal ancestors were native French. The father of the future genius held the high position of the royal furniture maker at the court of Louis XIII and lived with his family in the Louvre.

From early childhood, the boy began to study the basics of art in his father’s workshop. André-Charles received a versatile education, mastered the basics of drawing, sculpture, painting, embossing and various techniques of furniture production.

Possessing an incredible talent from birth, the young artist, at the age of 20, became the owner of his own workshop in Paris. In 1666, Boulle was recruited into the newly formed Manufacture of Royal Furniture, which created decorative items for the luxurious palaces of Louis XIV.

Over the next 6 years, the artist not only combined the leadership of his workshop with the performance of the duties of a decorator at the royal manufactory. Over the years, he gained fame as the most skilled cabinetmaker in Paris and acquired a huge number of regular customers.

 

French Coffer 1684 Boulle
French Coffer 1684 Boulle

In 1672, on the recommendation of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the de facto head of the French government, 30-year-old André-Charles Boulle became the royal furniture maker of Louis XIV. The young artist received at his disposal a spacious room in the Louvre for his personal workshop, in which he lived until the end of his life.

Boulle was not afraid to revolutionize the traditional foundations of furniture production. He created his own technique of carved decoration using deep intarsia. The master was able to skillfully work with different materials (metals, tortoise shells, mother of pearl and ivory), borrowed the methods of work of other artists and supplemented them with his own original ideas.

André-Charles Boulle ran a workshop with a staff of 20 and held an honorary position at court until the death of King Louis XIV in 1715. His works were in great demand, and members of the royal family constantly entrusted the master with the execution of various orders.

Exhibit in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, USA.
Exhibit in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, USA.

Despite universal recognition and generous salaries for his labor, Boole throughout his life experienced an acute shortage of money.

The reason for this was the artist’s passion for collecting: works of fine art (paintings, drawings and prints); samples of wood of exotic species; precious stones; awards; wax sculptures; pieces of furniture made by other craftsmen. Unfortunately, most of Boulle’s collection, including 48 unique sketches by Raffaello Santi and copies of Michelangelo’s works, was irretrievably lost in a fire in 1720.

Example of Boulle Marquetry from the Wallace Collection, London
Example of Boulle Marquetry from the Wallace Collection, London

André-Charles was also a good mentor. Four of his sons became outstanding cabinetmakers, but failed to achieve the level of fame of a brilliant father. The famous furniture maker Charles Cressent studied and worked in the artist’s studio. And Boulle’s unique style for several centuries became a role model in the manufacture of exquisite pieces of furniture.

André-Charles Boulle died in Paris on February 29, 1732. The great master left to posterity not only the rights to his unsold works, but also big debts. But in the history of world arts and crafts, he will forever remain a genius creator of unique antiques.

André-Charles Boulle
Example of Boulle Marquetry from the Wallace Collection, London. Boulle Marquetry furniture were made by André-Charles Boulle (1642 – 1732) and later his sons

The most famous collections of works by André-Charles Boulle

Many of André-Charles Boulle’s works are worthy of the title of a masterpiece. The artist’s creative heritage includes hundreds of excellent works of art. The largest collections of interior items of the great genius are in the collections of four famous museums:

  • in the Parisian Louvre (Louvre);
  • the London Wallace Collection;
  • at the Jean-Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (Getty Center);
  • in the British Royal Collection (The Royal Collection).

In addition, Boulle’s original works today adorn the halls of more than 50 other museums on our planet and hundreds of small private collections.

André-Charles Boulle
Detail from the bureau plat (writing table) made c. 1715 by André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) for Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon.
André-Charles Boulle
Château de Versailles, salon de l’abondance.
André-Charles Boulle
Château de Versailles, salon de l’abondance. Élément d’une paire.
André-Charles Boulle
Cabinet, c. 1690, ebony, metal and tortoise shell, André-Charles Boulle, Cleveland Museum of Art
André-Charles Boulle
Cabinet on Stand; Attributed to André-Charles Boulle (French, 1642 – 1732
André-Charles Boulle
Bureau en ébène par André-Charles Boulle, femmes en bronze doré dans les angles (Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte)

André-Charles Boulle