Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens is the first comprehensive survey of the Roentgen family’s cabinetmaking firm from 1742 to its closing in the early 1800s. Some 60 pieces of furniture, many of which have never before been lent outside Europe, and several clocks are complemented by paintings, including portraits of the Roentgen family, and prints that depict the masterpieces of furniture in contemporary interiors.
The meteoric rise of the workshop of Abraham Roentgen (1711-93) and his son David (1743-1807) is the most spectacular chapter in the history of innovative 18th–century Continental furniture-making. Their original designs, combined with their use of intriguing mechanical devices, revolutionized traditional French and English furniture types. From its base in the tiny village of Herrnhaag, in the Wetterau region near Frankfurt am Main, Germany, the workshop served an international clientele.
Following his move to Neuwied-at-the-Rhine in 1750, Abraham took his innovative designs even further by adapting elegant French-inspired outlines that, combined with superb marquetry, fine carving, intricate gilded bronze mounts, and multiple mechanical devices, came to be recognized by contemporaries as hallmarks of the Roentgen brand. Roentgen's playful and perfectly executed inventions became a favored status symbol in princely interiors throughout Europe.
Abraham and David Roentgen's story is a tale of international success, fame, luxury, and high honor but, in the case of David, it is also the tragedy of a deeply pious man who struggled to balance his ambitions and his glorious achievements with the regulations of his religious community, the Moravian brotherhood. At the pinnacle of David's career, the workshop employed more than 130 specialists and the annual production amounted to that of the famous Meissen porcelain factory. His fortune shifted dramatically with the progress of the French Revolution, as Europe's nobility struggled to stay afloat, and the market for luxurious furnishings collapsed.
Many of the works in Extravagant Inventions atr on loan from international museums and royal collections. Six pieces from the Metropolitan Museum’s own collection of Roentgen furniture are featured, in addition to two that are on long-term loan to the Museum. The exhibition showcases many outstanding pieces, including a Writing Desk (ca. 1758-62) designed by Abraham Roentgen and considered to be one of the finest creations of his workshop; a spectacular Automaton of Queen Marie Antoinette (1784), a likeness of the queen at a clavichord that still functions and will be played at select times during the exhibition; and six intriguing objects from the Berlin Kunstgewerbe Museum that have never before traveled, most notably a mechanical Secretary Cabinet (1779) made for King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia that is one of the most complex pieces of royal furniture ever produced.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue edited by Wolfram Koeppe, with contributions written by leading experts in the field. The catalogue is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Website