The present cabinet was made by Albert Porteneuve for Edouard Baudouin, a collector of rare books and manuscripts. The cabinet, with its luxurious sycamore veneered interior, was designed so that each shelf could display an individual book. The brass ovals centering the two central squares on the cabinet doors are engraved with Baudouin’s monogram.
Porteneuve, a nephew of Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, was a trained architect who worked in this celebrated uncle’s atelier until it was disbanded after Ruhlmann’s death in 1932. As such he was one of Ruhlmann’s team of twelve collaborators, a group of architects and draughtsman who contributed to the atelier’s unique blend of luxury and modernity.
There are a number of pieces in the oeuvre of Ruhlmann’s atelier which can be compared to the Baudouin cabinet. A long sideboard displayed at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs in 1932 has lockplates surrounded by concentric square mouldings, whilst a cabinet displayed at the 1931 Exposition Coloniale was applied with similar mouldings, even more evocative of those on the present piece. The similarity between those two late-Ruhlmann pieces and the present example of Porteneuve’s work emphasizes the latter’s role in the Ruhlmann design process, as well as illustrating the continuities between Ruhlmann’s work and that of Porteneuve as an independent designer.
Upon Ruhlmann’s death, Porteneuve moved into his own workshop at 47 rue de Lisbonne after liquidating Ruhlmann’s remaining stock and completing his outstanding furniture commissions. He was authorized to reproduce a small selection of works to be marked ‘modele de Ruhlmann edite par Porteneuve,’ and also continued to develop his own oeuvre.
During the Baudouin ownership, the library cabinet was reputedly displayed in a post-World War II exhibition, as depicted in Le Décor d’Aujourd Hui and reproduced in Mobilier et Decoration, where it was photographed in situ in the owner’s home.
The present piece is remarkable for being an unusually pure exercise in geometric design. In order to achieve this, the surface of the piece is not disturbed by the use of handles. Furthermore, even the keyhole is concealed by one of the two central brass monogrammed ovals, which must be swung open to reveal it.