Writing Desk

Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, French, 1879 - 1933

Made in France, Europe

Designed c. 1925

Macassar ebony with ivory inlay, suede lining

44 1/2 x 23 3/4 x 15 inches (113 x 60.3 x 38.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Collab: The Group for Modern and Contemporary Design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976

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Additional information:
  • PublicationDesign, 1900-1940

    Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann was often compared by his contemporaries to the master cabinetmakers of the eighteenth century, for like them he created veneered and inlaid pieces of rare and costly materials, and he equaled them in the meticulous craftsmanship he demanded. A designer, not a craftsman, Ruhlmann employed a staff of architects and draftsmen to translate his quick sketches into elevations, plans, and full-scale working drawings for his cabinet-makers, who until 1923 were outside contractors. Despite the comparison with earlier cabinetmakers, when he did open his own workshops he took a modern approach. "I work on the principle," he is quoted as saying, "that nothing that can be done by a machine should be done by hand. Modern furniture has little ornamentation and consists almost entirely of flat surfaces veneered with previous woods. Machines make it easier to do the preparatory work." Even with machines, his workmen devoted months to the completion of each piece, and he supervised the production of each one himself. The care given to his manufacture is apparent in the perfectly matched graining of the ebony veneer of this secretary and in the delicate inlays of ivory, which define the form of its tapering, concave front legs and enhance its top with classical dentil and volute motifs. Based on three sketches drawn in 1913, 1915, and 1917, this secretary was inspired by a type of lady's writing desk of the eighteenth century known as a bonheur-du-jour. It was not produced until 1921, when it was first exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. Known as the "Tibattant" secretary, it was made in various decorative woods and remained in the production catalogue until the firm closed at Ruhlmann's death in 1933. Kathryn B. Hiesinger and George H. Marcus, from Guides to European Decorative Arts: Design 1900-1940 (1987), p. 20.