MOLITOR, Bernard
(b. 1755, Betzdorf, d. 1810, Paris)


French cabinetmaker, born in Betzdorf, Luxembourg, to Nikolaus Molitor, a miller, and Margarete Lemmer. He was in Paris by 1778, then in 1784 he went to London, and because a number of pieces of Molitor's furniture betray a familiarity with English forms and techniques, it can be assumed that he was there several times during his apprenticeship years.

In 1788, Molitor married Julie Elisabeth Fessard, the daughter of Marin Fessard, the chief royal carpenter at the palace of Fontainebleau, near Paris. As a master cabinetmaker and member of the guild, he was allowed to open a workshop, where he worked together with his cousin Michel Molitor (1734-1810), also a cabinetmaker. Most of their early customers were courtiers, a number of them close to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The varied production of the workshop reflects the need to cater to the luxurious tastes of the capricious aristocrats of the ancien regime.

With the establishment of the Directoire in the fall of 1795, a new society of rich bourgeois had come to power. The newly rich bourgeoisie came to enjoy furniture that may be numbered among the most beautiful and finely made in the eighteenth century.

During the Empire, in 1811, Molitor participated in Napoleon's extraordinary program to provide work for the artisans of Paris by commissioning imperial furnishings. He supplied twenty-two pieces of mahogany furniture, including ten console tables of the same design but different lengths.

From 1816 until his retirement about 1820 Molitor supplied the kings of France and England with splendid ebony and lacquer cabinets, as well as a chest of drawers. In 1828, at the age of seventy-three, he bought a house and garden near the park of Fontainebleau where he lived in great comfort with his second wife and two daughters until his death in 1833.

Because of his long career, Molitor's work reflects the changing fashions in furniture, including the influence of England and Egypt. For the courtiers of the ancien regime he made grand and elaborate pieces. During the Revolution and throughout the Republic his furniture is austere and only sparsely decorated with ormolu mounts, while during Napoleon's reign his production still betrays the influence of the Louis XVI style. Molitor used only the finest woods, mounts, and hardware. His furniture is precisely made and beautifully finished both inside and out. In his later work an architectural sense of proportion and spareness of decoration suggest a thoroughly modern functionalism.

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