Kneehole Desk
© The Frick Collection
Front view of Boulle Kneehole Desk with marquetry of pewter, gilt brass and tortoiseshell and large gilt bronze mounts
English (US)
This impressive desk was made around 1700 in the workshop of André-Charles Boulle, cabinet maker to King Louis XIV. Known as a kneehole desk, it features sets of drawers flanking a space under the writing surface for the knees. Boulle’s work was distinguished by a technique known today as Boulle marquetry, using contrasting materials, in this case brass and tortoiseshell, to create elaborate foliage patterns, which here decorate the front and sides. Boulle’s workshop was also admired for its extraordinarily fine bronze ornaments that stand as sculptures in their own right. Each large bronze mount shows the head of a nymph rising from a scroll of acanthus leaves and crowned with a feather-like headdress, which evokes depictions of American Indian women. Don’t miss the keyhole cover in the form of a satyr-mask with a sunburst headdress.

Kneehole Desk

Workshop of André-Charles Boulle (1642–1732)
Date: ca. 1692−95, with later alterations ca. 1770 (before 1777)
Medium: Oak, fir, and walnut veneered with brass, turtle shell, and ebony; gilt bronze, leather
30 3/4 × 57 7/8 × 29 1/8 in. (78.1 × 147 × 74 cm)
Credit Line: Henry Clay Frick Bequest
Accession number:1918.5.101
Additional Information

Originally, this desk was twenty inches longer and five inches deeper, and its eight legs were linked with stretchers (four together on each side). André-Charles Boulle invented the model in the early 1690s, producing only a few pieces with turtle shell and brass marquetry. The decorative pattern here—in turtle shell with brass back­ground—is known as contre-partie marquetry. Boulle’s furniture continued to be appreciated throughout the eighteenth century. In the early 1770s, the cabinetmaker Etienne Levasseur modified the desk for its new owner, probably the famous art dealer Claude Julliot, who owned the altered version by 1777. The alteration included cutting the marquetry panels, therefore removing an important part of Boulle’s work. However, Levasseur retained Boulle’s large gilt-bronze mounts in the shape of Indian heads.

Source: Vignon, Charlotte. The Frick Collection Decorative Arts Handbook. New York: The Frick Collection/Scala, 2015.

Probably C.-F. Julliot sale, Paris, November 20, 1777, Lot 713. Duveen. Frick, 1918.

Source: Furniture in The Frick Collection: Italian and French Renaissance, French 18th and 19th Centuries (Pt. I). Volume V. New York: The Frick Collection, 1992.