Hidden Genius: The Extraordinary Furniture of Roentgen
Abraham and David Roentgen. Now, these guys could have given Steve Jobs a real run for his money.
Like the late founder of Apple Computer, the Roentgens – 18th century German furniture makers – were masters at creating beautiful household objects filled with brilliant and entertaining functionality. Their meticulously constructed work is a stunning combination of art and engineering. They also knew how to market their work, with a client list that included much of Europe’s royalty and aristocracy.
More than 60 pieces of furniture from both father and son are currently on exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Their furniture is meticulously constructed and adorrned with dizzying marquetry and gilded inlay. Like any Apple product, the work is also filled with hidden magic. The hallmark of the work is the Roentgen’s ingenious and complex mechanical devices that open concealed writing surfaces, easels, candle stands, drawers and other compartments.
The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 27, also includes shop drawings and virtual animations of the mechanical workings.
A Woodworker Preserved by Fate
Born in 1711 in what is today Cologne, Germany, Abraham Roentgen learned the art of cabinetmaking from his father. After working for several years in Holland, he later settled in London. In 1737, Roentgen joined the Moravian Church and set off as a missionary in North America. But fate would deal him a different hand. A shipwreck off the coast of Ireland forced him back to his native land, where he picked up his tools anew and worked in partnership with his son until retiring in 1784.
Lauded by Europe’s nobility throughout the 18th century, the work of both Abraham Roentgen and son, David continues to fetch high prices at auction. A multipurpose table built by David in 1785 brought in over $133,000 British pounds at Sotheby’s in recent years, and works by his father can command even higher prices.