Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) was of German extraction, hailing from Gladbeck in the Rhine region.
He moved to Paris some twenty years later to join Jean-François Oeben’s workshop as an apprentice. Riesener succeeded the running of his former employer’s business after marrying his widow (née Van der Cruse) and taking over the workshop of the ébéniste du roi at the Arsenal. He was received maître in 1768 and began supplying the crown the following year which was the precursor to his appointment as ébéniste ordinaire du Mobilier de la Couronne in 1774. Over the following decade Riesener supplied the Royal Court with furniture worth in excess of a million livres. In addition to Royal patronage, his notable commissions included deliveries to the private Gardes-Meubles of Marie-Antoinette, the Comte de Provence, the Comte d’Artois, Mesdames the king’s aunts, the ducs de Penthièvre de la Rochefoucauld, Choiseul-Praslin, Biron, and the rich fermiers généraux. Widely regarded as the greatest French ebeniste of Louis XVI’s reign, Riesener produced furniture on a grand and spectacular scale rarely achieved since the Louix XIV era.
The decline in his fortunes arose due to a combination of factors beginning with France’s steep economic decline in 1784 which in turn precipitated a marked reduction in business. The same year Thierry de Ville d’Avray succeeded Pierre-Elizabeth de Fontanieu at the Garde-Meuble le la Couronne and sought less costly suppliers such as Guillaume Beneman. During the French Revolution, Riesener was retained by The Directorate and dispatched to Versailles with instructions to remove the “insignia of feudality” from furniture only recently supplied by himself. In a miscalculated move to revive his fortunes, Riesener bought back furniture at much reduced prices during the ‘French revolutionary sales’. However his attempts to resell to his old clientele failed due to their general demise and above all changing tastes epitomised by the increasing popularity of his rival David Roentgen.