By focusing on an exotic wood that had recently appeared in furniture, the display in this room illustrates the evolution of the use of a particular wood species in carpentry and cabinetmaking. Mahogany was first used in provincial centers (port furniture: armoire bordelaise) and outside France (in England, from the early eighteenth century onward: English coffee table, c. 1720), and did not become popular in Paris until the second half of the eighteenth century. Mahogany was initially reserved for bathroom and dining room furniture (wine cooler by Canabas, c. 1770), but during the reign of Louis XVI it came to be seen as the quintessential noble wood and was used solid or as a veneer (pieces by Riesener and Leleu). The painting of the Gohin family by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761-1845), dated 1787, represents, in a sense, the connection between mahogany and exotic trade. One figure is seated at a large mahogany roll-top desk; another proudly points to a painting of a ship – a symbol of the fortune he made in the French Indies. Two other paintings – views of the ports of Toulouse and Marseille by Jean-Baptiste-François Genillon (1750-1829), one dated 1778 – evoke the importance of ports as places where goods and ideas circulated; five views of the Gardens of Benfica in Portugal, executed in 1785 by Jean Pillement (1728-1808), recall the active role of the various Western nations in the exotic trade network.

Les Arts Décoratifs, 107, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
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