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Very Rare Travel Transformation Table

Höchst seltenes Reise-Verwandlungsmöbel

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Vienna, around 1810

„Geul et Wigand f(ecerunt), Wien“
oak wood body, mahogany veneer, linear fruit wood inlays, curved table frame, chest-like upper part, useable in two ways: as poudreuse with mirror or as secretaire, covered with gold-stamped leather, with two extensible two-light candle holders and two silk-covered candle screens with aquarelle paintings on vellum by Balthasar Wigand
39¼×28¼×18¾ in

In the 19th century, comfortable travel was a luxury reserved for an elite few, and an art in itself. The strenuous journey in bumpy carriages was usually made worthwhile with stays lasting several weeks and as refined and comfortable a setting as possible. Everything one could need to live and much more besides was brought along for the trip, ensuring familiar surroundings that left nothing to be desired, even while far from home. The few pieces of traveling furniture preserved from that time tell of the “savoir-vivre” of the nobility and the upper bourgeoisie. In particular, the noble upper class, who owned several residences, required furniture that could be easily transported from castle to castle. Although functionality, lightness and delicate measurements were taken into account, no efforts were spared when it came to the design and materials. It was customary to consult the best cabinetmakers for this purpose too, and to commission personalized pieces. So-called convertible furniture, which combined several functions in one, was also in high demand. This museum piece of Viennese traveling furniture can be opened up in two different ways, thus enabling its use either as a bureau or as a dressing table. The top unit, as is customary for traveling bureaus, takes the form of a chest when closed, has a veneer of precious mahogany, and is decorated with linear fruitwood marquetry. The similarly veneered and polished, curved underbody bestows this rare piece with great elegance. The dressing table, also known as a poudreuse, has an inset mirror. The bureau, with its gilt-embossed, leather-upholstered “escritoire”, has a variety of compartments and a pair of extendable candleholders with space for two candles each. In front of them are two silk-covered light lampshades with scenes of Russian military successes against Napoleon’s troops. The historically interesting and skillful depictions were produced by the famous Viennese miniaturist Balthasar Wigand (1770–1846). This is further evidence of the exceptionally high quality of this refined piece of salon furniture, since Wigand was known for collaborating with the best craftsmen in Vienna, such as the renowned cabinetmaker Benedikt Holl (1753–1833), by whom several pieces of furniture bearing watercolors by Wigand are known. Holl was among the few cabinetmakers or “ébénistes” capable of constructing the sophisticated mechanics of the traveling furniture. The present noble piece of traveling furniture must also be included in this high-class segment of Viennese craftsmanship. It exemplifies the high standards set during the Biedermeier period with regard to the quality and functionality of the furniture, as well as the affinity for art that permeated all aspects of life.