Marie Antoinette was well-known for her fashion sense and for placing great importance on her wardrobe and toilette. Applying makeup was also a daily task. To ensure the Queen looked her best, she had a makeup table or desk that held all the goodies necessary for applying makeup. Her toilette began after she finished her petit déjeuner (breakfast) and took her morning bath in a slipper tub that was rolled into her room. It was then that Marie Antoinette got dressed and applied her makeup creating the pale, milky white complexion so popular at the time. One particular piece of furniture believed to have belonged to Marie Antoinette to aid her in this process was an escritoire à toilette (makeup desk).
Marie Antoinette’s escritoire was made as late as 1780 and had fine graceful lines of the French Transitional Rococo-Louis XVI style. Despite legends persisting that the famous German cabinetmaker David Roentgen made the escritoire, some historians believe it was actually carved by the fine craftsman and cabinetmaker, Claude-Charles Saunier. He was well-known for his Louis XVI style and carved the intricate and fine upright secretaire inlaid with various wood that has gilt bronze mounts and is shown below.
In the case of the escritoire, it was created from tulipwood, an Australian tree of pale timber that comes from the rain forest. The tulipwood and other woods were bleached and mellowed by age, which resulted in the escritoire’s subtly gradations that range from pale biscuit to pale umber. The escritoire also has chased and gilt ormolu mounts, and it is inlaid in the front, sides, back, with fittings of emblematic trophies, flowers, and aracadian subjects created from various woods — box, harewood, kingwood, sycamore, and other natural and stained woods, including a stained pale green wood — with ivory.
As shown in the illustration to below, the escritoire is not overly large. It is 3 feet 3 inches high, 2 feet 7 inches wide, and 1 foot 7 inches deep. The illustration shows it with its center flap and lower drawer closed. Under the center flap is a flush panel and when lifted, a mirror appeared under its surface. On either side are receptacles. They were lined with silk and held articles de toilette — powders, rouges, paints — that Marie Antoinette used to enhance her “personal charm.” The right receptacle held such things as pin cushions for her headdresses and fitted wooden boxes filled with wig powder. The left receptacle was equipped with such items as scent bottles, tweezers, or tiny brushes.