BOULLE, André-Charles
(b. 1642, Paris, d. 1732, Paris)


André-Charles Boulle (also spelled Boule, or Buhl) was one of France's leading cabinet-makers, whose fashion of inlaying swept Europe and was heavily imitated during the 18th and 19th centuries. An architect as well, he also worked in bronze and mosaic and designed elaborate monograms. Boulle followed in his father's footsteps and became a cabinet-maker. Before 1666 he was awarded the title of master cabinetmaker; in 1672 the king granted him the royal privilege of lodging in the Palais du Louvre. In the same year, he achieved the title of cabinet-maker and sculptor to Louis XIV, king of France. He was in charge of a workshop with many employees. His workshop produced furniture as well as works in gilt bronze such as chandeliers, wall lights, and mounts.

Boulle appears to have been originally a painter, since the first payment to him by the crown of which there is any record (1669) specifies 'ouvrages de peinture'. He was employed for many years at Versailles, where the mirrored walls, the floors of wood mosaic, the inlaid paneling and the marquetry furniture in the Cabinet du Dauphin were regarded as his most remarkable work. These rooms were long since dismantled and their contents dispersed, but Boulle's drawings for the work are in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. His royal commissions were numerous.

Boulle's workshop was famous for producing furniture with flower designs sophisticatedly executed in marquetry (inlay) with wood, metal, tortoise-shell and ivory. Many of the designs were Boulle's own, but designs by other artists were also produced. In 1715 Boulle handed his workshop over to his sons. Nevertheless he remained involved with the business. In the eighteenth century Boulle marquetry was famous. Even in the nineteenth century, designs from Boulle's workshop were still being copied.

Christened by his contemporaries as "the most skillful artisan in Paris," André-Charles Boulle's name is synonymous with the practice of veneering furniture with marquetry of tortoise-shell, pewter, and brass. Although he did not invent the technique, Boulle was its greatest practitioner and lent his name to its common name: boulle work. Boulle also specialized in floral marquetry in both stained and naturally coloured wood. Many of his designs are illustrated in a book of engravings published around 1720.

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